Via Uncle Jazzbeau, a nice site for learning Inezeño Chumash. Unfortunately, there’s only a small core vocabulary for the first eight lessons (plus, oddly, a tiny portion of a larger lexicon), but the lessons look well done, and there are sound clips of everything (so that Jim was able to hear the glottalized consonants he had been searching for). Chumash has been extinct since 1965; as the Chumash languages page says:

A great deal of what we know about the Chumash language spoken in the Santa Ynez valley comes to us as a result of the patience and dedication of Maria Solares. Maria was born in the 1840s and died in 1923.

Between approximately 1912 and 1919, Maria worked with John P. Harrington, a linguist who dedicated himself to recording as much as he could of the native languages of California, Chumash as well as many others.

Maria provided Harrington with a wealth of information on the language, beliefs, culture and customs of the Inezeño and their neighbors. Harrington was gifted with an extraordinarily keen ear for language and he recorded what Maria told him in meticulous detail.

Dr. Richard Applegate is also working on a similar site for Barbareño Chumash, which I am particularly interested in because I have family in Santa Barbara. You can see a good map of early Chumash villages here.


  1. I remember reading a very good book about Harrington, by his ex. Believe it was called Angry God, and while it does attest to Harrington’s ear and dedication, it also paints him as a couple bubbles off plumb, with a mean streak.

  2. I’m thrilled to see Chumash mentioned here. It’s a neat language, and in fact I’m just about done with another paper about it. Although it doesn’t really provide any language, anyone interested in Chumash might like to check out the only movie known to me to mention the Chumash: The Master Gunfighter, which after many years of unavailability is now available on DVD.
    The book that Brad mentions is Encounter with an Angry God by Carobeth Laird, who married Harrington after taking an anthropology course from him. It isn’t exactly a biography; it’s an account of her marriage to Harrington. A full biography of Harrington is in progress.
    Harrington was indeed an odd man, but we owe him an enormous debt. There are quite a few languages
    known to us largely through his efforts.

  3. The book is _Encounters with an Angry God_, by Carobeth Laird. While it portrays him as a bit off, I don’t agree about the mean streak. It was just that for him, if it didn’t concern getting these vanishing languages down in some form, it was a secondary consideration. a bio of him, by Victor Golla, is here

  4. Mr. Poser,
    In regard to pop-culture allusions to the Chumash, The Master Gunfighter may be the only movie reference, but they feature as the sympathetic villians of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I remember when I was young, living in Ojai, CA, someone or other put on an annual play called The Story of Badger Claws, which was billed as a Chumash story. Of its authenticity, I have no estimate.

  5. Last week I was talking to a Hungarian woman journalist about Native American languages and mentioned that there are languages, such as Abnaki, with only one speaker left. She laughed. It wasn’t the response I was expecting. Since we were talking in Budapest, I said “How would you feel if there were only one speaker of Hungarian left?” “That’s different! It would be a tragedy – Hungarians are civilized!” she said. I pointed out that the Abnakis are probably more “civilized” than the average Hungarian village in historical terms of brick-church building, literate catholic priests, and written popular literature.
    Ah, European notions of culture… never changes. But the duck liver paté is pretty good.

  6. I should have noted this above. Martha Macri (UC Davis) and Victor Golla (Humboldt State) are working on the J. P. Harrington database. Go up the previous URL to here for more information

  7. “That’s different! It would be a tragedy – Hungarians are civilized!”
    Tell it to the Slovaks, Ruthenians, and Rumanians, lady. Master Races have such a different perspective on themselves…

  8. How do you pronounce the name of the language?

  9. I just today reached Chumashan in Mithun’s The Languages of Native North America. The word means islander. Looks like it’s pronounced much as you’d expect, CHU-mash (I don’t know the stress for certain, but it’s mostly penultimate). The initial affricate, ch, was aspirated, but you can reasonably ignore that when using it in English.

  10. Clicks and glottal stops, and a song about “Tamul”, who is a bear I think. I’ve got a friend I haven’t seen in too many years who’s a Chumash fella.
    I remember him insisting their tradition was they’d been here long before the Bering land bridge could account for, and I remember him having that click thing going when he spoke his “native tongue”.
    Which I’d guess was some kind of “Chumash”.
    The bear song was hair-raising and powerful.

    It’s important to remember that even if the language is dead from a linguist’s p.o.v., the people who spoke it have a presence still, in California. Though betting on the come, and “Bets, please” may be more current cultural expressions.
    I’m not sure making bricks and going to church in a “mission” is much different than making bank and going to work in a casino, as far as distance from authenticity goes.

    I know I know, linguists. Language as thing itself. But I live here/there, I’m a native Obispeño of gringo descent. Imagining living here when there were grizzlies close at hand and no pavement or wires…I get tangential.

    Theron, if you catch this, write me.

  11. Synchronicity alert! The blog Making Light mentions Chumash in relation to pygmy mammoths, noting this:
    They survived there far longer than mammoth mammoths did on the mainland, lasting into the Holocene, when the islands were colonized by the Chumash tribes.
    It goes on to talk about other populations that may hve survived.
    Link is here

  12. The BBC site had this this morning:
    the story is about archeological finds in California that show boat building methods used by the Chumash may be 9,000 years old, indicating a possible colonization of the Americas by post-clovis peoples. Anyone interested in the Kennewick Man debate may find this interesting. My Abnaki friends probably would not….

  13. Chumash Indian Languages is a nice roundup of links.

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