|San Joaquin Valley, California|
Pre-contact distribution of Yokutsan languages
Yokutsan (also known as Yokuts and Mariposan) is an endangered language family spoken in the interior of Northern and Central California in and around the San Joaquin Valley by the Yokut people. The speakers of Yokutsan languages were severely affected by disease, missionaries, and the Gold Rush. While descendants of Yokutsan-family speakers currently number in the thousands, most of the constituent languages are now extinct.
The Yokutsan family consists of half a dozen languages, depending upon one's definition of the boundary between a language and a dialect. An estimated forty linguistically distinct groups existed before Euro-American contact. The following classification appears in Whistler & Golla (1986).
General Yokuts (all others)
Many Yokutsan varieties are extinct, as noted above. Those that are still spoken are endangered.
In recent years, Choinimni, Wikchamni, Chukchansi, Kechayi, Tachi, and Yawelmani all had a few fluent speakers and a variable number of partial speakers. Wikchamni, Chukchansi, Tachi, and Yawelmani were being taught to at least a few children during the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Chukchansi is now a written language, with its own alphabet developed on a federal grant. Chukchansi also has a phrase book and dictionary that are partially completed. In May 2012, the Linguistics Department of Fresno State University received a $1 million grant to compile a Chuckchansi dictionary and grammar texts, and to "provide support for scholarships, programs, and efforts to assemble native texts and create a curriculum for teaching the language so it can be brought back into social and ritual use."
The Yokutsan family is key member family in the proposed Penutian stock. Some linguists consider most relationships within Penutian to be undemonstrated (cf. Campbell 1997). Others consider a genetic relationship between Yokutsan, Utian, Maiduan, Wintuan, and a number of Oregon languages within Penutian to be definite (cf. Delancy and Golla 1997). Regardless of higher-order disagreement, Callaghan (1997) provides strong evidence uniting Yokutsan and Utian as sub-families within a single Yok-Utian language family.
The term "Delta Yokuts" has recently been introduced in lieu of the longer "Far Northern Valley Yokuts" for the language spoken by the people in the present Stockton and Modesto vicinities of San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, California, prior to their removal to Mission San Jose between 1810 and 1827. Of interest, Delta Yokuts contains a large number of words with no cognates in any of the other Yokuts languages, or for that matter in the adjacent Utian languages, although its syntax is typically Northern Valley Yokuts (Kroeber 1959:15-17). This anomaly has led Whistler (cited by Golla 2007:76) to suggest, "The vocabulary distinctive of some of the Delta Yokuts dialects may reflect substratal influence from pre-proto-Yokuts or from an extinct Yok-Utian language." Golla (2007:77) suggests that a "pre-proto-Yokuts" homeland was in the Great Basin, citing a rich plant and animal vocabulary for a dry environment and a close connection between Yokuts basketry styles and those of prehistoric central Nevada.