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Listen to Wiyot Place Names

Over the past year, I have done a lot of research into native Wiyot place names:  there are over 200 recorded names in the archives!  From north to south, here are some place names that you can hear being pronounced by native speaker Della Prince (recorded in 1956-57; click on a name to listen):

Daluwagh Crescent City

Da'guchwayawik Trinidad ("land is curved")

Dadi'qhoughuk Blue Lake

Jaroujiji Eureka ("where you sit and rest")

Giloulh Table Bluff

Vutsuwitk Da'l Fortuna ("ashes stay")

Guduwalhat Loleta

Vusya Bear River ("like fire"?)


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Historical & Linguistic Background of Wiyot

The Wiyot language (called Soulátluk' — literally ‘your jaw’ — by some speakers) was the native language of the Wiyot people until the death of Della Prince, the last fluent Wiyot speaker to collaborate with linguists, in 1962. Wiyot is linguistically interesting for several reasons. First, along with Yurok, it is one of only two Algic (also called Algonguian) languages in the Pacific Northwest. Other Algic languages are found in Canada, the Great Lakes region, and the northern Atlantic coast, and include languages like Chippewa, Cree, Cheyenne and Arapaho. (see map below)

Another interesting characteristic of Wiyot is that it is a polysynthetic language, which means that complex ideas — sometimes the equivalent of an entire English sentence — can be expressed using a single verb with multiple prefixes and suffixes. Here are a couple of examples:

a.  gidutiguliswiwilh

gi     dutigulis     wiw     ilh

finish bathe       self     he/she

'S/he finishes bathing himself/herself.'

b.  dagudugunugulhu’n

da               gudugunu     gulh      u’n

for a while      very           hurt        its

'There is a lot of hurting.'


Language Materials

There are no remaining fluent speakers of Wiyot (no one alive today grew up speaking Wiyot as their first language). However, there is a great deal of documentation of the Wiyot language that was compiled when the language was still spoken natively. These materials include written word lists, texts, and grammatical descriptions dating from the late 1800’s to the 1960’s, as well as audio recordings of songs, words and phrases, and narrative texts from the 1950’s-1960’s. Here is a sample of what some of the written materials look like:

1. J. Curtin (1889):

2.  G. Reichard (1925):







3. G. Reichard (1922):

4.  Teeter & Nicholls (1993):

Because these documents were created by many different researchers, each of whom had a different system for writing the language, and contain information given by Wiyot speakers from different dialects and time periods, it is a challenge to form a complete picture of the language.

(To fully understand this, imagine that the last English speaker had died several decades ago. Then imagine that the only information we had today about the English language was a dozen or so texts and word lists collected by, say, Swahili-speaking researchers who did not know anything about English spelling. THEN imagine that the English speakers who provided the researchers with their information lived between about 1885 and 1960, and some of them were from Minnesota while others were from South Carolina or New York!


'Language revitalization' refers to efforts to bring endangered languages (languages with very few native speakers) back into broader use in a community by teaching the language to non-fluent or semi-fluent speakers. But can a language with no fluent speakers be brought back into use? It may be more difficult, but Wiyot would not be the first community to try it: revitalization of ‘extinct’ or ‘dormant’ languages (also called ‘language revival’) is underway in the Miami (Oklahoma — also an Algic language) and Mutsun California tribes; and modern Hebrew was revived from religious and traditional texts after centuries during which it was used only ceremonially.


Current activities

  • Children’s language classes
  • Adult language classes
  • Language committee
  • Multimedia dictionary creation
  • Language articles in the Wiyot newsletter

Plans for the near future

  • Online language-learning resources
  • Digital texts with audio and word-level translation

Long-term goals

  • Creation of a digital database containing ALL known Wiyot words, phrases and texts from manuscript, print, and audio sources
  • Publication of a comprehensive Wiyot-English/English-Wiyot dictionary
  • Training of language teachers within the Wiyot Tribe

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