Algic languages

northern North America
Linguistic classification: One of the world's primary language families
Proto-language: Proto-Algic
ISO 639-5: aql
Glottolog: algi1248[1]


Pre-contact distribution of Algic languages (in red). Note distribution in northwestern California.

The Algic (also Algonquian–Wiyot–Yurok or Algonquian–Ritwan)[2] languages are an indigenous language family of North America. Most Algic languages belong to the Algonquian family, dispersed over a broad area from the Rocky Mountains to Atlantic Canada. The other Algic languages are the Yurok and Wiyot of northwestern California, which despite their geographic proximity are not closely related. All these languages descend from Proto-Algic, a second-order proto-language estimated to have been spoken about 7,000 years ago and reconstructed using reconstructed Proto-Algonquian and the attested languages Wiyot and Yurok.


The term "Algic" was first coined by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft in his Algic Researches, published in 1839. Schoolcraft defined the term as "derived from the words Alleghany and Atlantic, in reference to the race of Indians anciently located in this geographical area."[3] Schoolcraft's terminology was not retained. The peoples he called "Algic" were later included among the speakers of Algonquian languages.

When Edward Sapir proposed that the well-established Algonquian family was genetically related to the Wiyot and Yurok languages of northern California, he applied the term Algic to this larger family. The original Algic homeland is thought to have been located in the American Northwest somewhere between the suspected homeland of the Algonquian branch (to the west of Lake Superior according to Goddard[4]) and the earliest known location of the Wiyot and Yurok (along the middle Columbia River according to Whistler[5]).

Classification of Algic

The genetic relation of Wiyot and Yurok to Algonquian was first proposed by Edward Sapir (1913, 1915, 1923), and argued against by Algonquianist Truman Michelson (1914, 1914, 1935). The relationship "has subsequently been demonstrated to the satisfaction of all".[6] This controversy in the early classification of North American languages was called the "Ritwan controversy" because Wiyot and Yurok were assigned to a genetic grouping called "Ritwan". Most specialists now reject the validity of the Ritwan genetic node.[7] Berman (1982) suggested that Wiyot and Yurok share sound changes not shared by the rest of Algic (which would be explainable by either areal diffusion or genetic relatedness); Proulx (2004) argued against Berman's conclusion of common sound changes.

See also


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Algic". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Howard Berman, Proto-Algonquian-Ritwan Verbal Roots, in the International Journal of American Linguistics, volume 50, number 3 (July 1984)
  3. Schoolcraft 1839: 12.
  4. Goddard 1994: 207.
  5. Moratto 1984: 540, 546, 564
  6. Campbell 1997: 152, who cites among others Haas 1958
  7. Campbell 1997: 152; Mithun 1999: 337


Journals and books

AA = American Anthropologist; IJAL = International Journal of American Linguistics

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