Wintuan languages

Ethnicity: Wintun people
Linguistic classification:

Penutian ?

  • Wintun
  • Northern
  • Southern
Glottolog: wint1258[1]


Pre-contact distribution of Wintuan languages

Wintuan (also Wintun, Wintoon, Copeh, Copehan) is a family of languages spoken in the Sacramento Valley of central Northern California.

All Wintuan languages are severely endangered.

Family division

Shipley (1978:89) listed three Wintuan languages in his encyclopedic overview of California Indian languages. More recently Mithun (1999) split Southern Wintuan into a Patwin language and a Southern Patwin language, resulting in the following classification.

I. Northern Wintuan

1. Wintu (AKA Wintu proper, Northern Wintu) (†)
2. Nomlaki (AKA Noamlakee, Central Wintu) (†)

II. Southern Wintuan

3. Patwin (AKA Patween)
4. Southern Patwin (†)

Wintu is recently extinct. Nomlaki has at least one partial speaker. One speaker of Patwin (Hill Patwin dialect) remained in 2003. Southern Patwin, once spoken by the Suisun local tribe just northeast of San Francisco Bay, became extinct fairly soon after contact with whites and is thus poorly known (Mithun 1999). Wintu proper is the best documented of the four Wintuan languages.

Pitkin (1984) estimated that the Wintuan languages were about as close to each other as the Romance languages. They may have diverged from a common tongue only 2,000 years ago.

The Wintuan family is usually considered to be a member of the hypothetical Penutian language phylum (Golla 2011:128-168) and was one of the five branches of the original California kernel of Penutian proposed by Roland B. Dixon and Alfred L. Kroeber (1913a, 1913b). However, recent studies indicate that the Wintuans independently entered California about 1,500 years ago from an earlier location somewhere in Oregon (Golla 2007:75-78). The Wintuan pronominal system closely resembles that of Klamath, while there are numerous lexical resemblances between Northern Wintuan and Alsea that appear to be loans (Golla 1997; DeLancey and Golla 1997; Liedtke 2007).


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Wintuan". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.


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