Chimakuan languages

Chimakuan languages

The Chimakuan language family consists of two languages spoken in northwestern Washington, USA on the Olympic Peninsula. It is part of the Mosan sprachbund, and one of its languages is famous for having no nasal consonants. The two languages were about as close as English and German.

Family division

  1. Chemakum (also known as Chimakum or Chimacum) (†)
  2. Quileute (also known as Quillayute)

Chemakum is now extinct. It was spoken until the 1940s on the east side of the Olympic Peninsula between Port Townsend and Hood Canal. The name Chemakum is an Anglicized version of a Salishan word for the Chemakum people, such as the nearby Twana word čə́bqəb [ʧə́bqəb] (earlier [ʧə́mqəm]).

Quileute is now severely endangered. It is spoken by a few people south of the Makah on the western coast of the Olympic peninsula south of Cape Flattery at La Push and the lower Hoh River. The name Quileute comes from kʷoʔlí·yot’ [kʷoʔlíːjot’], the name of a village at La Push.


The (pre-)Proto-Chimakuan sound system contained three vowels, long and short, and lexical stress. It had the following consonants.

  Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
  central lateral   plain labialized plain labialized  
Plosive voiceless p t     k q ʔ
ejective     kʼʷ qʼʷ  
Affricate voiceless   ʦ   (ʧ)          
ejective   ʦʼ tɬʼ (ʧ’)          
Fricative     s ɬ (ʃ) x χ χʷ h
Nasal normal m n              
Approximant normal       l j w      

In Proto-Chimakuan the series occurred (mostly?) before the vowel /i/. On the other hand, occurred (mostly?) before the vowels . These series may have become separate phonemes before Chimakum and Quileute split, but if so, it seems clear that they had been allophones not long before then.

In Quileute the stress became fixed to the penultimate syllable, though subsequent changes made it somewhat unpredictable, and the glottalized sonorants became allophonic with glottal stop-sonorant sequences and so can no longer be considered phonemic. Open syllables developed long vowels. Perhaps as recently as the late 19th century, the nasals became voiced plosives .

In Chemakum, stressed vowels frequently acquired glottal stops; depalatalized to , while palatalized to ; sonorants lost their glottalization; and the approximants hardened to in the environment of stressed vowels.


  • Andrade, Manuel J. (1933). Quileute. New York: Columbia University Press. (Extract from Handbook of American Indian Languages (Vol. 3, pp. 151-292); Andrade's doctoral dissertation).
  • Andrade, Manuel J. (1953). Notes on the relations between Chemakum and Quileute. International Journal of American Linguistics, 19, 212-215.
  • Andrade, Manuel J.; & Frachtenberg, Leo J. (1931). Quileute texts. Columbia University contributions to anthropology (Vol. 12). New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Boas, Franz. (1892). Notes on the Chemakum language. American Anthropologist, 5, 37-44.
  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.

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