Eastern Pomoan language

Eastern Pomo language

Eastern Pomo (also Clear Lake Pomo) is an extinct Hokan language in the Pomoan family, formerly spoken around Clear Lake in Lake County, California by one of the several Pomo peoples. It is not mutually intelligible with the other Pomoan languages. It was spoken along the northern and southern shores of Clear Lake, which is north of San Francisco and in the coast mountains west of Sacramento Valley. Eastern Pomo shared borders in the north with the Patwin and the Yuki languages, in the south with the Lake Wappo, the Wappo, the Southeastern Pomo, the Southern Pomo, the Central Pomo, the Northern Pomo, and the Lake Miwok. They also shared a border to the west with the Northern Pomo.

The southern and northern areas Eastern Pomo was spoken in were geographically separate, and apparently practiced differing dialects,split by certain lexical and phonological differences. Contemporary Eastern Pomo speakers refer to the north shore dialect area as Upper Lake, and the south shore dialect area as Big Valley.



Eastern Pomo has five vowels, which all occur both short and long. The vowels /i/, /e/, and /a/ are all unrounded vowels, from high to low position of pronunciation, in that order. The vowels /u/ and /o/ are rounded vowels, /u/ being a high vowel and /o/ being a mid vowel.

There are no occasions in the Eastern Pomo language where a vowel sequence exists within the same syllable. There is one occasion where two vowels are in sequence across a syllable boundary, and that is in the word /čéːal/, meaning 'toward where' or 'whither.' Also, vowels do not occur word-initially in Eastern Pomo.

   Short   Long 
 Front   Back   Front   Back 
 High  i u
 Mid  e o
 Low  a


Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive plain p t [t̺] č [tʃ] k q
aspirated ṭʰ [t̺ʰ] čʰ [tʃʰ]
ejective ṭʼ [t̺ʼ] čʼ [tʃʼ] ʔ
voiced b d
Affricate voiceless c
Fricative voiceless s š [ʃ] x h
trill ɾ
Nasal voiceless M [m̥] N [n̥]
voiced m n
Semivowel plain w y
voiceless W Y
Lateral L [l̥] l

Eastern Pomo has thirty-eight consonants. The letter is a retroflex, voiceless apico-alveolar stop, represented in the IPA by [t̺]. The letter č is a voiceless unaspirated palatal stop, [tʃ], in word-medial position, and an unaspirated affricate in word-initial position. The nasals /M/ and /N/ are voiceless, and represent [m̥] and [n̥]. The phonemes /ṭ, ṭʰ, ṭ'/, plain, aspirated, and glottalized, are voiceless apico-alveolar stops. An Apical consonant means that the air passage is obstructed by the tip of the tongue.

·Voiceless unaspirated (plain) stops, voiced stops, voiceless nasals, voiceless semi-vowels, and the spirant (fricative) /h/ never occur in the word-final position. The voiceless Lateral, /L/, doesn't occur in word-final position, either.

·/š/ is a lamino-pre-palatal fricative, while /s/ is an apico-post-dental fricative. Pronouncing /s/ in Eastern Pomo involves a slightly retroflexed tongue tip, meaning that the blade of the tongue is close to the roof of the mouth. But the area of greatest friction for this phoneme's pronunciation is between the tip of the tongue and the top of the teeth. The phoneme /š/ occurs slightly more often than /s/.

·/p/, /c/ and /č/, are relatively rare in Eastern Pomo

·/x/ never occurs before /i/, and very rarely before /e/ and /u/

·/h/ only occurs at the beginning of syllables, and only occurs word-initial before /o/ and /u/ in Spanish loan words

·/r/ is rather inconsistent:

  • syllable-final position: voiced, alveolar trill: /r/
  • word-final position: voiced alveolar trill with voiceless spirantal (fricative) release: /r/
  • word-medial position: voiced alveolar flap: /ɾ/
  • more frequently found initially in unstressed syllables than in stressed syllables
  • occurs most frequently in syllable-and word-final position

·/M/ and /N/ don't occur before the vowels /e/ and /o/

Syllable Structure

The most common syllable structure used is a two-syllable form, CV·CV(·)(C)(C), with primary stress on the second syllable. An example of this is, /bi·ṭ’é·mkʰ/, meaning, "maggots to move around on something; many blackbirds to be in a field." Length is shown using this symbol,[·], meaning long vowels will be followed by [·]. The syllable boundary falls before the last consonant in the sequence, in syllables in word-medial position. For example, the structure [CV(·)(C)(C)(·)] is used for non-final syllables in words. Non-final syllables in words will end in C, CC, C·, or CC· only if another syllable beginning with C follows. Word-final syllables can take the shape CV·CC.

The following words illustrate possible syllable shapes in Eastern Pomo:

  • CV : /ká/ 'house'
  • CV· : /ká·/ 'for one to sit'
  • CVC : /kál/ 'to the house'
  • CV·C : /ká·m/ 'stay, remain sitting!'
  • CVCC : /dóyk’/ 'several each to grind with mortar and pestle'
  • CV·CC : /xé·lk’/ 'stretch'
  • CV·CV : /mu·ká/ 'wild wheat, any grain'
  • CV·CV· : /ma·ká/ 'look, search for something or someone'
  • CV·CVCC : /ma·ṭʰinkʰ/ 'to massage, press certain part of body with feet'
  • CV·CV·CC : /bi·ṭ’é·mkʰ/ 'maggots to move around on something; many blackbirds to be in a field'

Vowels do not occur in sequence (VV) within a syllable, nor across syllable boundaries. Sequences of two or more consonants within a syllable only occur at the end of a syllable, not initially. For example, /pʰorkʰ/, meaning 'knock something (as acorns, fruit) off something (as tree)', shows a two consonant cluster in word-final position.

Across syllable boundaries in the middle of a word, it seems common for there to be two consonant sequences without restriction, except that unaspirated stops, voiced stops, voiceless nasals, voiceless semi-vowels, and /h/ don't occur syllable-finally.


All roots carry primary stress. Most words begin with a two-syllable sequence of the sort, CV · CV(with primary stress on the V). The roots of polysyllabic words cannot always be isolated in this language, making it impossible to predict where the primary stress is going to fall solely on the type of morpheme. However, primary stress does occur on the second syllable of most words, including the words in which the roots cannot be isolated.

The weakest degree of stress falls on a syllable following a primarily or secondarily stressed syllable, and alternates on the following syllables. The syllables following the primarily stressed syllable alternates with every second syllable being slightly louder than the preceding unstressed syllable, but not as loud as the primarily or secondarily stressed syllable.

Secondary stress occurs when a word contains two or more primary stressed syllables, in which case all but one primary stress is reduced to secondary. There are exceptions in certain syllables that are always secondarily stressed, regardless of the alternating pattern of lightly and heavily stressed syllables following the primarily stressed syllable. This type of secondary stress is included as part of the morpheme. Suffixes that have this type of stress include /-ki · mà/ 'plural habitual', and /-bàya/ 'sentence connective'.

Phonological Processes

Here are some examples of phonologically conditioned variation within the Eastern Pomo language involving one of the three processes: vowel harmony, consonant ablaut, or consonat and vowel deletion.

Vowel Harmony: This process affects the two high vowels, /u/ and /i/. The vowel /u/ becomes a back rounded mid vowel /o/ in instrumental prefixes, or prefixes that indicate how a person did something. The vowel /i/ becomes a front unrounded vowel, /e/ if /h/ or /ʔ/ intervene. In linguistic notation, /u/ > /o/, and /i/ > /e/ when _ [h, ʔ] e .

Consonant Ablaut: This process affects aspirated stops, except /ṭʰ/, and the phoneme /x/. When aspirated stops are in the morpheme-final position, and are followed by a morpheme beginning with a vowel, the aspirated stops other than /ṭʰ/ become the corresponding unaspirated stop, and /x/ > /q/. An example of this is the word, /xóča/, 'two (things)' coming from, /xóčʰ/, 'two'. Another example is, /kó·qa/, '(someone) shot something,' from /kó·x/, 'shoot'.

Deletion: This process affects suffixes beginning with vowels /i/ or /a/, or with consonants /y/ or /l/.

  • Vowel Deletion occurs when the morpheme before a suffix ends in a vowel, the suffix begins with /i/ or /a/, and the rest of the suffix does not consist only of this vowel. An example of this is the morpheme, {-aya}, indicating 'plural'.
  • Consonant Deletion occurs in a similar situation, except instead of the vowel initializing the suffix, it is either /y/ or /l/, and the previous morpheme ends in a consonant. This can be seen in the morpheme, {-yiNàl}, indicating 'indirect object'.


The most important processes of Eastern Pomo morphology are suffixation and prefixation. There are half as many morphemes that serve as prefixes than suffixes. Other processes used are reduplication and compounding. The verbal or non-verbal function of a morphological unit is specified by the addition of inflectional suffixes, and/or syntactic relations. The inflectional suffixes fall into categories creating morphological classes; mainly, verbs, animates, substantives, and four minor classes, adverbial indefinites, locatives, directionals and directional preverbs. There are also uninflecteds, which include proper names, interjections and syntactic particles.


Verbs are morphologically the most complex and syntactically the most important. There are eight optional position classes of suffixes for verbs, specifying categories of aspect, mode, plurality, locality, reciprocity, source of information (evidentials), and forms of syntactic relations. Stems may be inflected as a verb by means of suffixation, prefixation and reduplication.


Animates have two subclasses, pronouns and kinship terms. They are inflected for subject, object, genitive, and commitative through the processes of suffixation and partial suppletion. Kinship terms distinguish between a person's own relative and another person's relative by means of suffixation and suppletion, and occur with two sets of possessive pronominal prefixes.


Substantives have five subclasses, personal nouns, adjectives, nouns, demonstratives, and numerals. They are inflected for noun aspect. Nouns are inflected for possession and commitation, while personal nouns and adjectives are inflected for plurality through suffixation and suppletion.


Uninflecteds include proper nouns, interjections and syntactic particles. The basic morphological unit is the stem, which can be either common or unanalyzable.

Common stems have a root with the canocial shape CV’(·). The difference between common stems and unanalyzable stems is that commons stems can include an additional single position class of instrumental prefixes with the shape CV(·)-, and/or a member of one or both of two position classes of manner suffixes, with the shape -C, -CC, or /·/. A common stem is often used to apply to a variety of situations, which may not be formally associated in the typical English perspective. For example, /si·qál/, meaning both, 'pure, clean, all of one kind, homogenous' and 'lick something like ice cream off fingers.' These two situations are distinguished through verbal and extra-linguistic context. And at the same time, a single event can be described by a variety of stems depending on what aspect of the act is in focus.

Unanalyzable stems consist of a longer sequence of phonemes than roots, such as CVC, or CVCV. Some of these unanalyzable stems are borrowed from Spanish, such as /pášalʔ/, 'to visit, a visit'.


Position Classes of Suffixes (Non-verb)

  • I- Specifying: {-r}, {-·U}, {-yay}, {-l}
  • II- Manner: {-n}
  • III- Locative: {-w}, {-xa·m}, {-da}, {-a·ma·}, {-ya}, {-NA}
  • IV- Directional: {-lal}
  • V- Directional: {-ma}, {-wa}
  • VI- Temporal Locative: {-Mi}, {-iday}
  • VII- Number: {-i·nay}, {-aya}
  • VIII: Deictic: {-ʔba·}
  • IX: Syntactic: {-bax}, {-Mak’}, {-a}, {-al}, {-yiNàl}, {i·kò}, {-ba}, {-Nalal}, {-heʔè}, {-heʔ}

Position Classes of Suffixes (Verbs)

  • I- {-kʰ}, {-k’}
  • II- {-ma}, {-ʔwà·}, {-mli}
  • III- {-qa}
  • IV- {-ki}
  • V- {-Mak’}
  • VI- {-yaki}, {-kìl}, {-ki·mà}, {-baqay}
  • VII- {-ayax}, {-ine}, {-baʔè}
  • VIII (for dependent verb forming members)- {-iy}, {-qan}, {-in}, {-sa}, {-pʰi}, {-pʰila}, {-bàya}, {-iday}, {-ʔ}, {-Nalal}, {-ba}
  • VIII (for independent verb forming members)- {-ya}, {-·hi}, {-·}, {-i·Nàʔ}, {-yaʔè·le}, {-iš}, {-è·}, {-ink’e}, {-·le}, {-baʔ}, {-im}, {-me}

An example of derivational suffixes are the gender suffixes, {-p’} for the masculine gender, and {-t’} for the feminine gender.

Instrumental Prefixes

There are 18 frequently used instrumental prefixes in Eastern Pomo, which are used to indicate how something was done. An example of one of the frequent forms is {da} meaning 'with or affecting the hand'. It is seen in the word /da·kʰó·/, meaning 'grab at something, steady something with hand, catch with hand'.

Stem Reduplication

Stem reduplication signifies different types of distributiveness, meaning that the action affects many individuals or creates many distributed results. There are four types in Eastern Pomo:

  • reduplication of the root alone, {r}
  • reduplication of the root plus a manner suffix, {ʔr}
  • reduplication of an instrumental prefix plus a root, {R}
  • reduplication of an instrumental prefix, root and manner suffix

It is clear that the reduplicated sequence comes after the base stem because of the fact that the primary stress associated with all roots is not reduplicated in the process. The amount of distributiveness is determined by the number of morphemes involved in the reduplication. For example, in the first type of reduplication, only the root is copied, and only it's meaning is affected. In the second type, the root and a manner suffix are reduplicated, and both of their meanings are affected. For example, the word /mi·ṭʰi’ṭʰik’i·l/, meaning 'kick something along, a little way at a time,' only the root is reduplicated, it's possible that only one toe is used to do the kicking. The motion of spreading, as indicated in the phrase 'a little way at a time,' is the part that is distributed.


Grammatical evidentiality is expressed by 4 evidential suffixes that are added to verbs, -ink’e (nonvisual sensory), -ine (inferential), -·le (hearsay), -ya (direct knowledge).

Evidential type Example Verb Gloss
nonvisual sensory pʰa·békʰ-ink’e "burned"
[speaker felt the sensation]
inferential pʰa·bék-ine "must have burned"
[speaker saw circumstantial evidence]
hearsay (reportative) pʰa·békʰ-·le "burned, they say"
[speaker is reporting what was told]
direct knowledge pʰa·bék-a "burned"
[speaker has direct evidence]


Word order is not fixed, but predictable, in the Eastern Pomo language. Verbs are the head of the clause, and typically the final word in that clause. Generally, the order preceding the verb begins with an optional adverbial or locative complement, then the subject, object, instrument, and possibly another adverbial or locative complement.

Case Marking

The position of the agent is morphologically specified by one of the three suffixes: {-là·}, {-u·là·}, or {-yeʔèkʰ}.

  • /bu·ráqalu·là·¹ wi² qa·néa³ ./ 'I got bit by a bear' ['bear'-agent¹, 'me'², 'bite'³]

The relation of instruments is marked by the suffix {-yay} when a morphologically marked subject and object are in the clause as well. The locative suffixes used to mark the locative complement are: {-w}, {-xa·m}, {-da}, {-a·ma·}, {-ya}, {-Na}, or {-iday}.

There is a syntactic relation of possession or dependency between the members of a phrase and the head of a phrase. Possession is marked morphologically by the genitive suffix {-bax} or a possessive pronoun.

  • /bó·bax¹ ká·wkʰ²/ 'people from Ukiah' ['west genitive' ¹, 'people'²]

Dependency is not morphologically marked, but is interpreted through paraphrasing or dropping words.

Sample Lexicon

  • /la·bi’tʰ/ 'flash on and off' : {la·-} (occurs only with this root, meaning unknown) + {bi’-} 'position, be positioned' + {-tʰ} (suffix characterizes intermittent actions)
  • /qa·léy/ 'eaten up, eat up' : {qa·-} 'with jaws and teeth, with jaw-like action' + {lé-} 'extend, with even, smooth distribution, and by extension, completely include' + {-y} (perfective suffix indicating an action that is completed or accomplished)
  • /xá ku·ṭʰi’ski·/ 'splash water (with side of palm)' : {xá} 'water' + {ku·-} 'with a flat surface, such as the palm' + {ṭʰi-} 'motion which spreads or extends' + {-s} 'suffix indicating concentration, intensity' + {-ki} 'semelfactive' + {-·} 'stative mode'
  • /ba·q’ál/ 'finish talking, going to school, or job of cutting fish or apricots'
  • /da·q’áṭ’ki·/ 'scratch off'
  • /da·q’á·s/ 'scratch with nails'

See also

External links


  • McLendon, Sally. (2003). Evidentials in Eastern Pomo with a comparative survey of the category in other Pomoan languages. In A. Y. Aikhenvald & R. M. W. Dixon (Eds.), Studies in evidentiality(pp. 101-129). Typological studies in language (Vol. 54). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. ISBN 90-272-2962-7; ISBN 1-58811-344-2.
  • McLendon, Sally. (1975). A Grammar of Eastern Pomo. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-09443-3.
  • 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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