The Relationship of Wintuan to Plateau Penutian
This is the first attempt at a comprehensive comparison of Wintuan and Plateau Penutian, two subgroups which are regarded as members of the hypothetical Penutian language family.
The Winutan language group of Northern California includes as its most well-known representatives Wintu, Nomlaki (which are top of the list of endangered languages) and Patwin (which must be regarded as extinct). This group is demonstrated by the author as having close connections to the „Plateau Penutian“ group. The Plateau group includes, as highly independent members, the Klamath-Modoc language, which is also endangered (and is spoken in south central Oregon and a smaller part of northeastern California), the Sahaptian group (including Nez Perce and Sahaptin), with slightly better chances of survival, spoken in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, as well as the now extinct Molala in north central Oregon. In this paper, an attempt is made at throwing some light on the many ramifications of Penutian, one of the most interesting language families in North America, whose members differ strongly from each other and are spread from southeastern Alaska to Southern California.
The author goes far beyond the indications provided by other scholars (e.g. the similarities noticed by DeLancey (1987) between the pronouns of Wintu and Klamath), by presenting morphological elements and structural similarities as well as over 130 comparison sets from all areas of the lexicon that are common to Wintuan, Klamath and Sahaptian. Thus, for the first time the Sahaptian languages of the Plateau group are also taken into account.
For some time it has been clear that the Penutian languages of California (Wintuan, Maiduan, Yokuts, Miwok-Costanoan), which used to be subsumed under the heading of „California Penutian“, are indeed related, but do not form a Penutian subbranch of their own that developed in California. Instead, we are dealing with independent members of Penutian, the speakers of which migrated long ago in successive waves from regions further to the North into their current habitats. The relationships between the Californian languages, which undoubtedly exist, are, however, difficult to evaluate, as due to the geographical proximity and the manifold cultural connections between the peoples of California it is often unclear whether we are dealing with loans or inherited material. Instead, it appears that all the Penutian languages of California exhibit deep connections with languages to the north (Oregon, Washington and elsewhere). This larger context, where borrowing borrowing can be ruled out, is also repeatedly referred to here.
The mere fact that the four Californian groups (Wintuan, Maiduan, Miwok-Costanoan, Yokuts) represent four different migrations from the North into California does not give any indication as to their relationship with each other: they could still form a subgroup (or be part of a larger subgroup) that did not originate and differentiate in California, but somewhere outside California.
Wintuan is very independent, and no claim is made that it is closer to Plateau than to anything else, nor that there is a special subgroup within Penutian consisting of Wintuan and the Plateau languages.
Stefan Liedtke is the author of the book “The Languages of the First Nations“, also published by LINCOM EUROPA, and since 1994 has been working with the Winnemem Wintu of Northern California in a community-based language revitalization project.
ISBN 9783895863578. LINCOM Studies in Native American Linguistics 55. 95pp. 2007.