- Penutian languages
Hypothetical superfamily of North American Indian languages that unites a number of languages and language families mainly of the far western U.S. and Canada.The Penutian hypothesis was proposed by Roland B. Dixon and Alfred L. Kroeber in 1913 and refined by Edward Sapir in 1921. Like the Hokan hypothesis (see Hokan languages), it attempted to reduce the number of unrelated language families in one of the world's most linguistically diverse areas. At its core was a group of languages spoken along California's central coast and in the Central Valley, including Ohlone (Costanoan), Miwok, Wintuan, Maidu, and Yokuts. Sapir added Oregon Penutian (languages once spoken in eastern Oregon), Chinookan (spoken along the lower Columbia River), Plateau Penutian (languages of Plateau Indian peoples), Tsimshian (spoken in western British Columbia), and Mexican Penutian (spoken in southern Mexico). Aside from the Mexican group, all the languages are today either extinct or spoken almost exclusively by older adults. Though the hypothesis remains unproven, at least some languages of the group are probably related to each other.
* * *major grouping (phylum or superstock) of American Indian languages, spoken along the west coast of North America from British Columbia to central California and central New Mexico. The phylum consists of 15 language families with about 20 languages; the families are Wintun (two languages), Miwok-Costanoan (perhaps five Miwokan languages, plus three extinct Costanoan languages), Sahaptin (two languages), Yakonan (two extinct languages), Yokutsan (three languages), and Maiduan (four languages)—plus Klamath-Modoc, Cayuse (extinct), Molale (extinct), Coos, Takelma (extinct), Kalapuya, Chinook (not to be confused with Chinook jargon, a trade language or lingua franca), Tsimshian, and Zuni, each a family consisting of a single language. All but four of the surviving familes are spoken by fewer than 150 persons.Major languages in the phylum are Zuni, spoken in New Mexico; Tsimshian, spoken in British Columbia; and the Sahaptin dialects (Klikitat, Umatilla, Wallawalla, Warm Springs, and Yakima), spoken in north-central Oregon.The Penutian languages are sometimes grouped into a yet larger stock, called either Penutian or Macro-Penutian, that includes several Meso-American Indian languages. The Totonacan, Huave, and Mixe-Zoque language families are often included, and some scholars suggest the inclusion of the large Mayan language family. The American linguist Benjamin L. Whorf (Whorf, Benjamin Lee) proposed to include not only Mixe-Zoque, Huave, Totonacan, and Mayan (including Huastec) but also Uto-Aztecan, another major North and Meso-American language family. This grouping has not been generally accepted.The Penutian languages tend toward the use of formal or inflecting suffixes and changes in the stems of words. In this respect they resemble European languages.
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