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California and Oregon
Hokan (controversial)
Pomoan langs.png

Pre-contact distribution of Pomoan languages

Pomoan[1] (also called Kulanapan) is a family of endangered languages spoken in northern California by the Pomo people on the Pacific Coast. According to the 2000 census, there are 255 speakers of the languages. Of these, 45 are between the ages of 5 and 17, including 15 with limited English proficiency.

John Wesley Powell designated this group of languages as the Kulanapan family in 1891, and noted that its boundaries were the Pacific Ocean to the west, Yukian and Copehan territories to the east, the watershed of the Russian River to the north, and Bodega Head and present-day location of Santa Rosa, California to the south.[2]


Family division

Pomoan consists of 7 languages, named for their geographic locations by Samuel Barrett in 1908:

A. Western Pomoan
1. Northern Pomo (†)
a. Southern subgroup
i. Central Pomo
ii. Southern Pomo
iii. Kashaya (a.k.a. Southwestern Pomo, Kashia)
B. Northeastern Pomo (†)
C. Eastern Pomo
D. Southeastern Pomo
The seven Pomoan languages with an indication of their pre-contact location within California.

At the time of Barrett's classification these languages were thought to be dialects of a single language, yet the diversity and non-intelligibility between Pomoan languages has shown them to be seven distinct languages. Barrett's naming convention often leads those unfamiliar with the languages to the misconception that the Pomoan languages are dialects of one single Pomo language.

The "Kulanapan Family" in John Wesley Powell's 1891 classification of North American Languages included most of the communities now known to have spoken Pomoan languages. The term "Kulanapan" originated as the name of one Pomo band from the Clear Lake area, and was first applied to the whole Pomoan family by George Gibbs in 1853.[2]

Northern Pomo and Northeastern Pomo are now extinct (Northern Pomo in 1994). The remaining Pomoan languages are spoken by rapidly-diminishing handfuls of elderly speakers, with Kashaya having the most speakers.

Pomoan has been included in all formulations of the controversial Hokan language phylum.

See also

  • Boontling - a constructed dialect of English incorporating Pomo words


  1. ^ The etymology of the term "Pomo" is complex. It seems to be a combination of the Northern Pomo words [pʰoːmoː], "at red earth hole" and [pʰoʔmaʔ] (containing [pʰo-], "reside, live in a group"), together suggesting "those who live at red earth hole" (Campbell 1997:397, citing McLendon & Oswalt 1978:277)
  2. ^ a b Powell 1891:87-88


  • Barrett, Samuel A. (1908). The Ethno-Geography of the Pomo and Neighboring Indians. Berkeley: University of California Publications in Linguistics (Vol. 6).
  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Goddard, Ives (Ed.). (1996). Languages. Handbook of North American Indians (W. C. Sturtevant, General Ed.) (Vol. 17). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-048774-9.
  • McLendon, Sally & Rovert L. Oswalt (1978). "Pomo: Introduction". In California, ed. Robert F. Heizer. Vol. 8 of Handbook of North American Indians, ed. William C. Sturtevant, pp. 274-88. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Powell, John Wesley Powell. Indian Linguistic Families Of America, North Of Mexico, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1891, pages 1-142. [1]

External links



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