Historical & Linguistic Background of Wiyot

The Wiyot language (called Soulátluk' - literally ‘your jaw’ - by some speakers) was the native language of the Wiyot people until the death of Della Prince, the last fluent Wiyot speaker to collaborate with linguists, in 1962. Wiyot is linguistically interesting for several reasons. First, along with Yurok, it is one of only two Algic (also called Algonguian) languages in the Pacific Northwest. Other Algic languages are found in Canada, the Great Lakes region, and the northern Atlantic coast, and include languages like Chippewa, Cree, Cheyenne and Arapaho. (see map below)

Polysynthetic Language

Another interesting characteristic of Wiyot is that it is a polysynthetic language, which means that complex ideas - sometimes the equivalent of an entire English sentence - can be expressed using a single verb with multiple prefixes and suffixes. Here are a couple of examples: 

  1. gidutiguliswiwilh
    gi dutigulis wiw ilh
    finish bathe self he/she
    'S/he finishes bathing himself/herself.'
  2. dagudugunugulhu’n
    a gudugunu gulh u’n
    for a while very hurt its
    'There is a lot of hurting.'