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Karuk language

Region Northwestern California, USA
Native speakers
12  (2007)[1]
30 L2 speakers
Hokan ?
  • Karuk
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kyh
Glottolog karo1304[2]

Karuk or Karok is an endangered language of northwestern California. It is the traditional language of the Karuk people, most of whom now speak English. The name is derived from the word Káruk, which means 'upriver'.[3]:397


  • Use 1
  • Classification 2
  • Phonology 3
    • Vowels 3.1
    • Consonants 3.2
  • Grammar 4
  • References 5
  • Additional reading 6
  • External links 7


Linguist William Bright documented the Karuk language and produced a grammar of it in 1957. When Bright began his studies in 1949 there were "a couple of hundred fluent speakers," but by 2011, there were fewer than a dozen fluent elders.[4] A standardized system for writing the languages was adopted in the 1980s.[1]


Karuk is a language isolate, sharing few if any similarities with other nearby languages. Historically, the American linguist Edward Sapir proposed it be classified as part of the Hokan family he hypothesized although little evidence supports this proposal.[3] As Bright wrote, "The Karok language is not closely or obviously related to any other (in the area), but has been classified as a member of the northern group of Hokan languages, in a subgroup which includes Chimariko and the Shasta languages, spoken in the same general part of California as Karok itself."[5]



Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close i u
Open a


Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Palatal or
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Stop p t t͡ʃ k ʔ
Fricative β f θ s (ʃ) x h
Flap ɾ
Approximant j


Karuk is a polysynthetic language known for its method of arranging old and new information: "... skilled Karuk speakers use separate words to communicate new, salient detail, or to underscore known detail; and they use affixes for background details so that a listener's attention is not diverted."[6]:41


  1. ^ a b Karuk at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Karuk". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b Lyle Campbell. American Indian Languages. Oxford University Press.  
  4. ^ Walters, Heidi (October 27, 2011). "In Karuk: A family struggles to bring its ancestral tongue back to life". North Coast Journal. Retrieved October 4, 2013. 
  5. ^ William Bright (1957). The Karok Language, by William Bright. University of California Press. 
  6. ^ Shirley Silver; Wick R. Miller (1997). American Indian languages: cultural and social contexts. University of Arizona Press.  

Additional reading

  • Philip Drucker (1965). Cultures of the north Pacific coast. Chandler Pub. Co. 
  • Nancy Richardson (1993). Now you're speaking - Karuk!: Araráhih, the people's language. Center for Indian Community Development, Humboldt State University. 

External links

  • Karuk Language Resources
  • Karuk Dictionary and Texts
  • Efforts Under Way to Preserve Karuk Language
  • Traditional Karuk Songs Audio Gallery
  • Karuk language overview at the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages
  • Karok language dictionary online from IDS (select simple or advanced browsing)
  • Karuk basic lexicon at the Global Lexicostatistical Database
  • Live Your Language Alliance (LYLA) Working to speak and hear traditional languages of the Tolowa, Karuk, Yurok, Hupa, Tsnungwe, Wiyot, Mattole, and Wailaki.
  • OLAC resources in and about the Karok language

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