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Other names


Spoken in ...

USA: in northern California.

Number of speakers

Approximately 20 (language virtually extinct).

Legal status

Non-specific protection.

English is the USA's de facto official language. The Native American Languages Act (1990, 1992; amended in 2001) was the first federal legislative act on the language rights of Native Americans and the indigenous peoples of Alaska, Hawaii and the islands of the Pacific. The act not only requires the government of the USA to preserve, protect and promote the aforementioned communities' rights to use and develop their languages, but also specifically recognises their entitlement to use those languages for the purposes of education.


CAMPBELL, L. (1997) American Indian Languages. The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press; chapter 4.

HINTON, L. (1994) Flutes of Fire. Essays on California Indian Languages. Berkeley: Heyday Books.

LECLERC, J. (2007) L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde. Quebec: TLFQ, Université Laval.

MITHUN, M. (2001) The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Produced by the Endangered Language Study Group (Grup d'Estudi de Llengües Amenaçades or GELA) of the General Linguistics Department of the University of Barcelona.


By the middle of the 19th century, the Athapaskan languages had been studied in sufficient depth for linguists to conclude that they constituted a language family. In the 20th century, Eyak, a language about which little had previously been known, was found to have many lexical and grammatical similarities to the Athapaskan tongues and was duly associated with them. A number of linguists (e.g. Mithun, 2001) are of the opinion that Tlingit is of the same genetic origin as the Athapaskan languages and Eyak, making the concept of an Athapaskan-Eyak-Tlingit family perfectly feasible. However, other linguists (e.g. Campbell, 1997) believe that Tlingit's grammatical resemblance to the Athapaskan languages and Eyak is attributable to borrowing and geographic proximity.

The territory in which the Athapaskan-Eyak-Tlingit languages are spoken stretches from Alaska to Mexico. The family's origins are thought to lie in inland Alaska, from where it spread to the west and south.

The Pacific Coast Athapaskan languages were formerly spoken from southern Oregon to northern California. The languages in question are divided into two subgroups, one corresponding to Oregon and the other to California. Nowadays, Hupa and Tolowa are the only surviving Pacific Coast Athapaskan languages, and even they are virtually extinct.

Hupa, Chilula and Whilkut are very closely related variants. There is no umbrella term for referring to all three collectively. The Hupa live in Hoopa Valley, along the lower reaches of the Trinity River. There were reportedly around 20 remaining Hupa speakers in the 1990s, all of whom were elderly by then. The Chilula live to the west of the Hupa, on the lower reaches of Redwood Creek. They no longer speak their ancestral language. The same applies to the Whilkut, who live to the south of the Chilula.

The Hupa, the Yurok and the Karuk have had a common cultural framework for many years, despite there being major differences between their respective languages. The three peoples live in the same region and share various traditional ceremonies and dances.

All Hupa's speakers are elderly, as mentioned above, and the language is no longer passed on from generation to generation. It is consequently on the brink of extinction. Projects have been undertaken with a view to preserving the Hupa language and culture, mainly consisting of extracurricular classes and summer camps. The results of such initiatives have been merely symbolic, however.

The Unifon alphabet was adapted for Hupa in the late 1960s. The Unifon alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, but contains additional phonetic symbols so that each of a language's sounds has a univocal character of its own. The alphabet was incompatible with standard typewriters, however, and proved highly impractical for use with IT equipment. It was eventually replaced by adaptations of the traditional Latin alphabet a few decades later.

The Hupa call themselves Natinixwe. Like Chilula, Hupa is a name of Yurok origin.

Number system

Direction in which language is written

Left to right



  • Family:
  • Branch:
    Pacific Coast
  • Group:


  • Continents:
  • Countries:
    United States
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