|Native to||United States|
Pre-contact distribution of the Washo language
Washo // (or Washoe; endonym wá:šiw ʔítlu) is an endangered Native American language isolate spoken by the Washo on the California–Nevada border in the drainages of the Truckee and Carson Rivers, especially around Lake Tahoe. While there are only 20 elderly native speakers of Washo, since 1994 there has been a small immersion school that has produced a number of moderately fluent younger speakers. The immersion school has since closed its doors and the language program now operates through the Cultural Resource Department for the Washoe Tribe. The language is still very much endangered; however, there has been a renaissance in the language revitalization movement as many of the students who attended the original immersion school have become teachers.
Ethnographic Washo speakers belonged to the Great Basin culture area and they were the only non-Numic group of that area. The language has borrowed from the neighboring Uto-Aztecan, Maiduan and Miwokan languages and is connected to both the Great Basin and California sprachbunds.
Washo shows very little geographic variation. Jacobsen (1986:108) wrote, "When there are two variants of a feature, generally one is found in a more northerly area and the other in a more southerly one, but the lines separating the two areas for the different features do not always coincide."
Washo is conservatively considered a language isolate. That is, it shares no demonstrated link with any other language, including its three direct neighboring languages, Northern Paiute (a Numic language of Uto-Aztecan), Maidu (Maiduan), and Sierra Miwok (Utian). It is often classified as a Hokan language, but this language family is not universally accepted among specialists, nor is Washo's connection to it.
The language was first described in A Grammar of the Washo Language by William H. Jacobsen, Jr., in a University of California, Berkeley, PhD dissertation and this remains the sole complete description of the language. There is no significant dialect variation. (Jacobsen's lifelong work with Washo is described at the University of Nevada Oral History Program.)
There are six distinct vowel qualities found in the Washo language, each of which occurs long and short. The sound quality of a vowel is dependent upon their length and the consonant they precede, as well as the stress put on the vowel.
|á or a
á: or a:
|é or e
é: or e:
|demémew 'his rib'|
|í or i
í: or I:
|dipúlul 'my car'|
|ó or o
ó: or o:
|nanhólwa 'golden currant'|
|ú or u
ú: or u:
|Mášdɨmmi 'he's hiding'|
Vowels marked with the acute accent ( ´ ) are pronounced with stress, such as in the Washo ćigábut (summer).
In Washo, vowels can have either long or short length qualities; the longer quality is noted by appending a colon ⟨:⟩ to the vowel, as in the above example míši milí:giyi. Vowels with such a mark are usually pronounced for twice the normal length. This can be seen in the difference between the words móko (shoes) mó:ko (knee). However, vowels pronounced this way may not always be followed by a half-colon.
Jacobsen described in detail various vowel alternations that distinguished the Washo speech communities.
|b||/b/||bá:ćuk 'ammunition'; dá:bal 'sagebrush'|
|d||/d/||da:bal 'sagebrush'; dá:daʔ 'bed'|
|g||/ɡ/||gá:zagaza 'a type of bird'; tꞌá:gim 'pinenut'|
|p||/p/||paćil 'pus'; lapɨš 'my body'; dawmaʔgá:p 'wet place'|
|t||/t/||taniw 'miwak';[clarification needed] data:gil 'his knife'; tꞌá:tꞌat 'magpie'|
|k||/k/||kaŋa 'cave'; maku 'decayed tooth'; bá:ćuk 'ammunition'|
|pꞌ or pʼ||/pʼ/||pꞌá:wa 'in the valley'; dá:pꞌá:pɨš 'his lungs'|
|tꞌ or tʼ||/tʼ/||tꞌá:gim 'pinenut'; tꞌá:tꞌat 'magpie'|
|kꞌ or kʼ||/kʼ/||kꞌá:ŋi 'it's roaring'; kꞌá:kꞌaʔ 'heron'|
|ć or cʼ||/t͡sʼ/||ćámduʔ 'chokecherry'; dićáćaʔ 'my chin'|
|s||/s/||súkuʔ 'dog'; ya:saʔ 'again'; ʔayɨs 'antelope'|
|z||/d͡z/||gá:zagaza 'a type of bird'|
|š||/ʃ/||šáwaʔ 'white fir'; dišášaʔ 'my mother's sister'; wá:laš 'bread'|
|h||/h/||hélmeʔ 'three'; ʔa:huyi 'they are standing'|
|m||/m/||má:mayʔ 'conical burden basket, used for pine nuts'; bá:muš 'muskrat'; tꞌá:gim 'pinenut'|
|n||/n/||nanholwa 'golden currant'; á:ni 'ant'|
|l||/l/||lakꞌaʔ 'one'; wá:laš 'bread'; paćil 'pus'|
|w||/w/||wá:laš 'bread'; pꞌa:wa 'in the valley'; daʔaw 'lake'|
|y||/j/||ya:saʔ 'again'; dayáʔ 'leaf'|
|Ŋ||/ŋ̊/||dewŊétiʔ 'hillside sloping down'|
|M||/m̥/||Mášdɨmmi 'he's hiding'|
|W||/w̥/||Wáʔi 'he's the one who's doing it'|
|Y||/j̊/||tꞌá:Yaŋi 'he's hunting'|
|ʔ||/ʔ/||daʔaw 'lake'; dá:daʔ|
In the area around Woodfords, California, the local Washo dialect substituted [θ] for /s/, thus, sí:su 'bird' was written thithu.
Washo has a complex tense system.
Verbal inflection is rich with a large number of tenses. Tense is usually carried by a suffix that attaches to the verb. The tense suffix may signal recent past, intermediate past, the long-ago-but-remembered past, the distant past, the intermediate future, or the distant future. For example, the suffix -leg indicates that the verb describes an event that took place in the recent past, usually earlier the previous day as seen in the Washo sentence, "dabóʔo lew búʔlegi" (the white man fed us).
|-ayʔ||intermediate past||earlier than the current day, but not the distant past||di hulúyay (I fell over)|
|-gul||long ago, remembered past||within the lifetime of the speaker||gedí yeyemi ʔúšgulaygi (They used to call him that)|
|-lul||distant past||before the lifetime of the speaker||ga móŋil halúliya (They planted it here long ago)|
|-a||recent past||action just finished||lépꞌamaʔ (I got there)|
|-i||present||actions currently in progress||míši milí:giyi (I see you)|
|-aša||near future||soon||dimú sek hayášaʔi (I will choke him)|
|-tiʔ||intermediate future||within the day||ʔilćáćimiʔ etiʔi (It's getting green. It will be green)|
|-gab||distant future||the following day or later||milí:gi gabigi (I'll see you. See you later)|
Possession in Washo is shown by prefixes added to the object. There are two sets of prefixes added: the first set if the object begins with a vowel and the second set if the object begins with a consonant.
|l-||first-person possessive||láŋal (my/our house)|
|m-||second-person possessive||máŋal (your house)|
|tꞌ-||third-person possessive||tꞌáŋal (his/her/its/their house)|
|d-||unidentified possessive||dáŋal (somebody's house)|
|di-||first-person possessive||diháŋa (my/our mouth)|
|ʔum-||second-person possessive||ʔumháŋa (your mouth)|
(when first vowel of the object is a or o)
|daháŋa (his/her/its/their mouth)|
dakꞌómol (his/her/its/their ball)
|de-||third person possessive
(when first vowel of the object is e, i, ɨ, or u')
|deMélɨw (his/her/its/their belt)
dedí:geš (his/her/its/their net)
debɨkꞌɨ (his/her/its/their grandmother's sister)
degúšuʔ (his/her/its/their pet)
|unidentified possessive||háŋa (somebody's mouth)|
In 2012, Lakeview Commons Park in South Lake Tahoe was renamed in the Washo language. "The Washoe Tribe has presented the name Tahnu Leweh (pronounced approx. [tanu lewe]) which, in native language, means "all the people's place." It is a name the Tribe would like to gift to El Dorado County and South Lake Tahoe as a symbol of peace, prosperity and goodness."
- Victor Golla (2011) California Indian Languages
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Washo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
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Marianne Mithun. The Languages of Native North America (1999, Cambridge, pg. 557)
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- Caitlin Keliiaa. 2012. "Washiw Wagayay Maŋal: Reweaving the Washoe Language," University of California, Los Angeles MA thesis.
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