In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Chumashan Languages

  • Introduction
  • John Peabody Harrington
  • Hokan Hypothesis
  • Topics in Chumash Linguistics

Linguistics Chumashan Languages
Timothy Henry-Rodriguez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0213


Chumashan languages were spoken in and near the coastal areas of Central and Southern California; villages were from as far north as Morro Bay to as far south as Malibu. Chumash speakers also lived inland from the coast, and speakers lived on the northern Channel Islands (namely, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, and Santa Rosa). The various Chumashan languages are generally divided into three subfamilies: Northern Chumash (Obispeño), Island Chumash (Cruzeño, also known as Ysleño), and Central Chumash (Ventureño, Purisimeño, Barbareño, and Ineseño). The language Ineseño is sometimes used interchangeably with the term Sʰamala, but these technically refer to different varieties of speech. Both Ineseño and Ventureño are known to have had several distinct dialects each. As of about 1970, there were no native fluent speakers of any Chumashan languages. There are currently several language revitalization programs in place, however, and there are many opportunities for further research on this complex language family.

John Peabody Harrington

John Peabody Harrington was an anthropologist and linguist known most for his detailed written phonetic records of a number of native Californian languages and American Indian languages. Harrington was active during the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. Most of his records are on native Californian languages (pre-European), and of those languages, most of Harrington’s records are of Chumashan languages. Barbareño and Ventureño records are the most extensive. The best records can be found in the Smithsonian’s compilation of Harrington’s original records, the Papers of John Peabody Harrington. In the past, these records could be viewed only on microfilm, but much Harrington material has been digitized and is available through the National Anthropological Archives.

  • Harrington, John Peabody. 1986. A guide to the field notes: Native American history, language, and culture of Southern California/Basin. Vol. 3 of The papers of John Peabody Harrington in the Smithsonian Institution 1907–1957. Edited by Elaine L. Mills and Ann J. Brickfield, 1–55. White Plains, NY: Kraus International.

    A guide to the microfilm, and now pdf, organization of Harrington’s notes on Chumashan (among other) languages.

  • National Anthropological Archives. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

    The current electronic and online resource for accessing the digitized Harrington documents.

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