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Hupa language

Na:tinixwe Mixine:whe'
Native to USA
Region California (Hoopa Valley)
Native speakers
8  (1998)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 hup
ISO 639-3 hup
Glottolog hupa1239[2]

'Hupa (native name: Na:tinixwe Mixine:whe, lit. "language of the Hoopa Valley people") is an Athabaskan language (of Na-Dené stock) spoken along the lower course of the Trinity river in Northwest California by the Hupa (Na:tinixwe), and before European contact by the Chilula and Whilkut peoples to the west.

The 2000 US Census estimated the language to be spoken by 64 persons between the ages of 5 and 17, including 4 monolingual speakers. As of 2012, there are fewer than 10 individuals whose Hupa could be called fluent, at least one of whom (Verdena Parker) is a fully fluent bilingual. Perhaps another 50 individuals of all ages have restricted control of traditional Hupa phonology, grammar and lexicon. Beyond this, many tribal members share a small vocabulary of words and phrases of Hupa origin.


  • Orthography 1
  • Phonology 2
  • Morphology 3
    • Verb themes and classes 3.1
    • Verb template 3.2
    • Pronouns, pronominal inflection 3.3
    • Demonstrative pronouns 3.4
  • References 4
  • Bibliography 5
  • External links 6


The Hupa alphabet is as follows:

a, a:, b, ch, chʼ, chw, chwʼ, d, dz, e, e:, g, gy, h, i, j, k, kʼ, ky, kyʼ, l, ł, m, n, ng, o, o:, q, qʼ, s, sh, t, tʼ, tł, tłʼ, ts, tsʼ, u, w, wh, x, xw, y, ʻ [3]


Hupa consonants[4]
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
central lateral plain labial. plain labial. plain labial.
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop plain (p) t (k) q ʔ
aspirated kʲʰ
ejective kʲʼ ()
Affricate plain ts
aspirated tsʰ tʃʷʰ
ejective tsʼ tɬʼ tʃʼ (tʃʷʼ)
Fricative s ɬ (ʃ) x h
Approximant w l j
Hupa vowel phonemes[5]
Front Central Back
Close-mid ɪ~e o
Open a

Vowels may be lengthened.


Verb themes and classes

As with other Dene languages, the Hupa verb is based around a theme. Melissa Axelrod has defined a theme as “the underlying skeleton of the verb to which prefixes or strings of prefixes or suffixal elements are added in producing an utterance. The theme itself has a meaning and is the basic unit of the Athabaskan verbal lexicon.” [6] In addition to a verb stem, a typical theme consists of a classifier, one or more conjunct prefixes, and one or more disjunct prefixes.[7]

According to Victor Golla (1970, 2001 and others), each Hupa theme falls into one of eight structural classes according to its potential for inflection, along the following three parameters: active vs. neuter, transitive vs. intransitive, and personal vs. impersonal. Golla (2001: 817)

1. Active themes are inflected for aspect-mode categories, while neuter themes are not. 2. Transitive themes are inflected for direct object, while intransitive themes are not. 3. Personal themes are inflected for subject, while impersonal themes are not.

Golla (2001: 818) presents examples of themes from each of the eight structural classes. Orthography has been changed to conform to the current accepted tribal orthography:

Active themes: Transitive Personal O-ƚ-me:n ‘fill O’ Impersonal no:=O-d-(n)-ƚ-tan' ‘O gets used to something’

Intransitive Personal ts’i-(w)-la‧n/lan' ‘play (at a rough sport)’ Impersonal (s)-daw ‘melt away disappear’

Neuter themes: Transitive Personal O-si-ƚ-'a:n ‘have (a round object) lying’ Impersonal O-wi-l-chwe:n ‘O has been made, created’

Intransitive Personal di-n-ch'a:t ‘ache, be sick’ Impersonal k̓i-qots' ‘there is a crackling sound’

Verb template

As with other Dene languages, the Hupa verb is composed of a verb stem and a set of prefixes. The prefixes can be divided into a conjunct prefix set and disjunct prefix set. The disjunct prefixes occur on the outer left edge of the verb. The conjunct prefixes occur after the disjunct prefixes, closer to the verb stem. The two types of prefixes can be distinguished by their different phonological behavior. The prefix complex may be subdivided into 10 positions, modeled in the Athabaskanist literature as a template, as follows:

11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
adv thematic material pl/aug-
3 subj obj thematic material adv distributive-
1/2 subj classifier (voice/valency marker) verb stem

Pronouns, pronominal inflection

Hupa verbs have pronominal (i.e., pronoun) prefixes that mark both subjects and objects. The prefixes can vary in certain modes, particularly the perfective mode (See e.g., Mode and Aspect for a discussion of modes in Navajo, a related Dene language). The prefixes vary according to person and number. The basic subject prefixes are listed in the table below:

Person/Number Subject Prefixes Object Prefixes
Singular Plural Singular Plural
First (1) -wh- -di- -wh- -noh-
Second (2) ni- -oh- ni-
Third animate (3) -ch'i- xo-
Third obviative (3) yi- -Ø-
Third indefinite (3) k'i- -Ø-
Third impersonal (areal-situational) -xo- -Ø-
Reflexive 'a:di-
Reciprocal n- łi

The subject prefixes occur in two different positions. The first and second subject prefixes (-wh- (or allomorph -e: ), -di-, -ni-, -oh-) occur in position 2, directly before the classifier (voice/valency) prefixes. The animate, obviative, indefinite and "areal-situational" subject prefixes (ch'i-, yi-, k'i- and xo-) are known as "deictic subject pronouns" and occur in position 8.

The direct object prefixes occur in position 7.

The Hupa free personal subject pronouns are as follows:

Person+Number form
1sg whe:
2sg ning
3sg xong, min (low animacy)
1pl nehe
2pl nohni
3pl xong

Golla (2001:865-6) notes that the 3rd person free pronouns are very rarely used, with demonstrative pronouns being used in their place.

Demonstrative pronouns

-hay(i)  <  hay-i  ‘the one (who)’
-hay-de:  <  hay-de:-i  ‘the one here’  (de: ‘here’)
-hay-de:d  <  hay-de:-d-i  ‘this one here’  (de:-di ‘this here’)
-hay-yo:w  <  hay-yo:w-i  ‘the one there (close)’  (yo:wi ‘there’)
-hay-ye:w  <  hay-ye:w-i  ‘the one in the distance’  (ye:wi ‘yonder’)


  1. ^ Hupa at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Hupa". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Golla (1996)
  4. ^ Golla (1960:25–34)
  5. ^ Golla (1960:25)
  6. ^ Axelrod, M. 1993. _The Semantics of Time: Aspectual Categorizations in Koyukon Athabaskan_, p. 17. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  7. ^ Sapir, Edward & Victor Golla (2001). Hupa Texts, with Notes and Lexicon. In _The Collected Works of Edward Sapir, Victor Golla & Sean O'Neill (eds.), volume XIV_, 19-1011. Mouton de Gruyter.
  8. ^ adapted from Campbell, Amy. (2007). Hupa Ditransitives and the Syntactic Status of R. Conference on Ditransitive Constructions. MPI-EVA, Leipzig.


  • Campbell, Amy (2007). "Hupa ditransitives and the syntactic status of R". 
  • Goddard, Pliny Earle (1905). "The Morphology of the Hupa Language". 
  • Goddard, Pliny Earle (1907). "The Phonology of the Hupa Language". 
  • Golla, Victor (1970). "Hupa Grammar". University of California, Berkeley. 
  • Golla, Victor (1996). "Hupa Language Dictionary Second Edition". Retrieved May 6, 2010. 
  • Golla, Victor (2011). "California Indian Languages". University of California Press. 
  • Gordon, Matthew (2001). "Laryngeal Timing and Correspondence in Hupa". UCLA Working Papers in Linguistics 1. 
  • Gordon, Matthew. "The Phonetics and Phonology of Non-Modal Vowels: A Cross-Linguistic Perspective". 
  • Gordon, Matthew; Luna, Edmundo. "An Intergenerational Study of Hupa Stress". 
  • Pycha, Anne. "Morpheme Strength Relationships in Hupa, and Beyond". 

External links

  • Danny Ammon's Hupa Language Page
  • Hupa language overview at the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages
  • Hupa Language Dictionary and Texts
  • Hupa basic lexicon at the Global Lexicostatistical Database
  • OLAC resources in and about the Hupa language
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