Eel River Athabaskan

Eel River Athabaskan is a group of closely related dialects that were traditionally spoken in present-day Mendocino, Trinity, and Humboldt counties along the Eel and Van Duzen rivers. As far as is known, there are no first-language speakers of any Eel River dialect remaining today (Golla 2011), but in pre-contact times there were as many as 10,000 speakers of several distinct varieties (Baumhoff 1958). Nongatl was spoken in the territory around the Van Duzen River, from its outlet on the Eel River to its headwaters near Dinsmore, and along Yager and Larabee creeks. A northern dialect of Sinkyone was spoken along the lower Eel River near Scotia to a few miles above the mouth of the Eel River's South Fork, and along the South Fork down to present-day Miranda. A southern Sinkyone dialect was spoken on the South Fork of the Eel between Phillipsville and Leggett, and west to Shelter Cove on the coast. Lassik was spoken on the lower reaches of Dobbyn Creek and south along the Eel River to Kekawaka Creek, with a large settlement at present-day Alderpoint, as well as at the headwaters of the North Fork Eel and Mad rivers. Wailaki was spoken in the territory around the Eel River south of Kekawaka Creek and along the North Fork of the Eel River (Elsasser 1978, Golla 2011).

Map of Sinkyone and surrounding areas
Map of Sinkyone and surrounding languages (Nomland 1935)

Eel River Athabaskan is a member of the Athabaskan language family, spoken across North America with concentrations in western Canada (Dëne Suliné, Sarsi, Slave), Alaska (Ahtna, Gwich'in, Koyukon), the southwest United States (Apache, Navajo), and coastal Oregon and northern California. The other Athabaskan languages of California are Hupa, Kato, Mattole, and Tolowa.

Selected archival materials at Berkeley

Further reading

  • Elsasser, Albert B. 1978. Mattole, Nongatl, Sinkyone, Lassik, and Wailaki. In Robert F. Heizer, ed. California, pp. 190-204. (Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8.) Washington: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Goddard, Pliny Earle. 1923. Habitat of the Wailaki. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnography 20:95-109. [PDF]
  • Goddard, Pliny Earle. 1923. Wailaki texts. International Journal of American Linguistics 2:77-135.
  • Goddard, Pliny Earle. 1924. Habitat of the Pitch Indians, a Wailaki division. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnography 17: 217-225. [PDF]
  • Golla, Victor. 2011. California Indian languages. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Nomland, Gladys Ayer. 1935. Sinkyone notes. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnography 36:149-178. [PDF]
  • Seaburg, William R. 1977. A Wailaki (Athapaskan) text with comparative notes. International Journal of American Linguistics 43:327-332.

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