The Esselen language was spoken in the northern Santa Lucia Range in what is now Monterey County. In pre-contact times, there were between 500 and 1000 speakers (Kroeber 1925). There have been no first-language speakers of Esselen since the beginning of the twentieth century (Golla 2011).
Esselen is an isolate within the hypothesized Hokan language family. This includes, in addition to Esselen, Chimariko, Karuk, the Palaihnihan languages (Achumawi and Atsugewi), the Pomoan languages (Central Pomo, Eastern Pomo, Kashaya, Northeastern Pomo, Northern Pomo, Southeastern Pomo, and Southern Pomo), Salinan, the Shastan languages (Konomihu, New River Shasta, Okwanuchu, and Shasta), Washo, Yana, and the Yuman languages (Cocopa, Kiliwa, Kumeyaay, Maricopa, Mojave, Pai, Paipai, and Quechan).
Selected archival materials at Berkeley
- Beeler, Madison S. 1978. Esselen. Journal of California Anthropology, Papers in Linguistics 1:3-38.
- Golla, Victor. 2011. California Indian languages. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Heizer R. F., ed. 1952. California Indian linguistic records: The Mission Indian vocabularies of Alphonse Pinart. University of California Anthropological Records 15:1-84. [PDF]
- Shaul, David. 1995. The Huelel (Esselen) language. International Journal of American Linguistics 61:191-239.