Languages of California

Two centuries ago, between 80 and 90 different languages were spoken within the boundaries of what is now the state of California. The indigenous languages of California belong to as many as 20 major language families; even accepting the controversial “Hokan” and “Penutian” groups, at least seven entirely unrelated language families are represented. For its size, California is linguistically the most diverse area of North America.

California’s indigenous languages and language families are listed here. Note that it is not possible to distinguish scientifically between a “language” and a “dialect” (political or social distinctions often play a role); some of the languages shown below are chains or sets of closely related dialects. The names of languages may also change, or vary from dialect to dialect, or from community to community. We try to use the most widespread current names.