The Luiseño language is a Uto-Aztecan language of California spoken by the Luiseño, a Native American people who at the time of the first contacts with the Spanish in the 16th century inhabited the coastal area of southern California, ranging 50 miles (80 km) from the southern part of Los Angeles County, California, to the northern part of San Diego County, California, and inland 30 miles (48 km). The people are called "Luiseño" due to their proximity to the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia.
The language is highly endangered, but an active language revitalization project is underway, assisted by linguists from the University of California, Riverside. The Pechanga Indian Reservation offers classes for children, and in 2013, "the tribe ... began funding a graduate-level Cal State San Bernardino Luiseño class, one of the few for-credit university indigenous-language courses in the country."
For some native speakers recorded in The Sparkman Grammar of Luiseño, the allophones [ə] and [ɨ] are free variants of [e] and [i] respectively. However, other speakers do not use these variants. Sparkman records fewer than 25 Luiseño words with either [ə] or [ɨ]. For one of these words (ixíla “a cough”) the pronunciations [əxɨla] and [ɨxɨla] are both recorded.
Unstressed [u] freely varies with [o]. Likewise, unstressed [i] and [e] are free variants.
Vowels are often syncopated when attaching certain affixes, notably the possessive prefixes no- “my”, cham- “our”, etc. Hence polóv “good”, but o-plovi “your goodness”; kichum “houses” (nominative case), but kichmi “houses” (accusative case).
Luiseño distinguishes vowel length quantitatively. Luiseño vowels have three lengths.
Overlong vowels are rare in Luiseño, typically reserved for absolutes, such as interjections, e.g. aaashisha, roughly “haha!” (more accurately an exclamation of praise, joy or laughter).
Many orthographies mark irregular stress with an acute accent on the stressed syllable’s vowel, e.g. chilúy “speak Spanish”. In these systems, irregularly stressed long vowels either carry a written accent on both vowels or the first vowel only, e.g. koyóówut or koyóowut “whale”. Also, stress is not visually represented when it falls on the first syllable, e.g. hiicha “what”.
Another convention is to mark stress by underlining accented vowels, e.g. koyoowut “whale”.
As a rule, the possessive prefixes are unstressed. The accent remains on the first syllable of the root word, e.g. nokaamay “my son” and never *nokaamay. One rare exception is the word pó-ha “alone” (< po- “his/her/its” + ha “self”), whose invariable prefix and fixed accent suggests that it is now considered a single lexical item (compare noha “myself”, poha “him/herself”, etc.).
Luiseño has a fairly rich consonant inventory.
|Nasal||m [m]||n [n]||ng [ŋ]|
|Stop||voiceless||p [p]||t [t]||ch [tʃ]||k [k]||q [q]||' [ʔ]|
|voiced||b [b]||d [d]||g (ɡ)|
|Fricative||voiceless||f [f]||s [s̪]||z [s̺]||sh [ʃ]||x [χ]||h [h]|
|voiced||v [v]||th [ð]|
|Approximant||l [l]||y [j]||w [w]|
|Trill||r [ɾ]||g [ʀ]|
Along with an extensive oral tradition, Luiseño has a written tradition that stretches back to the Spanish settlement of San Diego. Pablo Tac (1822–1841), a native Luiseño speaker and a convert to Roman Catholicism, was the first to develop an orthography for his native language. His orthography leaned heavily on Spanish, which he learned in his youth.
Although Luiseño has no standard orthography, a commonly accepted spelling is implemented in reservation classrooms and college campuses in San Diego where the language is taught. The various orthographies that have been used for writing the language show influences from Spanish, English and the IPA.
|IPA||Pablo Tac (1830s)||Sparkman (1900)||Modern|
|(Long vowel, e.g. /iː/)||ii||i·||ii|
|/ð/||δ||th / ð|
|/ŋ/||n´||ŋ||ng / ñ|
The Lord's Prayer (or the Our Father) in Luiseño, as recorded in The Sparkman Grammar of Luiseño:
Linguist John Peabody Harrington made a series of recordings of speakers of Luiseño in the 1930s. Those recordings, made on aluminum disks, were deposited in the United States National Archives. They have since been digitized and made available over the internet by the Smithsonian Institution.