Map of Northwestern California languages
The Yuki are located in what is now northwestern California, along the upper Eel River in the Coast Range Mountains. In the mid-20th century, the last fluent speakers passed away and today only a few tribal members even speak phrases of the language. Originally the language consisted of three dialects—Yuki, Huchnom, and Coast Yuki, with Wappo sometimes considered as part of the Yukian family.
The Yukian family is an isolate, with no known linguistic relatives. Indian languages in California are exceptional in North America in that numerous small, linguistic isolates exist in close proximity. Linguists are currently interested in how genetically unrelated languages can influence each other through contact and how isolates borrow from other languages.
Yuki woman, circa 1924
The two audio selections featured here are excerpted a recording made in 1953 with the assistance of Frank Logan, who was 83 years old. The recording was made by Morris Swadesh and Robert Melton on the Round Valley Indian reservation in Covelo, California. At that time, as Mr. Logan attests to in the first clip, the number of Yuki speakers had already diminished to only a few speakers.
The American Philosophical Society collection includes copies of field research notebooks and extensive Yuki texts recorded from 1900 to the late 1950s by Alfred Kroeber, one of the most influential anthropologists of the early 20th century. Kroeber, working with Roland Dixon, established genetic classifications of Native American languages. The APS collection also includes Yuki word lists collected by Hans Uldall and Harold Driver in the 1930s.