Historical & Linguistic Background of Soulatluk

Soulatluk (aka the Wiyot language; Soulatluk is related to the word soulatk = 'jaw') was the native language of the Wiyot people until it was almost entirely wiped out by colonization and genocide. According to the linguist Gladys Reichard, by the time she came to the area to interview Soulatluk speakers in 1922, "The young people of the tribe [knew] very little of the language; some of those between the ages of forty and fifty [could] understand it, but [could] not speak it." (Reichard 1925:5) Della Prince was the last fluent Soulatluk speaker to collaborate with linguists (Reichard in 1922, and Karl Teeter from 1954-1957); she passed away in 1962. 

Soulatluk, along with Yurok, it is one of only two Algic languages in the Pacific Northwest. (NOTE: Although Soulatluk and Yurok are distantly related, they are NOT mutually intelligible. In other words, a person who spoke only Soulatluk would not be able to understand Yurok, and vice versa.) The Algic language family comprises Soulatluk, Yurok, and the Algonquian languages of Canada, the Great Lakes region, and the northern Atlantic coast, which include Chippewa, Cree, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Wampanoag, and many others. (see map below; Soulatluk is labeled "Wiyot")

Algic map

Noahedits, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Polysynthetic Language

An interesting characteristic of Soulatluk that makes it very different from English is that it is polysyntheticIn the simplest terms, this means that a single word can contain a large number of meaningful "pieces" (linguists call them "morphemes"). 

Because of this, Soulatluk can express complex ideas--sometimes the equivalent of an entire English sentence--using a single verb "complex" that may contain one, two, or three verb stems and several suffixes. Here are a few examples: 

Hiyuwayitrrunuvou'wilh.(spoken by Elsie Barto)

roundbenddo with hand3.obj (it/him/her)reciprocal (each other)3.subj (s/he/it/they)
They hug(ged) each other. (lit. "They bent their hands around each other.")

Wuluwuplhaduwilh.(spoken by Jerry James)

tanglehairlike objectdo with foot/feet3.obj (it/him/her)3.subj (s/he/it/they)
[The cat] tangled it [thread, yarn, etc.] with its feet. (lit. "S/he/it tangle(d) a hairlike thing with his/her/its/feet")

douklhwiwoutwouy(spoken by Della Prince)


lookreflexive (oneself)instrumental (do with X)3.indef (one does X)

mirror (lit. "one uses it to look at oneself")