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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Wailaki Grammar

  • Author(s): Begay, Kayla Rae
  • Advisor(s): Spence, Justin
  • Garrett, Andrew
  • et al.

Wailaki, a Dene language of northwestern California, is known as what is referred to in academic literature and sources such as the Ethnologue as an “extinct” language. While Wailaki descendant people may remember an older generation of relatives who spoke Wailaki to one another, as far as is known, there are no people alive today who grew up speaking this language (Golla 2011:81). This term extinct used to describe such languages, however, does not reflect the desire of communities for languages to be spoken again, and the efforts many are taking towards language revitalization. Extinct conveys finality to language loss and shift; however, the term sleeping is today used to describe dormant languages with substantial documentation that may be spoken again (Leonard 2011). Wailaki is one such language.

For Wailaki, documentation exists; however, no detailed description of the language exists prior to this work. For any scholar and language learner interested in the language, published materials on related languages such as Hupa or Mattole are referenced in order to make sense of available Wailaki documentation. This dissertation puts forth a phonological, morphological, and limited syntactic description of Wailaki, which is a cover term, used by many tribal descendants, for a dialect continuum also known as Eel River Athabaskan/Dene (Golla 2011).

Chapter 1 gives background information regarding the people, the resources available for analysis. Chapter 2 is a description of phonological processes within the dialect continuum. Chapter 3 is a description of word classes in Wailaki, and what criteria and behavior (either morphological or syntactic) that may be given to delineate classes. Chapter 4 describes the verbal morphology, and Chapter 5 describes the nominal morphology. Chapter 6 titled Clitics and Syntax describes clitics that express categories such as tense, aspect or mode, or perform syntactic functions. In addition, Chapter 6 gives limited description of aspects of Wailaki syntax such as conjunctions, negation, question formation, and some discussion of word order.

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