Numic Languages - Classification


These languages are classified in three groups:

  • Central Numic languages
    • Comanche
    • Timbisha (a dialect chain with main regional varieties being Western, Central, and Eastern)
    • Shoshoni (a dialect chain with main regional varieties being Western, Gosiute, Northern, and Eastern)
  • Southern Numic languages
    • Kawaiisu
    • Colorado River (a dialect chain with main regional varieties being Chemehuevi, Southern Paiute, and Ute)
  • Western Numic languages
    • Mono (two main dialects: Eastern and Western)
    • Northern Paiute (a dialect chain with main regional varieties being Southern Nevada, Northern Nevada, Oregon, and Bannock)

Apart from Comanche, each of these groups contains one language spoken in a small area in the southern Sierra Nevada and valleys to the east (Mono, Timbisha, and Kawaiisu), and one language spoken in a much larger area extending to the north and east (Northern Paiute, Shoshone, and Ute-Southern Paiute). Some linguists have taken this pattern as an indication that Numic speaking peoples expanded quite recently from a small core, perhaps near the Owens Valley, into their current range. This view is supported by lexicostatistical studies. Fowler's reconstruction of Proto-Numic ethnobiology also points to the region of the southern Sierra Nevada as the homeland of Proto-Numic approximately two millennia ago. Recent mitochondrial DNA studies have supported this linguistic hypothesis. The anthropologist Peter N. Jones thinks this evidence to be of a circumstantial nature, but this is a distinctly minority opinion among specialists in Numic.

The Comanche split off from the Shoshone soon after they acquired horses around 1705. The Comanche language and the Shoshone language are quite similar although certain low-level consonant changes in Comanche have inhibited mutual intelligibility.

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