Mojave River Valley Museum
Mojave Desert Indians
California Indian Languages
The Cultural Heritage of California begins no less than 12,000 years ago when the first of several waves of people arrived and settled here. California’s prehistoric population one of the largest and most diverse in the Western hemisphere is exhibited by the no fewer than the sixty-four distinct languages they spoke, more than any other comparable area in the world outside of New Guinea.
"Before white contact, California had more linguistic variety than all of Europe. Today California Indian languages are indeed in the ultimate crisis in a life-and-death struggle," writes linguist Leanne Hinton. "We may see ninety percent of these languages, or perhaps all of them, disappear in our lifetimes" (Hinton, 1994).
Desert Indian Languages
The languages of the Indians in the Mojave Desert are rooted in two basic groups, that of the Uto-Aztecan and Hokan Tribes.
Uto-Aztecan is younger than Hokan or Penutian. Research indicates that Uto-Azetcan began to
diversify in California after Hokan and Penutian were present, but before all of the Penutian
languages achieved their later prehistoric distribution. Uto-Azetecans first entered California
earlier than circa 2000 BC.
Hokan has great antiquity in California. As compared with Penutian, the inter-relationships of the Hokan languages
lie much deeper in time. The broken chain of Hokan language islands around the margins of California presumably
includes the relic areas surviving from an ancient continuous distribution. Karok is one such isolate.
* Moratto, Michael, California Archaeology, Academic Press, Inc., 1984
Source - State of California