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Literature Relating to the Classification of Indian Languages

 Native American Nations | Linguistic Families                    

While the literature relating to the languages of North America is very extensive, that which relates to their classification is much less extensive. For the benefit of future students in this line it is thought best to present a concise account of such literature, or at least so much as has been consulted in the preparation of this paper.

1836. Gallatin, Albert
A synopsis of the Indian tribes within the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, and in the British and Russian possessions in North America. In Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society (Archaeologia Americana) Cambridge, 1836, vol. 2.
The larger part of the volume consists of Gallatin’s paper. A short chapter is devoted to general observations, including certain historical data, and the remainder to the discussion of linguistic material and the affinities of the various tribes mentioned. Vocabularies of many of the families are appended. Twenty-eight linguistic divisions are recognized in the general table of the tribes. Some of these divisions are purely geographic, such as the tribes of Salmon River, Queen Charlotte’s Island, etc. Vocabularies from these localities were at hand, but of their linguistic relations the author was not sufficiently assured. Most of the linguistic families recognized by Gallatin were defined with much precision. Not all of his conclusions are to be accepted in the presence of the data now at hand, but usually they were sound, as is attested by the fact that they have constituted the basis for much classificatory work since his time.

The primary, or at least the ostensible, purpose of the colored map which accompanies Gallatin’s paper was, as indicated by its title, to show the distribution of the tribes, and accordingly their names appear upon it, and not the names of the linguistic families. Nevertheless, it is practically a map of the linguistic families as determined by the author, and it is believed to be the first attempted for the area represented. Only eleven of the twenty-eight families named in this table appear, and these represent the families with which he was best acquainted. As was to be expected from the early period at which the map was constructed, much of the western part of the United States was left uncolored. Altogether the map illustrates well the state of knowledge of the time.

1840. Bancroft, George
History of the colonization of the United States, Boston. 1840, vol. 3.
In Chapter XXII of this volume the author gives a brief synopsis of the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi, under a linguistic classification, and adds a brief account of the character and methods of Indian languages. A linguistic map of the region is incorporated, which in general corresponds with the one published by Gallatin in 1836. A notable addition to the Gallatin map is the inclusion of the Uchees in their proper locality. Though considered a distinct family by Gallatin, this tribe does not appear upon his map. Moreover, the Choctaws and Muskogees, which appear as separate families upon Gallatin’s map (though believed by that author to belong to the same family), are united upon Bancroft’s map under the term Mobilian.

The linguistic families treated of are, I. Algonquin, II. Sioux or Dahcota, III. Huron-Iroquois, IV. Catawba, V. Cherokee, VI. Uchee, VII. Natchez, VIII. Mobilian.

1841. Scouler, John
Observations of the indigenous tribes of the northwest coast of America. In Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London. London, 1841, vol. 11.
The chapter cited is short, but long enough to enable the author to construct a very curious classification of the tribes of which he treats. In his account Scouler is guided chiefly, to use his own words, “by considerations founded on their physical character, manners and customs, and on the affinities of their languages.” As the linguistic considerations are mentioned last, so they appear to be the least weighty of his “considerations.”

Scouler’s definition of a family is very broad indeed, and in his “Northern Family,” which is a branch of his “Insular Group,” he includes such distinct linguistic stocks as “all the Indian tribes in the Russian territory,” the Queen Charlotte Islanders, Koloshes, Ugalentzes, Atnas, Kolchans, Kenáïes, Tun Ghaase, Haidahs, and Chimmesyans. His Nootka-Columbian family is scarcely less incongruous, and it is evident that the classification indicated is only to a comparatively slight extent linguistic.

1846. Hale, Horatio
United States exploring expedition, during the years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842, under the command of Charles Wilkes, U.S. Navy, vol. 6, ethnography and philology. Philadelphia, 1846.
In addition to a large amount of ethnographic data derived from the Polynesian Islands, Micronesian Islands, Australia, etc., more than one-half of this important volume is devoted to philology, a large share relating to the tribes of northwestern America.

The vocabularies collected by Hale, and the conclusions derived by him from study of them, added much to the previous knowledge of the languages of these tribes. His conclusions and classification were in the main accepted by Gallatin in his linguistic writings of 1848.

1846. Latham, Robert Gordon
Miscellaneous contributions to the ethnography of North America. In Proceedings of the Philological Society of London. London, 1816, vol. 2.
In this article, which was read before the Philological Society, January 24, 1845, a large number of North American languages are examined and their affinities discussed in support of the two following postulates made at the beginning of the paper: First, “No American language has an isolated position when compared with the other tongues en masse rather than with the language of any particular class;” second, “The affinities between the language of the New World, as determined by their vocabularies, is not less real than that inferred from the analogies of their grammatical structure.” The author’s conclusions are that both statements are substantiated by the evidence presented. The paper contains no new family names.

1847. Prichard, James Cowles
Researches into the physical history of mankind (third edition), vol. 5, containing researches into the history of the Oceanic and of the American nations. London, 1847.
It was the purpose of this author, as avowed by himself, to determine whether the races of men are the cooffspring of a single stock or have descended respectively from several original families. Like other authors on this subject, his theory of what should constitute a race was not clearly defined. The scope of the inquiry required the consideration of a great number of subjects and led to the accumulation of a vast body of facts. In volume 5 the author treats of the American Indians, and in connection with the different tribes has something to say of their languages. No attempt at an original classification is made, and in the main the author follows Gallatin’s classification and adopts his conclusions.

1848. Gallatin, Albert
Hale’s Indians of Northwest America, and vocabularies of North America, with an introduction. In Transactions of the American Ethnological Society, New York, 1848, vol. 2.
The introduction consists of a number of chapters, as follows: First, Geographical notices and Indian means of subsistence; second, Ancient semi-civilization of New Mexico, Rio Gila and its vicinity; third, Philology; fourth, Addenda and miscellaneous. In these are brought together much valuable information, and many important deductions are made which illustrate Mr. Gallatin’s great acumen. The classification given is an amplification of that adopted in 1836, and contains changes and additions. The latter mainly result from a consideration of the material supplied by Mr. Hale, or are simply taken from his work.

The groups additional to those contained in the Archæologia Americana are:

1. Arrapahoes.
2. Jakon.
3. Kalapuya.
4. Kitunaha.
5. Lutuami.
6. Palainih.
7. Sahaptin.
8. Selish (Tsihaili-Selish).
9. Saste.
10. Waiilatpu.

1848. Latham, Robert Gordon
On the languages of the Oregon Territory. In Journal of the Ethnological Society of London, Edinburgh, 1848, vol. 1.
This paper was read before the Ethnological Society on the 11th of December. The languages noticed are those that lie between “Russian America and New California,” of which the author aims to give an exhaustive list. He discusses the value of the groups to which these languages have been assigned, viz, Athabascan and Nootka-Columbian, and finds that they have been given too high value, and that they are only equivalent to the primary subdivisions of stocks, like the Gothic, Celtic, and Classical, rather than to the stocks themselves. He further finds that the Athabascan, the Kolooch, the Nootka-Columbian, and the Cadiak groups are subordinate members of one large and important class—the Eskimo.

No new linguistic groups are presented.

1848. Latham, Robert Gordon
On the ethnography of Russian America. In Journal of the Ethnological Society of London, Edinburgh, 1848, vol. 1.
This essay was read before the Ethnological Society February 19, 1845. Brief notices are given of the more important tribes, and the languages are classed in two groups, the Eskimaux and the Kolooch. Each of these groups is found to have affinities—

(1) With the Athabascan tongues, and perhaps equal affinities.

(2) Each has affinities with the Oregon languages, and each perhaps equally.

(3) Each has definite affinities with the languages of New California, and each perhaps equal ones.

(4) Each has miscellaneous affinities with all the other tongues of North and South America.

1848. Berghaus, Heinrich
Physikalischer Atlas oder Sammlung von Karten, auf denen die hauptsächlichsten erscheinungen der anorganischen und organischen Natur nach ihrer geographischen Verbreitung und Vertheilung bildlich dargestellt sind. Zweiter Band, Gotha, 1848.
This, the first edition of this well known atlas, contains, among other maps, an ethnographic map of North America, made in 1845. It is based, as is stated, upon material derived from Gallatin, Humboldt, Clavigero, Hervas, Vater, and others. So far as the eastern part of the United States is concerned it is largely a duplication of Gallatin’s map of 1836, while in the western region a certain amount of new material is incorporated.

1852. In the edition of 1852 the ethnographic map bears date of 1851. Its eastern portion is substantially a copy of the earlier edition, but its western half is materially changed, chiefly in accordance with the knowledge supplied by Hall in 1848.

Map number 72 of the last edition of Berghaus by no means marks an advance upon the edition of 1852. Apparently the number of families is much reduced, but it is very difficult to interpret the meaning of the author, who has attempted on the same map to indicate linguistic divisions and tribal habitats with the result that confusion is made worse confounded.

1853. Gallatin, Albert
Classification of the Indian Languages; a letter inclosing a table of generic Indian Families of languages. In Information respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, by Henry E. Schoolcraft. Philadelphia, 1853, vol. 3.
This short paper by Gallatin consists of a letter addressed to W. Medill, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, requesting his cooperation in an endeavor to obtain vocabularies to assist in a more complete study of the grammar and structure of the languages of the Indians of North America. It is accompanied by a “Synopsis of Indian Tribes,” giving the families and tribes so far as known. In the main the classification is a repetition of that of 1848, but it differs from that in a number of particulars. Two of the families of 1848 do not appear in this paper, viz, Arapaho and Kinai. Queen Charlotte Island, employed as a family name in 1848, is placed under the Wakash family, while the Skittagete language, upon which the name Queen Charlotte Island was based in 1848, is here given as a family designation for the language spoken at “Sitka, bet. 52 and 59 lat.” The following families appear which are not contained in the list of 1848:

1. Cumanches.
2. Gros Ventres.
3. Kaskaias.
4. Kiaways.
5. Natchitoches.
6. Pani, Towiacks.
7. Ugaljachmatzi.

1853. Gibbs, George
Observations on some of the Indian dialects of northern California. In Information respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States, by Henry E. Schoolcraft. Philadelphia, 1853, vol. 3.
The “Observations” are introductory to a series of vocabularies collected in northern California, and treat of the method employed in collecting them and of the difficulties encountered. They also contain notes on the tribes speaking the several languages as well as on the area covered. There is comparatively little of a classificatory nature, though in one instance the name Quoratem is proposed as a proper one for the family “should it be held one.”

1854. Latham, Robert Gordon
On the languages of New California. In Proceedings of the Philological Society of London for 1852 and 1853. London, 1854, vol. 6.
Read before the Philological Society, May 13, 1853. A number of languages are examined in this paper for the purpose of determining the stocks to which they belong and the mutual affinities of the latter. Among the languages mentioned are the Saintskla, Umkwa, Lutuami, Paduca, Athabascan, Dieguno, and a number of the Mission languages.

1855. Lane, William Carr
Letter on affinities of dialects in New Mexico. In Information respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States, by Henry R. Schoolcraft. Philadelphia, 1855, vol. 5.
The letter forms half a page of printed matter. The gist of the communication is in effect that the author has heard it said that the Indians of certain pueblos speak three different languages, which he has heard called, respectively, (1) Chu-cha-cas and Kes-whaw-hay; (2) E-nagh-magh; (3) Tay-waugh. This can hardly be called a classification, though the arrangement of the pueblos indicated by Lane is quoted at length by Keane in the Appendix to Stanford’s Compendium.

1856. Latham, Robert Gordon
On the languages of Northern, Western, and Central America. In Transactions of the Philological Society of London, for 1856. London [1857?].
This paper was read before the Philological Society May 9, 1856, and is stated to be “a supplement to two well known contributions to American philology by the late A. Gallatin.”

So far as classification of North American languages goes, this is perhaps the most important paper of Latham’s, as in it a number of new names are proposed for linguistic groups, such as Copeh for the Sacramento River tribes, Ehnik for the Karok tribes, Mariposa Group and Mendocino Group for the Yokut and Pomo tribes respectively, Moquelumne for the Mutsun, Pujuni for the Meidoo, Weitspek for the Eurocs.

1856. Turner, William Wadden
Report upon the Indian tribes, by Lieut. A. W. Whipple, Thomas Ewbank, esq., and Prof. William W. Turner, Washington, D.C., 1855. In Reports of Explorations and Surveys to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean. Washington, 1856, vol. 3. part 3.
Chapter V of the above report is headed “Vocabularies of North American Languages,” and is by Turner, as is stated in a foot-note. Though the title page of Part III is dated 1855, the chapter by Turner was not issued till 1856, the date of the full volume, as is stated by Turner on page 84. The following are the vocabularies given, with their arrangement in families:

I. Delaware. } Algonkin. XI. Navajo. } Apache.
II. Shawnee. } XII. Pinal Leño. }
III. Choctaw. XIII. Kiwomi. }
IV. Kichai. } Pawnee? XIV. Cochitemi. } Keres.
V. Huéco. } XV. Acoma. }
VI. Caddo. XVI. Zuñi.
VII. Comanche. } XVII. Pima.
VIII. Chemehuevi. } Shoshonee. XVIII. Cuchan. }
IX. Cahuillo. } XIX. Coco-Maricopa. } Yuma.
X. Kioway. XX. Mojave. }
XXI. Diegeno. }

Several of the family names, viz, Keres, Kiowa, Yuma, and Zuñi, have been adopted under the rules formulated above.

1858. Buschmann, Johann Carl Eduard
Die Völker und Sprachen Neu-Mexiko’s und der Westseite des britischen Nordamerika’s, dargestellt von Hrn. Buschmann. In Abhandlungen (aus dem Jahre 1857) der königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin. Berlin, 1858.
This work contains a historic review of early discoveries in New Mexico and of the tribes living therein, with such vocabularies as were available at the time. On pages 315-414 the tribes of British America, from about latitude 54° to 60°, are similarly treated, the various discoveries being reviewed; also those on the North Pacific coast. Much of the material should have been inserted in the volume of 1859 (which was prepared in 1854), to which cross reference is frequently made, and to which it stands in the nature of a supplement.

1859: Buschmann, Johann Carl Eduard
Die Spuren der aztekischen Sprache im nördlichen Mexico und höheren amerikanischen Norden. Zugleich eine Musterung der Völker und Sprachen des nördlichen Mexico’s und der Westseite Nordamerika’s von Guadalaxara an bis zum Eismeer. In Abhandlungen aus dem Jahre 1854 der königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin. Berlin, 1859.
The above, forming a second supplemental volume of the Transactions for 1854, is an extensive compilation of much previous literature treating of the Indian tribes from the Arctic Ocean southward to Guadalajara, and bears specially upon the Aztec language and its traces in the languages of the numerous tribes scattered along the Pacific Ocean and inland to the high plains. A large number of vocabularies and a vast amount of linguistic material are here brought together and arranged in a comprehensive manner to aid in the study attempted. In his classification of the tribes east of the Rocky Mountains, Buschmann largely followed Gallatin. His treatment of those not included in Gallatin’s paper is in the main original. Many of the results obtained may have been considered bold at the time of publication, but recent philological investigations give evidence of the value of many of the author’s conclusions.


Indian Linguistic Families of America North of Mexico, 1891

Linguistic Families


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