The Wikchamni Language

Shown is the valley surround Kaweah Lake, which was nearby the home of Cecile and Mary.
Kaweah Lake, California, and surrounding area.

Today Wikchamni folks live in numerous locales in California and elsewhere. While a few of these people remember some of their ancestral language, none seem to have the fluency and complexity that Cecile Silva and Mary Friedrichs had. Until the late eighteen hundreds people speaking Wikchamni lived primarily in the foothill country of South Central California mostly along the Kaweah River and Deer Creek drainages. This was a rich environment in which to grow up and both Cecile and Mary remember camping for short periods of time further up in the Sierra Nevada mountains when it got very hot and camping down in the San Joaquin Valley near the lake when it was colder. But when they were young their parents and their grandmother talked mostly Wikchamni to them at home and while they were learning the cultural heritage of the Wikchamni people.

While there were some early studies done on Wikchamni, particularly Kroeber (1907) and Newman (1944) which led to some short lexical lists, Wikchamni Dictionary is the most complete lexicon available. I will continue to add to the dictionary as I analyze a large set of untranslated texts from both Cecile and Mary and I will update the dictionary from time to time with these new additions.

—Dr. Geoffrey Gamble

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Sounds of Wikchamni

Learn more about the consonant and vowel sounds, as well as the characters that represent them.

Wikchamni has 46 basic sounds in its inventory. 32 of these are consonants sounds and 14 are vowels sounds. The complete list of Consonants and Vowels follow in the tables below.


Stop Consonant Sounds

The sixteen stop consonant sounds, falling under three varieties.
Unaspirated p t č k ʔ
Aspirated ṭʰ čʰ  
Glottalized ṭʼ čʼ  

Fricative Consonant Sounds

The four fricative consonant sounds.
Voiceless s š x h

Nasal Consonant Sounds

The six nasal consonant sounds.
Voiced m n ŋ
Glottalized ŋʼ

Approximant Consonant Sounds

The six approximant consonant sounds.
Voiced w l y


Fourteen vowel sounds, falling under two varieties, from which four, bolded & colored, are unique to Wikchamni.
Short a e ə i ɨ o u
Long ə· ɨ·

The consonants p, t, ṭ, č and k have three varieties referred to by linguists as unaspirated consonants (p, t, ṭ, č, k), aspirated consonants (pʰ, tʰ, ṭʰ, čʰ, kʰ), and glottalized consonants (pʼ, tʼ, ṭʼ, čʼ, kʼ). The unaspirated consonants are pronounced without an accompanying puff of air. In English unaspirated consonants occur following the sound [s] but otherwise they are pronounced with a puff of air. For example the English word ‘top’ is pronounced [tʰap] with an aspirated t, but in the word stop the [t] is unaspirated [stap] without the accompanying puff of air. You can feel this puff of air with aspirated consonants yourself by holding your hand close to your mouth and saying the two words ‘top’ and ‘stop’. You will notice the puff of air when you say top but not when you say stop. Because of this important distinction in English, English speakers often misinterpret these unaspirated sounds in Wikchamni as b, d, and g, but in those sounds the vocal cords are vibrating and in Wikchamni the vocal cords are not vibrating when the unaspirated sounds are produced.

The glottalized consonants (pʼ, tʼ, ṭʼ, čʼ, kʼ) and the glottal stop (ʔ) have a fairly strong glottal release. Glottalization and the glottal stop [ʔ] are not basic sounds in English but are pronounced occasionally as the quick break between syllables in utterances like Uh-oh. The symbol (č) is pronounced like the English sequence (ch) as in the word ‘church’. The symbol (ṭ) sounds like the sequence (tr) in English as in the word ‘train’. The symbol (x) sounds like the (ch) in German words like ‘Bach’ and is sometimes pronounced with a very raspy quality. The symbol (ŋ) is pronounced like the sequence (ng) in English words like ‘sing’.

The vowels (ɨ) and (ə) are unique to Wikchamni and are pronounced like English (i) and (e), but with your lips rounded like when you make an (o) sound in English. The dot (·) after a vowel indicates that it is to be pronounced twice as long as a vowel without a dot.

A complete description of Wikchamni sounds as well as words and sentences can be found in Wikchamni Grammar, pages 4-32.