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Ivilyuat (ʔívil̃uʔat or Ivil̃uɂat IPA: [ʔivɪʎʊʔat] or Cahuilla /kəˈwiːə/), is an endangered Uto-Aztecan language, spoken by the various tribes of the Cahuilla Nation, living in the Coachella Valley, San Gorgonio Pass and San Jacinto Mountains region of Southern California . Cahuilla call themselves ʔívil̃uwenetem or Iviatam–speakers of Ivilyuat (Ivi'a)–or táxliswet meaning "person." A 1990 census revealed 35 speakers in an ethnic population of 800. With such a decline, Ivilyuat is classified as "critically endangered" by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger as most speakers are middle-aged or older with limited transmission rates to children. Three dialects are known to exist: Desert, Mountain and Pass, as well as some other sub-dialects.

ʔívil̃uʔat ʔívil̃uwenetem cahuilla

1. Classification

Cahuilla is found in the Uto-Aztecan language family where it is denoted alongside Cupeño to be a Cupan language within the larger Californian language subgroup where it joins Serrano, Kitanemuk, Luiseño and Tongva (Gabrielino). This Californian subgroup consisting of Cupan and Serran languages was once titled the Takic group which has fallen out of use.

1.1. Exonyms and Endonyms

One of the indigenous designations for the language is ʔívil̃uʔat, alongside 'Ívillu'at, where Cahuilla could call themselves ʔívil̃uqalet (s)/ʔívil̃uwenetem (pl.), 'speaker(s) of ʔívil̃uʔat.' Other variations include Ivilyuat and Ivia. However, both the language and the people are oftentimes called 'Cahuilla.'

2. Phonology

Cahuilla has the following vowel and consonant phonemes (Bright 1965, Saubel and Munro 1980:1-6, Seiler and Hioki 1979: 8-9):[1]

2.1. Consonants

IPA chart of Cahuilla consonants
  Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain labial.
Nasal m   n ɲ ŋ      
Stop voiceless p   t   k q ʔ
voiced (b)              
Affricate       t͡ʃ        
Fricative voiceless (f)   s ʃ x    
voiced v (ð)     (ɣ)      
Approximant w     j       h
Lateral     l ʎ        
Flap     ɾ          

Consonants in parentheses only occur in loans.

2.2. Vowels

  Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close i       u  
Near-close ɪ ɪː1     ʊ1 ʊː
Mid e       (o)2 ()
Open-mid ɛ3 ɛː        
Near-open æ3          
Open     a   ɒ4 ɒː
Diphthongs i̯e   i̯u   u̯e   u̯i  
ai̯   ei̯   ui̯   au̯   eu̯   iu̯  
i̯a   u̯a   ɛ̯a5
  1. /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ are allophones of /i/ and /u/, respectively, when in an unstressed or secondary stress position. However, both /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ appear in the stressed position and are preceding any of the following consonants: /k/, /kʷ/, /q/, /p/, /ʔ/. Lengthened version of both result in their opened variant occurring. Finally, word final instances of /i/ and /u/ are always open (/i/ and /u/ are considered word final even when followed by /h/).
  2. Both long /oː/ and short /o/ only appear in borrowings.
  3. As an allophone of /e/, /ɛ/-distribution is unclear, conforming to the same rules of /i/ and /u/ sometimes. The word final variant of /e/ is always the open /æ/.
  4. Similar to the high and mid vowels, /a/ sees similar allophonic distribution where /ɒ/ occurs under stress and /a/ falls in unstressed positions. /a/ is found in monosyllabic and polysyllabic words containing only one instance of the /a/.
  5. The semivowels, /j/ and /w/, are difficult to distinguish from their counterpart diphthongs: /i̯/ and /u̯/. When the semivowel is following an /i/ or /u/, it is realized as /ɪi̯/ or /ʊu̯/ (/ɪj/ or /ʊw/). When /i/, /u/ or /ɛ/ is followed by /a/, the /a/ usually becomes half-long.

Voiceless vowels

A salient feature found in Ivilyuat is the phenomenon of voiceless vowels which occur in word-final positions or around /ʔ/. Word-finally, voiceless vowels occur as -Vh (a vowel followed by /h/).

2.3. Phonotactics

Words in Ivilyuat may never start with a vowel, and consonant clusters generally indicate the break between morphemic units. Whereas /ʔ/ is treated as a regular consonant in word-initial locations, it occurs in consonant clusters via infixation or insertion and is not representative of a morphemic break.

2.4. Stress

There are three primary types of stress in Ivilyuat: primary, secondary and unstressed. Primary is distinguished from an unstressed syllable by loudness and elevation of pitch. Secondary stress carries less volume and the pitch is not as elevated as with primary stress. Generally, stress falls on the first syllable of the root, however there are numerous cases of doubt and ambiguity. The general pattern is: ... CV̀CVCV́CVCV̀CVCV̀ ..., where regular alternation occurs after the primary stress and secondary stress is added to the first syllable if followed by an additional -CV- group without stress. Long vowels function also as a distinct -CV- unit and take stress with the following syllable unit also taking stress: ... CV́VCV̀ ... This process can be seen here:

  • CV́VCCV̀CVC : [qáankìčem] 'palo verde,' plur.
  • CV́CVCV̀CVC : [tákalìčem] 'one-eyed ones'

3. Grammar

Ivilyuat is an agglutinative language. It uses various affixes, alternating between prefixes and suffixes, to change the meaning and grammatical function of words. As well, Ivilyuat leans heavily on descriptive properties in the construction of nouns, turning predicates into nouns.

3.1. Morphology

Ivilyuat consists of rich morphological phenomena, especially through its descriptive properties. For example, the word 'arrow,' or húyal, is derived from 'it is straightened' (húya) which has been transformed into 'that which is straightened' or 'the straightened one' (húya + -l), where the verb stem 'to straighten' is immediately recognizable. This phenomenon permeates the language such that some words are examples of a double derivation, such as 'blue/green' (túkvašnekiš). The word for the colour, túkvašnekiš, is derived from 'that which comes from heaven' which in turn comes from 'the thing where carrying [of the sun?] takes place,' where túkvaš means 'sky' and -nek is from nek-en ('to carry' with -en being the realized suffix).[1]

Nouns and noun phrases

Some, but not all, nouns occur in two different states: absolutive and construct. Outside of these two states fall certain other nouns that both refuse to take a P1 (see below) nor a construct state form such as ʔáwal ('dog') and almost all additional animal terms which cannot be directly possessed; however, there is indication that some of these nouns show historical ties to both states, and issues present with either state usage tend to be semantic.

Distinguishing a noun from a verb can sometimes be difficult in Ivilyuat, however, whereas both verbs and nouns can take P1 prefixes, only nouns can take P2 ones.

Absolutive and construct states

Absolutive, also known as non-possessed nouns (NPN),[2] and construct states help in the classification of nouns. For nouns that take either state, the process can either exhibit itself where the noun takes one form, both forms or even more productive derivations. For example, the word for (its) flower/blossom can be: séʔiš ('the flower' or 'the blossom'), séʔi ('its blossom'), séʔiški ('its flower') where séʔ- means to blossom and is the relativizing and absolutive suffix. Thus, séʔiš means 'blossom/flower' or, more literally, 'having completed the act of blossoming.'

The absolutive state occurs when a relational expression is transformed into an absolute expression, or when a predicate becomes an argument that can then be assigned to a particular place in a predicate. This state is constructed using the absolutive suffix, being one of four consonants (-t, , -l, -l̃). The suffix often is found in amalgamation with the preceding vowel, mostly -a or -i; however the case may be that there are more complex underlying functions than just that of the absolutive suffix.

The construct state is marked with P1 relational constructions and translates very roughly to possession.


Inflection in Ivilyuat is realized through both prefixation and suffixation, where prefixes mark the distinction of persons and suffixes mark plurality and case. Both O and P2 may co-occur, which sees O precede P2; P2 may precede P1. Never can all three prefixes occur simultaneously. O, for example, cannot combine with P1 within nouns (it can within verbs); P2 can only occur in nouns.

Verbs Nouns Nouns
O + P1 P2 + P1 O + P2

  1. he- is only found alongside monosyllabic noun stems.
  2. -y only occurs if an O prefix precedes it.

Number is marked with the suffixes -m, -em, -im and -am (táxliswetem 'the Indigenous person'), making a simple singular/plural distinction. Some nouns are not pluralizable, such as kʷíñil̃ 'acorn(s)' or méñikiš 'mesquite bean(s).'

The object is marked with the oblique case suffix (obl) -i, -y and -iy which sometimes includes glottalization either through insertion or infixation:

The other cases are the: locative -ŋa (loc), lative -(i)ka (lat) and abl -ax (abl), marking roughly location/placement, direction/towards and point of departure, respectively. The lative case appears to combine only with construct state nouns only:

  • kú-t : 'fire' (-ku- + npn)
  • kú-t-ŋa / kú-ŋa : 'in the fire'
  • kú-yka / *kút-ika : 'into the fire'

Case and plural endings can combine with one another, especially the locative and ablative:

  • táxliswet-m-i : 'the Indigenous people'
  • téma-l-ŋa-x / téma-ŋa-x : 'from the earth'

Pronouns in Ivilyuat can be broken down into three categories: personal, question/answer – indefinite and non-personal – non-question/answer – non-indefinite.

Independent Personal Pronouns
  Singular Plural
  Accented Clitic Accented Clitic
1st subj. néʔ neʔ čémem
obj. néʔiy   čémemi  
2nd subj. ʔéʔ ʔe ʔémem
obj. ʔéʔiy   ʔémemi  

Nominalization, or the creation of nouns from verbs and adverbs as is the case in Ivilyuat, occurs fairly frequently.

Verbial nominalizers

Seiler lists ten nominalizers attached to the verb playing a wide range of functions.

-ka(t) 'inceptive'
Using Seiler's terminology, this nominalizer indicates an oriented relationship in the noun/action, very similar to the nominal suffix '-ka(t)' (see below). As tense plays little role in the language, this should not be taken to mean 'future.'

-(a)k(t) 'excellence'
This denotes goodness or excellence.

-nax(t) 'supposed to fulfill function'
This denotes where one is supposed to fulfill a specialized function, notably in a socio-cultural context.

-(i)š 'completed action or process'
Denotes a completed action or being completed as a process.

tamiiti piytehwiš
támiit–i .. pi–y–téhw–iš
'sun' – obl .. 3sg. – 3sg. – 'find' – nom.
'the one that found the sun'

-vaš 'performing in a special situation'
Denotes performing an act in a specially defined situation. Compare the following examples:

3sg. – 1sg. – 'daylight' – causdur
'I'm making it daylight' i.e., 'I'm sitting up all night.'

3sg. – 3sg. – 'daylight' – caus – nom.
'the one that makes it daylight' i.e., 'the morning star'

-wet/-et 'habitual or competent performer'
Functioning similarly to '-vaš,' denotes a competent or habitual performer. When in combination with the durative (dur, '-qal'/'-wen') or stative (stat, '-wen'), it takes the form '-et.' Compare the following examples:

-ʔa & -at/-(ʔ)il̃ 'abstract nominalizers'
These makes abstract verbs into nouns. Where '-at' and '-il̃'/'-ʔil̃' can attach to abstract verbs with few restrictions, '-ʔa' is restricted to abstract verbs which are then possessed once nominalized.

-piš 'unrealized subordination'
Nominalizes verbs that both indicates subordination and something that has not yet happened.

'hit' – nom.
'an insect that stings'

-vel/-ve 'event already occurring or occurred'
Nominalizes verbs in regard to occurrence of the action.

-vaʔal 'located event'
A complex of suffixes where the verbal suffix '-vaʔ' indicates 'locale, place' such as:

pa hemčeŋenvaʔ
pa .. hem–Ø–čeŋen–vaʔ
there .. 3pl. – 'dance' – 'place'
'Where they are dancing.'

Combining with '-al,' the abstract nominalizer, there become forms such as:

Adverbial nominalizers

There is only one adverbial nominalizer according to Seiler's Grammar, which is '-viš.' It can either affix to adverbs to denote being from a place or time or denote ordering.


There are three major forms of declension in Ivilyuat: oriented relationship, diminutive (DIM) and special marking.

The suffix '-ka(t)' indicated an oriented relationship which is used most notably in kinship terms, '-mal'/'-mal̃'/'-ma' marks the diminutive and '-(V)k(t)' indicates someone or something that is marked in a special or notable way.

Verbs and verb phrases

Ivilyuat verbs show agreement with both their subject and object. Person agreement, of which there are three, is shown by prefixes and number agreement, of which there are two, is shown by suffixes. Additionally, verbs take both inflectional and derivational affixes, where derivational are formed in the root. As such, an inflectional affix can follow a derivational affix, but a derivational affix can never follow an inflectional one. To be classed as a verb, the word must include both a subject prefix and at least one non-personal inflectional affix; transitive verbs must include also an object prefix.

Within verbs of the Desert dialect, tense plays almost no role, expressing past on nouns and noun phrases with the suffix -ʔa. Kinship terms, though, are excluded and use a form roughly translated to be 'past existence of kinsperson.' However, while tense plays little role within the verb phrase, aspect and mode are present throughout.

  • Aspect
    • Status
      (actuality of event)
      • + Realized
      • – Realized
        • Possible (mode)
        • Expected (mode)
        • Desired (mode)
    • Perspective
      • + Absolute
      • – Absolute

Every verb must take both -2 (subject) and at least on inflectional affix from -1 or +1 alongside the necessary stem. -1 and +1 are incompatible as is -4 and -1, as -4 only occurs in combination with +1's -nem.

Inflection Positioning

–4 –3 –2 –1 STEM +1
expect., absol. (pros)
Obj. 1sing.
Subj. 1sing.
realized, absol. (perf)
expect., non-absol.
2 sing.
2 sing.
non-realized, non-absol.
3 sing.
3 sing.
1 plur.
1 plur.
possib. (sjv)
2 plur.
2 plur.
injunctive, absol., sing. (imp)
3 plur.
3 plur.
injunctive, absol., plur. (imp)
injunctive, non-absol. (inj)
subordin., realized
subordin., non-realized
subordin., gerundial
subord., when

Derivation within the verb phrase takes on a variety of characteristics. Derivational affixes can be classified into one of two categories: endocentric and exocentric, where endocentrically deriving affixes occur about twice as often as exocentric ones. The difference is established upon the change in distribution class which can take the form of a derivation of a verbal stem from a nominal basis or a transitive stem from an intransitive one.

Derivational Positioning

  –1 ROOT +1 +2 position
+3 +4 +5
Endo. yu-   -vi-
-max- -wen    
Exo. če-
-law- -qal

Definition Divergence

Affix -max-
'goal-oriented movement'
'do sth. surpisingly'
'do sth. all ver the place'
'do sth. on one's way'
'do sth. in different places'
Root -máx-
'to give'
'to be placed'
'to fall'
'to return'
'to go'
'to collect'
'to lie'

3.2. Syntax

Although Ivilyuat employs a relatively free word order, its underlying classification is that of a subject–object–verb (or SOV) language. Its verbs show heavy agreement, indicating the subject and object even when not overtly present, and the subject and object may appear after the verb, highlighting specific usage.

3.3. Classifiers

Ivilyuat contains about a dozen or so classifiers notably indicating the type of noun being modified or possessed. Classifiers cover nouns ranging from general, inanimate items -ʔa in ne-m-éxam-ʔa 'it (is) my thing' lit., 'it (is) somehow doing this way,' to trees, plants, fruits, meats, animals and moieties.

For all non-animate nouns, the general classifier -ʔa is used, otherwise classifiers distinguish the nouns themselves. For trees, plants and their fruits, there are five classifiers. kíʔiwʔa is used for trees and certain plants/fruits found in a naturally occurring group, and this is used to help denote legal claims as members of certain lineages had grouping-specific sites of harvest. The word derives from the verb stem 'to wait' as visible: pe-n-kíʔiw-qal 'I am waiting for it' ... ne-kíʔiw-ʔa 'It (is) my waiting' i.e., 'It is the thing that I am waiting for' or 'It is my claim.' Generally, pinyons, mesquites and oaks factor into this usage. ʔáyʔa is used for fresh fruit and blossoms picked from trees and stems from the verb 'to pluck' or 'to pick' (pe-n-ʔáy-ʔa 'I am plucking or picking it' ... ne-ʔáy-ʔa 'It (is) my plucking or picking'). Individual beans or acorns are not compatible with this classifier. číʔa is used to describe picking up edible items after they have fallen to the ground such as mesquite beans, acorns, black beans and possibly corn. wésʔa applies to plants and their fruits which have been planted (in a row) by individuals. Plants such as corn, watermelon, cacti, wheat and palm trees fall under this classifier. Finally, séxʔa indicates food items that are being or have been cooked such as black beans, corn or jerked meat.

Other classifiers include kinds of meat, animals and moieties. Meat breaks down into waʔ/wáwa, čáxni and téneq (roasted, melted and barbecued, respectively). The most important classifier for animals is the relation to animals as pets, expressed with ʔaš, which includes horses (pásukat), cottontail rabbits (távut), turtles (ʔáyil̃), coyotes (ʔísil̃), bears (húnwet), snakes (séwet), fish (kíyul) and eagles (ʔáswet) amongst others; however, this does not include wild cat (túkut). Finally, ʔívil̃uwenetem were broken down into two moieties: ʔísil̃ (coyote) and túkut (wildcat) where individuals needed to marry outside of their moiety, i.e. a Wildcat man must marry a Coyote woman and vice versa. This was expressed using kíl̃iw (ne-kíl̃iw 'my partner' or túkut/ʔísil̃ ne-kíl̃iw 'my partner, the wildcat/coyote').

3.4. Demonstratives

Ivilyuat uses a single demonstrative Ɂi(Ɂ) ("this/that") that takes the form Ɂi before sonorants and ɁiɁ elsewhere.

It can be modified with deictic markers meaning local or distant/remote.

  Proximal Distal
  simple complex simple complex
sing. subj. Ɂet Ɂevat peɁ pevat
sing. obj. Ɂetiy Ɂevatiy peɁiy pevatiy
plur. subj. Ɂetem Ɂevatem peɁem pevatem
plur. obj. Ɂetemi Ɂevatemi peɁemi pevatemi

The complex and simple forms have no difference in perceived meaning according to Seiler. The inflection agrees with the sentence itself where the deictic marker co-ordinates with the subject or verb such as in "ɁiɁ peɁ menil̃" meaning "this over there, the moon," as peɁ is inflected to mark the singular subject menil̃. Additionally, there are clitic forms of this marker: pe, pee and pey.

4. Vocabulary

4.1. Word Origins

A vast majority of Ivilyuat words come from Uto-Aztecan roots and there is a large shared vocabulary between neighbouring languages such as Luiseño or Serrano. Due to language contact, however, many Spanish words have been adopted into the language, such as máys ('corn') or ʔavugáaduʔ ('lawyer') from Spanish maíz and abogado, respectively. Conversely, Ivilyuat has taken little to no English loan words.

4.2. Kinship Terms

Ivilyuat can either express kinship terms relationally or through an establishing expression.

4.3. Numerals

Ivilyuat uses a base-ten system with unique words for 'five' and 'ten.'

4.4. Basic Sample Vocabulary & Language Comparison

English Ivilyuat[3][4] Cupeño[5] Luiseño[6] Gabrieliño/Tongva[7] Juaneño[8] Serrano[9]
one súpl̃e suplawut supúl pukuu' supúl howpk
two wíh wi wéh wehee' wéx werh
three páh pa páahay pahee' páahay paahi'
four wíčiw wichu wasá watsaa' wasá wacah
five namekʷánaŋ numaqananax maháar mahaar maháar maharc
man náxaniš naxanis 'atáax or ya'áš kworooyt ye'ích wecerch
woman ñíčil̃ muwikut šungáal tokoor shongwáala neerht
sun támit tamyut timét taamit temét taamit
moon ménil̃ munil móoyla muwaar móyla muat
water pál pal páala paara' páal pàt

5. Place Names

Few place names within Cahuilla remained the same over the years with English or Spanish names taking over. Here are several examples:

  • Káviñiš, Qàwal hémaʔ and Pàl síwiš – Indian Wells
  • Séx – Palm Springs
  • Kíš čáwal – White Water
  • Pàl téwet – Indio
  • Wìyal ʔámuyka – Torres Peak
  • Yamesével – Mission Creek
  • Qáwiš húlawet (Mtn: Qáwiš yúlawet) – near La Quinta

6. Writing Systems

Cahuilla has been and, to an extent, still is an unwritten language. Between IPA and NAPA, there are ways to write the language down, but there is no agreed-upon script used Nationwide. That being said, the most employed orthography is that of a modified NAPA found in Seiler and Hioki's "Cahuilla Dictionary". The alphabet has 35 letters with an accent (either ' ´ ' or ' ` ') over vowels denoting stress patterns. Words that begin in a vowel can be written without the glottal stop (ɂ / Ɂ), but the sound is still present.

6.1. IPA Notation

7. Use and Revitalization Efforts

Alvin Siva of the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians, a fluent speaker, died on June 26, 2009. He preserved the tribe's traditional bird songs, sung in the Cahuilla language, by teaching them to younger generations of Cahuilla people.[10] Katherine Siva Saubel (b. 1920 - d. 2011) was a native Cahuilla speaker dedicated to preserving the language.[11]

In April 2014, the University of California, Riverside offered free public workshops in the Cahuilla language.[12]


  1. Sieler, Hansjakob (1977). Cahuilla Grammar. Morango Indian Reservation, Banning, CA: Malki Museum Press. 
  2. Hill, Jane H. (2003). Formal Approaches to Function in Grammar: In honor of Eloise Jelinek. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 207–227. ISBN 9789027227850. 
  3. Sieler, Hansjakob; Hioki, Kojiro (1979). Cahuilla Dictionary. Morango Indian Reservation, Banning, CA: Malki Museum Press. 
  4. "Vocabulary Words in Native American Languages: Cahuilla." Native Languages of the Americas. 2009 (retrieved 8 March 2016)
  5. "Vocabulary Words in Native American Languages: Cupeño." Native Languages of the Americas. 2009 (retrieved 8 March 2016)
  6. "Vocabulary Words in Native American Languages: Luiseño." Native Languages of the Americas. 2009 (retrieved 8 March 2016)
  7. "Vocabulary Words in Native American Languages: Gabrieliño/Tongva." Native Languages of the Americas. 2009 (retrieved 8 March 2016)
  8. "Vocabulary Words in Native American Languages: Juaneño." Native Languages of the Americas. 2009 (retrieved 8 March 2016)
  9. "Vocabulary Words in Native American Languages: Serrano." Native Languages of the Americas. 2009 (retrieved 8 March 2016)
  10. Waldner, Erin. news/inland/stories/PE_News_Local_E_eobit10.4511347.html "Cahuilla elder, one of last fluent in language, dies." The Press-Enterprise. 9 July 2009 (retrieved 13 Dec 2009) http://welcome/local
  11. Elaine Woo (2011-11-06). "Katherine Siva Saubel obituary: Preserver of Cahuilla Indian culture dies at 91". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-12-02. 
  12. Victoria, Anthony (2014-04-15). "UCR to offer free workshops on endangered Native American language". University of California, Riverside Highlander. Retrieved 2014-04-21. 
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Update Date: 10 Nov 2022