Shasta language

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Native toUnited States
Regionprimarily northern California
EthnicityShasta people
ExtinctIn use in 2019
Hokan ?
Language codes
ISO 639-3sht
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The Shasta language is an Shastan language nearly extinct formerly spoken from northern California into southwestern Oregon. It was spoken in a number of dialects, possibly including Okwanuchu. By 1980, only two first language speakers, both elderly, were alive. By 2019 some Oregon Shasta families still speak the language, with younger generations working to revive its use. Today, Shasta people often speak English, Spanish, and other languages as their first language. According to Golla, there were four distinct dialects of Shasta[2]:



Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop ejective tʼː tsʼ t͡sː t͡ʃʼ t͡ʃː kʼː
unaspirated p t ts t͡sː t͡ʃ t͡ʃː k kː ʔ ʔː
nasal m n
Fricative s x h
Approximant r j w

The length of a consonant distinguishes meaning in Shasta words. All stops and fricatives can occur as long or short in Shasta, but approximants /r j w/ only occur as short consonants. [3] Minimal pairs and near minimal pairs are shown below:

  • /t͡ʃákàráx/ a gnat vs. /t͡sàírʔ/ a board
  • /ʔáùʔ/ nothing vs. /ʔátʼːùʔ/ wild sunflower
  • /ʔìsíkʼːàʔ/ a person vs. /ʔìíkʼ/ cold


Shasta has four vowels, /i e a u/, with contrastive length, and two tones: high and low.

Front Mid Back
Short Long Short Long Short Long
Close i u
Mid e
Open a


Silver (1966) devised a system to write words in Shasta. Long phonemes are represented with the symbol ⟨ˑ⟩ following the character (e.g. ⟨cˑ⟩ and ⟨eˑ⟩ for/ t͡sː/ and /eː/, respectively); ejectives are indicated by an apostrophe written over the character (e.g. ⟨p̓⟩ for /pʼ/). The phoneme /j/ is represented by ⟨y⟩, and the glottal stop /ʔ/ is represented by the superscript IPA symbol ⟨ˀ⟩. The letters ⟨b d f g j l q v z⟩ are not used to represent Shasta sounds.

A a Aˑ aˑ C c Cˑ cˑ C̓ c̓ C̓ˑ c̓ˑ Č č Čˑ čˑ Č̓ č̓ Č̓ˑ č̓ˑ E e Eˑ eˑ H h Hˑ hˑ I i Iˑ iˑ K k Kˑ kˑ K̓ k̓ K̓ˑ k̓ˑ M m Mˑ mˑ
N n Nˑ nˑ P p Pˑ pˑ P̓ p̓ P̓ˑ p̓ˑ R r S s Sˑ sˑ T t Tˑ tˑ T̓ t̓ T̓ˑ t̓ˑ U u Uˑ uˑ W w X x Xˑ xˑ Y y ˀ ˀˑ


Shasta vowels can have low or high tones. High tones are marked by an acute accent ⟨′⟩ in the orthography devised by Silver (1966), whereas low tones are left unmarked. Examples for the vowel /u/ are given below:

IPA Ortography
/ú/ ú
/úː/ úˑ
/ù/ u


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Shasta". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Golla, Victor (2011). California Indian languages. University of California Press. pp. 90–91. ISBN 9780520266674. OCLC 767533019.
  3. ^ Silver, Shirley (1966). The Shasta Language. Berkeley: University of California Dissertation. pp. 37–38.


  • Golla, Victor (2011), California Indian languages, Berkeley: University of California Press
  • Mithun, Marianne (1999), The Languages of Native North America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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