Wiktionary:About Cahuilla

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link={{{imglink}}} This is a Wiktionary policy, guideline or common practices page. Specifically it is a policy think tank, working to develop a formal policy.

This policy explains considerations for Cahuilla entries that are not covered by WT:ELE and other general policies.

There are as yet no native or fluent speakers of this language on Wiktionary, so this page is at best a crude work-in-progress. Nonetheless, it's important to document the choices made in representing the language here for better understanding of the entries.


Until a century or two ago, Cahuilla had not been committed to writing. What's more, it has no official status nor a large number of readers or writers, so there's no widely-agreed-upon standard orthography. The two most important published ones are those of Hansjakob Seiler, who authored or co-authored the most complete and linguistically-rigorous grammar and dictionary of the language, and of Pamela Munro and Katherine Siva Saubel, who wrote the best instructional grammar of the language, Chem'ivillu (Let's Speak Cahuilla).

Although the best reference works on the language use it, Seiler's orthography contains several characters that are well-known to linguists, but not conveniently produced with standard English-language keyboards. Munro and Saubel's orthography was carefully designed to use as few non-English characters as possible- only the Spanish letter ñ is likely to cause any trouble. Therefore, this has been chosen as the standard orthography for Wiktionary.

Here's a table showing the sounds (phonemes) of the language as represented by Munro & Saubel's orthography, Seiler's orthography, and IPA characters:

Munro & Saubel Seiler IPA Notes
' ʔ ʔ *
a a ɑ
aa aa ɑː Long vowel
ch č t͡ʃ "c" in some orthographies **
d d ð Spanish loanwords
e e ɛ
ee ee ɛ: Long vowel
f f f Spanish loanwords
g g ɣ Spanish loanwords
h h h Never silent
i i i
ii ii i: Long vowel
k k k
l l l
ll ʎ Often "ly" in other orthographies
m m m
n n n
ng ŋ ŋ
ñ ñ ɲ Often "ny" in other orthographies
o o o Spanish loanwords
oo oo o: Spanish loanwords (Long vowel)
p p p
q q q
r r ɾ Spanish loanwords
s s s
sh š ʃ "c" in some orthographies **
t t t
u u u
uu uu u: Long vowel
v v v
w w w
x x x often "kh" in other orthographies
xw "hw" in some orthographies
y y j

* There are no word-initial vowels- they always have a glottal stop (') or other consonant in front of them. Many older sources tend to omit the glottal stop- even between vowels- though its presence can often be deduced from the use of hyphens between syllables.

** ch and sh are really the same sound, with ch appearing before vowels and sh everywhere else, but both Seiler and Munro & Saubel treat them as separate letters. Many other orthographies use "c" for both.

The stress is generally on the first syllable of the root, but isn't completely predictable. It is never shown in the entry title at the top of the page, but should be shown in the headword as an acute accent on the first part of the vowel of the stressed syllable (á,áa,é,ée,ó,óo,ú,úu), using the head= parameter.

Grammar and Morphology[edit]

Like many American Indian languages, Cahuilla is of the polysynthetic type: a great deal of information commonly represented in other languages by separate words is represented in Cahuilla by prefixes, suffixes and infixes. This can be quite hard to fit into a standard dictionary format.


Mostly these are in the form of subject and object prefixes on verbs, and possessor prefixes on nouns. With two classes of subject prefixes, there are a total of four sets of pronoun prefixes. There are different forms for 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons in both singular and plural. The 3rd-person singular tends to be the simplest form, in some cases expressed as nothing at all (the "null prefix").

Possessor (on nouns)[edit]
Person Singular Plural Notes
1st ne- my chem- our No distinction between inclusive and exclusive
2nd 'e- your 'em-
3rd [nothing] or hé- his/her/its hem- their

Note: Certain 1-syllable nouns lose their accent to the prefix, and have he- for the 3rd-person singular prefix instead of nothing.

Subject (on intransitive verbs)[edit]
Person Singular Plural Notes
1st ne- I chem- us No distinction between inclusive and exclusive
2nd 'e- you 'em-
3rd [nothing] he/she/it hem- they
Subject + Object (on transitive verbs)[edit]

Although the subject and object are separate prefixes, the object prefix is never seen without a subject prefix before it, so only the combinations will be shown.

Subject Person Subject Number Object Person Object Number Prefixes
1st S. I 1st S. me -
1st S. I 1st Pl. us -
1st S. I 2nd S. you 'en-
1st S. I 2nd Pl. you 'emen-
1st S. I 3rd S. him/her/it pen-
1st S. I 3rd Pl. them men-
1st Pl. we 1st S. me -
1st Pl. we 1st Pl. us -
1st Pl. we 2nd S. you 'echem-
1st Pl. we 2nd Pl. you 'emechem-
1st Pl. we 3rd S. him/her/it pichem-
1st Pl. we 3rd Pl. them michem-
2nd S. you 1st S. me ne'
2nd S. you 1st Pl. us cheme'-
2nd S. you 2nd S. you -
2nd S. you 2nd Pl. you -
2nd S. you 3rd S. him/her/it pe'-
2nd S. you 3rd S. them me'-
2nd Pl. you 1st S. me ne'em
2nd Pl. you 1st Pl. us cheme'em-
2nd Pl. you 2nd S. you -
2nd Pl. you 2nd Pl. you -
2nd Pl. you 3rd S. him/her/it pe'em-
2nd Pl. you 3rd Pl. them me'em-
3rd S. he/she/it 1st S. me ne-
3rd S. he/she/it 1st Pl. us cheme-
3rd S. he/she/it 2nd S. you 'e-
3rd S. he/she/it 2nd Pl. you 'eme-
3rd S. he/she/it 3rd S. him/her/it pe-
3rd S. he/she/it 3rd Pl. them me-
3rd Pl. they 1st S. me nem-
3rd Pl. they 1st Pl. us chemem-
3rd Pl. they 2nd S. you 'em-
3rd Pl. they 2nd Pl. you 'emem-
3rd Pl. they 3rd S. him/her/it pem-
3rd Pl. they 3rd S. them mem-


Cahuilla nouns are in one of two states: possessed or absolute. A possessed noun has no absolutive suffix, but always has a possessor prefix, while an absolute noun has no possessor prefix, but almost always has an absolutive suffix.

Many nouns can be used in either state, but there is a substantial group that can only be in the possessed state. These are generally words for things like body parts and kinship terms that are inherently part of or related to someone. There are also words for certain animals that are never in the possessed state: the possessor prefix always goes on a placeholder noun ash, usually translated as pet. Thus one would say 'awal ne'ash (dog my-pet) instead of *ne'awal (my-dog).

The absolutive suffix may have originally been a single form at some time in the past, but now there are several, with no reliable rules to predict which form goes with which noun: -l,-ll, -sh/-ch, and -t. Most of the exceptions are loanwords from other languages, especially from Spanish.

There are also an object ending and a plural ending. Some nouns have a distributive form that can be used instead of a plural, which is formed by reduplication. There are some plurals formed by reduplication, also.

The lemma for nouns is the 3rd-person singular form: either the absolute form, or, if possessed-only, the possessed form with any possessor prefix removed.

A complete headword line should consist of the headword, followed by (in parentheses) the absolute singular and plural (if they exist), the possessed singular and plural with 3rd-person singular possessor prefix, and the designation "possessed-only" if appropriate. Those nouns that place their prefix on the word ash will have ash in their possessed forms: 'áwal hé'ash, 'á'walem hé'achem.

Here are a couple of representative nouns, with their inflection:

néat (Abs. S. néat, Pl.néhtam, Poss. S. néh'a Pl.néam)

Singular Singular Object Plural Plural Object State
néat néa'ti basket néhtam néhtami baskets Absolute
nenéh'a nenéay my basket nenéam nenéami my baskets Possessed
'enéh'a 'enéay your(s.) basket 'enéam 'enéami my baskets Possessed
néh'a néay his/her/its basket néam néami his/her/its baskets Possessed
chemnéh'a chemnéay our basket chemnéam chemnéami our baskets Possessed
'emnéh'a 'emnéay your(p.) basket 'emnéam 'emnéami your(p.) baskets Possessed
hemnéh'a hemnéay their house hemnéam hemnéami their baskets Possessed

kísh (Abs. S. kísh, Pl.kísh, Poss. S. héki' Pl.hékim)

Singular Singular Object Plural Plural Object State
kísh kí'chi house kísh kishmi houses Absolute
néki' nékiy my house nékim nékimi my houses Possessed
'éki' 'ékiy your(s.) house 'ékim 'ékimi my houses Possessed
héki' hékiy his/her/its house hékim hékimi his/her/its houses Possessed
chémki' chémkiy our house chémkim chémkimi our houses Possessed
'émki' 'émkiy your(p.) house 'émkim 'émkimi your(p.) houses Possessed
hémki' hémkiy their house hémkim hémkimi their houses Possessed



  • Munro, Pamela,Katherine Siva Saubel, Chem'ivillu' (Let's Speak Cahuilla), Los Angeles, American Indian Studies Center, University of California, 1982.
  • Seiler, Hansjakob, Cahuilla Grammar, Banning, Malki Museum Press, 1977.
  • Seiler, Hansjakob, Cahuilla Texts with an Introduction, Bloomington, Language Science Monographs, Indiana University Press, 1970.
  • Seiler, Hansjakob, Kojiro Hioki, Cahuilla Dictionary, Banning, Malki Museum press, 1979.

Plant & Animal Lore[edit]

  • Barrows, David Prescott. The ethno-botany of the Coahuilla Indians of Southern California. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1900. (at archive.org)
  • Bean, Lowell John, Katherine Siva Saubel. Temalpakh (From the Earth): Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants. Banning, California: Malki Museum Press, 1972.
  • Merriam, Clinton Hart (Robert Heizer, ed.). Indian Names for Plants and Animals among Californian and other Western North American Tribes. Menlo Park, California: Ballena Press Publication. 1979. →ISBN
  • Merriam, Clinton Hart C. Hart Merriam papers relating to work with California Indians, 1850-1974. Volume: Natural History Word Lists BNEG 1556:60, Checklist 106. Scanned from documents in the Bancroft Library collections, Berkeley, California (at archive.org)
    • Originals from which the preceding source was published. Merriam had no training in linguistics, so his transcriptions are really bad. He was, however, an excellent zoologist and botanist, and apparently had pictures and/or specimens that he showed his sources. Later references tend to be of high quality linguistically, but are usually vague about which species are referred to. If one can match Merriam's garbled names with names in the more recent sources, it sometimes provides the best of both.


  • Hooper, Lucile. 1920. "The Cahuilla Indians". University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 16(6):315-380. Berkeley, CA. (at archive.org)
  • Kroeber, Alfred L.. "Ethnography of the Cahuilla Indians" University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 8(2):29-68. Berkeley, CA.(at archive.org)