Mutsun History

The Mutsun language was traditionally spoken throughout the drainage of the Pajaro River, and from there west to Monterey Bay, north to Gilroy, east to Hollister, and southeast to the Pinnacles. During the mission period, Mutsun was spoken at Mission San Juan Bautista. Mutsun is attested in the nineteenth century publications of Father Felipe Arroyo de la Cuesta, in the fieldnotes of J. P. Harrington, and works deriving from them. In pre-contact times, there were approximately 2700 speakers of Mutsun (Levy 1978). The last first-language speaker, Ascencion Solorsano, died in 1930.

Mutsun and Neighboring Languages

Mutsun is an Ohlone (or "Costanoan") language, along with Awaswas, Chalon, Chochenyo, Karkin, Ramaytush, Rumsen, and Tamyen. The Ohlone languages comprise one branch of the hypothesized Penutian language family, within which they form a subgroup with the Miwokan languages (Central Sierra Miwok, Coast Miwok, Lake Miwok, Northern Sierra Miwok, Plains Miwok, Saclan, and Southern Sierra Miwok). Penutian also includes Klamath-Modoc, the Maiduan languages (Konkow, Maidu, and Nisenan), the Wintuan languages (Nomlaki, Patwin, and Wintu), and the Yokuts languages.

Mutsun Revitalization

Members of the Amah Mutsun Tribe, with the help of Linguist, Natasha Warner have been pouring through these sources. Together we have developed a Mutsun language dictionary, a textbook, and have translated songs and stories into the Mutsun language, such as Dr. Suess's “Green Eggs and Ham.“ “Documentation of this language has been lying unused in archives for decades, and I am grateful for the chance to help tribal members use those archival records to bring the language back to the community." said Warner.

Mutsun language classes and workshops have been held in the past. We made our classes fun. We played modern day games using the Mutsun language, such as, “Twister” and “Simon Says.” They learned to sing traditional songs and nursery rhymes like, “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Tribal children even helped act out our traditional story of “Hemetc’a Wak-koro,” a one legged man who eats children. “These are exciting times for our Tribe. It seems all members are thirsting for our culture and our language.” Amah Mutsun tribal chairman, Val Lopez said.

Further Info on Mutsun

Arroyo de la Cuesta, Father Felipe. 1861. Grammar of the Mutsun Language. (Shea's Library of American Linguistics, Volume 4.) New York: Cramoisy.

Arroyo de la Cuesta, Father Felipe. 1862. Vocabulary or phrase book of the Mutsun language of Alta California. (Shea's Library of American Linguistics, Volume 8.) New York: Cramoisy.

Mason, J. A. 1916. The Mutsun dialect of Costanoan based on the vocabulary of De La Cuesta. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 11:399-472.

Okrand, Marc. 1977. Mutsun grammar. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

This website was created by Quirina Luna in collaboration with Dr Sarah Ogilvie and Pat Hall at Breath of Life 2010, a biennial workshop at UC Berkeley for Californian Indians who are revitalising their languages.