Patwin Language

The Patwin language (aka “Wintun Tʼewe”, ISO 639-3 code: pwi) is an Indigenous language of California, traditionally spoken in the southwestern drainage of the Sacramento River. It is in the Wintuan language family, along with Wintu and Nomlaki. There are currently 3 federally recognized Patwin Tribes: the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, the Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians, and the Kletsel Dehe Band of Wintun Indians. In the map on the right, the traditional Patwin language territory is shown in blue and the other Wintuan languages are in gray.


Only two people self-identify as native speakers of Patwin, to my knowledge. However, revitalization programs have been ongoing in Patwin communities for many years now. New generations of Patwin speakers are rising up, including children. This is an exciting time for the Patwin language, and for Indigenous languages of Native America generally. I hope that the resources on this website are useful for both academic researchers and community researchers alike.


The Patwin language has 3 major dialect groups: Hill Patwin, spoken in the hills of the interior coast range, River Patwin, spoken in the Central Valley north of Yolo County, and South Patwin, spoken in the southernmost extent of the Central Valley and as far west as Vallejo. Each dialect group represents a distinct way of speaking. South Patwin is so distinct from the other dialect groups that some authors consider it to be a separate language (e.g. Whistler 1980, Shephard 2005). Each of these dialect groups may be further subdivided into distinct, geographically defined dialects.


Patwin grammar is described in my 2021 book, A Grammar of Patwin. Two Hill Patwin texts were published by Whistler (1977a, 1978), who also published on aspects of Patwin grammar (1976, 1977b, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1986). Kroeber (1932) is an ethnography of the Patwin people. Shepherd (2005) is a description of Proto-Wintuan. Archival resources can be found online at the California Language Archive at UC Berkeley and the National Anthropological Archives. Additional sources are physically archived at the American Philosophical Society, the Braun Research Library at the Autry National Center, the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages / the California Language Archive, the Bancroft Library, the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, the Special Collections of the Meriam Library at CSU Chico, and the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University. Some information can also be found in the Wikipedia article for the Patwin language. My working bibliography of Patwin resources can be found here.

Works cited

  • Heizer, Robert F., ed. (1978). California. Vol. 8. Handbook of North American Indians. Series editor William C. Sturtevant. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Kroeber, A. L. (1932). “The Patwin and Their Neighbors”. University of California Publications in Archaeology and Ethnology 29.4, 253–423. [link]
  • Lawyer, Lewis C. (2021). A Grammar of Patwin. University of Nebraska Press. [link]
  • Lawyer, Lewis C. (2015). “A description of the Patwin language”. PhD thesis. University of California, Davis.
  • Shepherd, Alice (2005). Proto-Wintun. Berkeley: University of California Press. [link]
  • Whistler, Kenneth W. (1976). “Patwin Folk-taxonomic Structures”. MA thesis. University of California Berkeley. [link]
  • Whistler, Kenneth W. (1977a). “Deer and Bear Children”. Northern California Texts. Ed. by Victor Golla and Shirley Silver. International Journal of American Linguistics Native American Texts Series No. 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 158–178.
  • Whistler, Kenneth W. (1977b). “Wintun Prehistory: An interpretation based on linguistic reconstruction of plant and animal nomenclature”. Proceedings of the Third Berkeley Linguistic Society Meeting. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society, 157–174. [link]
  • Whistler, Kenneth W. (1978). “Mink, Bullethawk, and Coyote”. Coyote Stories. Ed. by William Bright. International Journal of American Linguistics Native American Texts Series No. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 51–61.
  • Whistler, Kenneth W. (1979). Patwin numerals: A reconstruction and its cultural implications. Paper delivered at UC Santa Barbara, March 1979.
  • Whistler, Kenneth W. (1980). “Proto-Wintun Kin Classification: A case study in reconstruction of a complex semantic system”. PhD thesis. University of California, Berkeley. [link]
  • Whistler, Kenneth W. (1981). “Ablaut in Hill Patwin”. Survey Report No.1. Berkeley: Survey of California and Other Indian Languages, 42–94. [link]
  • Whistler, Kenneth W. (1986). “Evidentials in Patwin”. Evidentiality: The Linguistic coding of epistemology. Ed. by Wallace Chafe and Johanna Nichols. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 60–74.