Seri language

The term Serian family may be used to refer to a language family with Seri as its only living member; related languages have disappeared in the last couple of centuries.

Attempts have been made to link it to the Yuman family, to the now-extinct Salinan language of California, and to the much larger hypothetical Hokan family. These hypotheses came out of a period when attempts were being made to group all of the languages of the Americas into families. In the case of Seri, however, very little evidence has ever been produced. Until such evidence is presented and evaluated, the language is most appropriately considered an isolate.

Seri is a language isolate spoken by between 716 and 900 Seri people in Punta Chueca and El Desemboque, two villages on the coast of Sonora, Mexico.

The name Seri is an exonym for this people that has been used since the first contacts with the Spaniards (sometimes written differently, as ceres). Gilg reported in 1692 that it was a Spanish name, but surely it was the name used by another group of the area to refer to the Seris. Nevertheless, modern claims that it is a Yaqui term that means something like “people of the sand”, or an Opata term that means “people who run fast”,are lacking in factual basis; no evidence has been presented for the former and no credible evidence has been presented for the latter.

The name used within the Seri community itself, for the language, is Cmiique Iitom, which contrasts with Cocsar Iitom (“Spanish language”) and Maricaana Iitom (“English language”). The expression is a noun phrase that is literally “(that) with which a Seri person speaks”. The word Cmiique (phonetically [ˈkw̃ĩːkːɛ]) is the singular noun for “Seri person.”

The language was erroneously referred to as Kunkaak as early as the beginning of the twentieth century (as in Hernández 1904), and this mistake has been repeated up to the present day by people who confuse the name of an ethnic group with the name of its language (which are often the same in Spanish and English). The lexeme Comcaac is used in the Seri language only to refer to the people.