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Timbisha language

Timbisha (Tümpisa; also called Panamint or Koso) is the language of the Native American people who have inhabited the region in and around Death Valley, California and the southern Owens Valley since late prehistoric times. There are a few elderly individuals who can speak the language in California and Nevada, but none are monolingual and all use English regularly in their daily lives. Until the last decade of the twentieth century, the people called themselves and their language "Shoshone". The tribe then achieved Federal recognition under the name Death Valley Timbisha Shoshone Band of California. This is an Anglicized spelling of the native name of Death Valley, tümpisa, pronounced , which means "rock paint" and refers to the rich sources of red ochre in the valley. Timbisha is also the language of the so-called "Shoshone" groups at Bishop, Big Pine, Darwin, Independence, and Lone Pine communities in California and the Beatty community in Nevada. It was also the language spoken at the former Indian Ranch reservation in Panamint Valley.


  • Classification 1
  • Geographic distribution 2
    • Dialects 2.1
  • Sounds 3
    • Vowels 3.1
    • Consonants 3.2


Timbisha is one of the Central Numic languages of the Numic branch of Uto-Aztecan. It is most closely related to Shoshoni and Comanche.

Geographic distribution

Timbisha was formerly spoken in the region between the Sierra Nevada mountains of eastern California and the region just to the east of Death Valley in Nevada. Principal valleys where villages were located were (from west to east) Owens Valley, Indian Wells Valley, Saline Valley, Panamint Valley, and Death Valley. In addition, there were villages along the southern slopes of the Kawich Range in Nevada.


Each valley had its own variety of Timbisha with mostly lexical differences between them. There was, however a general loss of h as one moved west across Timbisha territory with h virtually gone in Owens Valley varieties. McLaughlin (1987) is based on the far eastern variety from Beatty, Nevada, while Dayley (1989a) is based on a central variety from Death Valley.



Timbisha also has a typical Numic vowel inventory of five vowels. In addition, there is the common diphthong ai, which varies rather freely with e, although certain morphemes always contain ai and others always contain e. (The official orthography is shown in parens.)
front back
High i ɨ (ü) u
Non-High a o
Diphthong ai (ai, e)


Timbisha has a typical Numic consonant inventory. (The official orthography is shown in parens):
Bilabial Coronal Palatal Velar Glottal
plain Labial.
Nasal m n ŋ (ng) ŋʷ (ngw)
Stop p t k
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