Purisimeño Project

Purisimeño is a Chumash language of coastal California. It was spoken starting roughly halfway between modern-day Isla Vista and Point Conception (going west) and as far north as Santa Maria (Hudson & Blackburn 1982-1987). The language was also spoken inland, and speakers of Purisimeño occupied sites where the cities of Lompoc, Solvang, Los Olivos, and Orcutt currently are. Purisimeño also covered all of what is currently Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Purisimeño belongs to the Central Chumash branch of the language family (Klar 1977; Kroeber 1910). Other Central Chumash languages are Ineseño (also called Samala), Barbareño, and Ventureño. While Purisimeño shows more in common with Barbareño and Samala, there are indications that it was once in contact with Ventureño. Henry (ms.) classifies Purisimeño, Samala, and Barbareño as Western Chumash, which contrasts with Eastern Chumash (including only Ventureño).

Due to disease and an already small population, native speakers of Purisimeño were gone by the beginning of the 20th century. The primary consultant for Purisimeño was a very talented language learner Fernando Librado. Librado was born on the Channel Island now called Santa Cruz, and he and his family were relocated to the mission at San Buena Ventura during the early years of his life. Later in life, Librado went to work at La Purisima Mission, whence ‘Purisimeño’ takes its name. While there, he gained some proficiency in the language. However, because he was not a native speaker, the information he provided tends to be incomplete or grammatically simplistic.

John Peabody Harrington, a well-known anthropological linguist, was responsible for recording a majority of the data we have on Purisimeño (Harrington 1981: 3.6). Harrington’s ear was unparalleled in ability to hear phonetic detail. However, his phonetic transcription practices were not standardized nor did they entirely come from a standard. The Purisimeño data, as seen in the online dictionary, was compiled, organized, and analyzed by a team; many researchers, librarians, linguists, and archivists have made it possible.