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Penutian is a proposed grouping of language families that includes many Native American languages of western North America, predominantly spoken at one time in Washington, Oregon, and California. There a number of varying opinions concerning its validity.
The name is based on the words meaning 'two' in the Wintuan, Maiduan, and Yokutsan languages (which is pronounced something like [pen]) and the Utian languages (which is pronounced something like [uti]).
It is probably best to consider the Penutian grouping as undemonstrated. Not only is Penutian undemonstrated, but many of the lower groupings are also undemonstrated although some of the subgroupings appear to be promising. The initial proposal of Penutian was based on scarce data which was sometimes not entirely reliable. Quite a bit of research has been done and is continuing to be done on investigating the genetic relations between the various subgroupings. Research is still needed to determine many uncertainties, and there remain differences in opinion between linguists. A number of the languages are no longer spoken leaving researchers with no new data to work with. A further complication is due the large amount of borrowing that occurred among neighboring peoples. Mary Haas states the following regarding this borrowing:
Even where genetic relationship is clearly indicated ... the evidence of diffusion of traits from neighboring tribes, related or not, is seen on every hand. This makes the task of determining the validity of the various alleged Hokan languages and the various alleged Penutian languages all the more difficult ... [and] point[s] up once again that diffusional studies are just as important for prehistory as genetic studies and what is even more in need of emphasis, it points up the desirability of pursuing diffusional studies along with genetic studies. This is nowhere more necessary than in the case of the Hokan and Penutian languages wherever they may be found, but particularly in California where they may very well have existed side by side for many millennia. (Haas 1976:359)
Some subgroupings have been convincingly demonstrated. Miwokan and Costanoan languages have been grouped into an Utian language family by Catherine Callaghan. There seems to be convincing evidence for the Plateau Penutian grouping (originally named Shahapwailutan by J. N. B. Hewitt and John Wesley Powell in 1894) which would consist of Klamath-Modoc, Molala, and the Sahaptian languages (Nez Percé and Sahaptin). The inclusion of Cayuse into Plateau Penutian is questionable due to so little data. There is growing evidence supporting a grouping of Utian and Yokutsan (into a Yok-Utian family).
The other groupings probably need more research before asserting them as fact. And so, the final status of Penutian is yet to come.