Timbisha (Panamint) is a moribund member of the Central Numic branch of the
Numic language family of the Uto-Aztecan stock. It was formerly spoken in
southeastern California in Death Valley, Saline Valley, Panamint Valley and
Owens Valley. Today, the few remaining speakers of Timbisha are
concentrated in the Timbisha Shoshone community of Death Valley,
California. Unique among Native American communities in the United States,
the Timbisha community lives within the confines of a National Park and is
therefore subject to unique political and cultural pressures.
Timbisha is related to the Shoshone language of Nevada, Utah, Idaho and
Wyoming, and more to the Comanche language of Oklahoma, but it has features
that are archaic within Central Numic, such as the retention of a phonemic
velar nasal. Timbisha has an underlying obstruent system which consists of
voiceless stops /p, t, k, kw/, two voiceless fricatives /s, h/, and a
voiceless affricate /ts/, but a surface phonetic system that includes
voiced and voiceless stops, fricatives, and affricates in all the places of
articulation of the underlying stops and affricates. Nominals in Timbisha
are inflected for three cases and for singular, dual, and plural number.
Timbisha aspect and tense are reflected as suffixes on the verb stem and
there is a large set of instrumental prefixes that can be prefixed as well.
Adverbial relations are marked by postpositions. Timbisha word order is
relatively free, although there is a marked tendency toward SOV.
Subordinate clauses in Timbisha are marked for same reference of subjects
or for switch reference of subjects.
John E. McLaughlin, Associate Professor of English at Utah State
University, began fieldwork on Timbisha in 1983 and has published on the
historical phonology and morphology of the Numic and Central Numic
languages since 1980.