Rediscovering Tongva, Los Angeles’s Original Language

LA’s (AB)Original language

TIME

As Los Angeles fourth graders know (because their curriculum includes the study of California Indians), the original language of Los Angeles is Tongva. This American Indian language (also called Gabrielino) used to be spoken in villages all over the L.A. Basin.

These villages have given their names to places all over Los Angeles, including Tujunga (from Tongva Tuhuunga “place of the old woman”) and Cahuenga (from Kawee’nga “place of the fox”). But despite these ever-present reminders, the language has not been spoken for over 50 years.

I first encountered Tongva shortly after I began teaching at UCLA 40 years ago, when my mentor, the late Professor William Bright, introduced me to the field notes of J. P. Harrington, an ethnographer and linguist who worked with Tongva speakers during the early 20th century.

It’s hard to find information on Tongva. There are no audio recordings of people speaking the language…

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