Anthropologists often are interested in the "ethnographic present" — that period of time just prior to the arrival of Europeans with their their diseases, livestock, technologies and beliefs.
The map of language families of North America, below, reflects this temporal orientation. It shows the areas occupied by speakers of these languages around the time of first European contact.
The white areas on the map in the southeast and in northern Mexico show regions where our knowledge of cultures and languages is too fragmentary - the disruptions caused by up to 90% mortality rates from exposure to European diseases was too great, the massive shifts in population after European contact and lack of clear archaeological evidence or sparse populations have left gaps in our knowledge of these areas. Significant to this discussion is our lack of understanding of the language of people in the southeastern portion of the Southwest Culture Area.
The Uto-Aztecan language family extended from the Plateau Culture Area to central Mexico. Ute, Comanche, and Hopi people in the SW Culture Area speak languages in this family.
Uto-Aztecan has two branches: Northern (in the USA) and Southern Uto-Aztecan (in Mexico). Northern Uto-Aztecan includes the Numic and Takic branches. Numic languages include Paiute, Shoshone, Ute and Comanche. Takic languages include Hopi and Tübatulabal.
Southern Uto-Aztecan is divided into the Corachol-Aztecan branch (the Aztecan/Nahuan and Coracholan subbranches), the Piman branch and the Taracahitic branch. See Lyle Campbell's American Indian Languages and the wikipedia article on Uto-Aztecan languages.
Yuman-Cochimí is a family of languages spoken in Baja California and northern Sonora in Mexico and southern California and southwestern Arizona, cutting the Uto-Aztecan area from the west. It includes Hualapai, Yavapai, and Havasupai languages.
Na-Dené, including the tonal languages Navajo and Apache, cuts the Uto-Aztecan area from in half from west to east. Kiowa-Apache is spoken on the plains. Navajo is grouped with the southwestern branch of apachean languages including Western Apache, Mescalero, and Chiricahua. The Eastern subgroup consists of Jicarilla and Lipan.
The Pueblo peoples are linguistically diverse - Different pueblos, despite cultural similarities, speak languages that come from completely different language families. Linguistic differences between the Pueblos point to their diverse origins. The Hopi language is Uto-Aztecan; Zuñi is a language isolate; Keresan is a dialect continuum that includes Acoma, Laguna, Santa Ana, Zia, Cochiti, Santo Domingo, San Felipe. The Tanoan is an areal grouping of three branches of the Kiowa-Tanoan family consisting of 6 languages: Jemez (Towa), Tewa (San Juan, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Tesuque, Nambe, Pojoaque, and Hano); and the 3 Tiwa languages Taos, Picuris, and Southern Tiwa (Sandia, Isleta).
Kiowa-Tanoan (also Tanoan-Kiowa) is a family of languages spoken in New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Most of the languages—Tiwa, Tewa, and Towa—are spoken in the Pueblos of New Mexico and called collectively Tanoan, while Kiowa is spoken in mostly southwestern Oklahma. Some scholars suggest that the Kiowa-Tanoan family is related to the Uto-Aztecan family. This is not well established.
- A. Kiowa
- Kiowa: 1,092 speakers (1990 census)
- B. Tiwa
- I. Northern Tiwa
- Taos: 803 speakers (1980 census)
- Picuris: 101 speakers (1990 census)
- II. Southern Tiwa
- Southern Tiwa (dialects: Sandia - 144 speakers,
- Isleta - 1588 speakers, Ysleta del Sur - extinct)
- III. Piro
- Piro (extinct)
- C. Tewa
- Tewa: total of 1,298 speakers (1980 census) (dialects: Arizona Tewa and the Rio Grande Tewa dialect group: Santa Clara - 207 speakers, San Juan - 495 speakers, San Ildefonso - 349 speakers, Nambe - 50 speakers, Pojoaque - 25 speakers, and Tesuque - 172 speakers)
- D. Jemez
- Jemez (Towa): 1,301 speakers (1990 census)
- I. Northern Tiwa
Keresan is a group of seven related languages spoken by Pueblo peoples in New Mexico. Each is mutually intelligible with its closest neighbors, though there is a fair amount of diversity between groups from East to West.
- Eastern dialects: total of 4,580 speakers (1990 census)
- Cochiti Pueblo: 384 speakers (1990 census)
- San Felipe-Santo Domingo:
- San Felipe Pueblo: 1,560 speakers (1990),
- Santo Domingo Pueblo: 1,880 speakers (1990)
- Zia Pueblo: 463 speakers (1990 census),
- Santa Ana Pueblo: 229 speakers (1990 census)
- Western dialects: total of 3,391 speakers (1990 census)
- Acoma Pueblo: 1,696 speakers (1980 census)
- Laguna Pueblo: 1,695 speakers (1990 census)
Zuni (Zuñi or Shiwi) is spoken by over 10,000 people in New Mexico and much smaller numbers in parts of Arizona. It is generally considered a language isolate.