Holly Blossom Wyatt

Honorary Degrees

California State University, Fresno

Holly Wyatt is one of a handful of the last native speakers of the Yokuts and has worked tirelessly to help document and revitalize the language by working with the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians and with the Department of Linguistics at California State University, Fresno. Ms. Wyatt, by all accounts, is the Mother of Language—her efforts to preserve, disseminate and conserve Chukchansi are laudatory.

Born on Dec. 6, 1941, Ms. Wyatt was raised by her grandmother at the Picayune Rancheria, near Coarsegold. Her grandmother, Nancy Wyatt, taught her Chukchansi, which ensured that Ms. Wyatt had a deep connection to her people's language and culture. Ms. Wyatt is but a few remaining speakers of Chukchansi, as most Native peoples of her generation were forced to assimilate and lose their language by attending all-English boarding schools. She graduated from Sierra High School in 1960 and worked as a nursing assistant at Valley Medical Center in Fresno until 1996.

Ms. Wyatt helped the Chukchansi Rancheria by teaching the Chukchansi language in classes offered to tribal members. She also worked for years with children at the Chukchansi Preschool and Coarsegold Elementary School.

Since 2008, Ms. Wyatt has invested countless hours with Dr. Niken Adisasmito-Smith, Dr. Brian Agbayani and Dr. Chris Golston of Fresno State's Linguistics Department to research, document and prepare teaching materials for the language. She co-authored the first and only dictionary of Chukchansi and translated more than 30 traditional stories into Chukchansi, both with Dr. Adisasmito-Smith. Before this work, there were only three traditional stories available in Chukchansi.

During this time, Ms. Wyatt also produced a pedagogical grammar guide for the tribe, which is proving useful in training teachers of the language. In addition, mobile apps were also developed for the language based in part on the traditional stories that Ms. Wyatt translated. In 2012, The New York Times published an article about Ms. Wyatt's work on language entitled “Chukchansi tribe in California pushes to preserve language."

Ms. Wyatt has co-authored a number of conference talks with Fresno State faculty and traveled with a group to England in 2014 to present their work on “Geminate splitting in Chukchansi Yokuts." This year, Ms. Wyatt published a phonetic study of Chukchansi in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association, published by Cambridge University Press, with co-authors Dr. Adisasmito-Smith and Peter Guekguezian at the University of Rochester.

Students have also benefited from Ms. Wyatt's work. She co-taught multiple sections of a course on field methods for graduate students in the Department of Linguistics, which led to a number of bachelor's honors papers and master's theses. One student continued working on Chukchansi with Ms. Wyatt through his doctoral program at the University of Southern California and into his professional life as a linguist.

Ms. Wyatt has had an immeasurable effect on the preservation and dissemination of her native Chukchansi. In recognition of her cultural contributions to linguistics, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University, Fresno are proud to confer upon Holly Wyatt the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.