Sahaptin Language
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Sahaptin Language
Native toUnited States
RegionWashington, Oregon, and Idaho
Ethnicity10,000 Sahaptins (1977)[1]
Native speakers
100-125 (2007)[1]
Language codes
uma - Umatilla
waa - Walla Walla
yak - Yakama
tqn - Tenino
qot Sahaptin

Sahaptin or Shahaptin, endonym Ichishkin,[3] is one of the two-language Sahaptian branch of the Plateau Penutian family spoken in a section of the northwestern plateau along the Columbia River and its tributaries in southern Washington, northern Oregon, and southwestern Idaho, in the United States;[4] the other language is Nez Perce or Niimi'ipuutímt. Many of the tribes that surrounded the land were skilled with horses and trading with one another; some tribes were known for their horse breeding which resulted in today's Appaloosa or Cayuse horse.

The word Sahaptin/Shahaptin is not the one used by the tribes that speak it, but from the Columbia Salish name, S?ápt?n?xw / S-háptinoxw, which means "stranger in the land". This is the name the Wenatchi (in Sahaptin: Winátshapam) and Kawaxchinláma (who speak Columbia Salish) traditionally call the Nez Perce people. Early white explorers mistakenly applied the name to all the various Sahaptin speaking people, as well as to the Nez Perce. Sahaptin is spoken by various tribes of the Washington Reservations; Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla; and also spoken in many smaller communities such as Celilo, Oregon.

The Yakama tribal cultural resources program has been promoting the use of the traditional name of the language, Ichishkíin Snwit (?this language?), instead of the Salish term Sahaptin.[5]

Tribes and dialects

Sahaptin tribes speak three mutually intelligible dialects:[6]

Northern Sahaptin

Northwest Sahaptin dialects:
  • Upper Cowlitz (Cowlitz Klickitat, Lewis River Klickitat Band, autonym: Taidnapam / Táytnapam)
  • Upper (Mountain) Nisqually (Meshal / Me-Schal / Mashel / Mica'l Band of Nisqually, autonym: Mishalpam, Yakama name: Mical-?a'ma)
Northeast Sahaptin dialects:
  • Chamnapam
  • Wauyukma
  • Naxiyampam

Southern Sahaptin (Columbia River dialects):

  • Umatilla (Rock Creek Indians, Yakama name: Amatalamlama / Imatalamlama)
  • Sk'in/Skin-pah (Sawpaw Band, Fall Bridge, Rock Creek people, Yakama name: K'milláma, perhaps another Tenino subtribe)
  • Tenino (Warm Springs bands)
  • Tinainu (Tinaynu?áma) or "Dalles Tenino" (Tenino proper)
  • Tygh (Taih, Tyigh) or "Upper Deschutes" (divided into: Tayx?áma (Tygh Valley), Ti?xni?áma (Sherar's Bridge), and Mli?áma (Warm Spring Reservation)
  • Wyam (Wayám?áma) or "Lower Deschutes" (Celilo Indians, Yakama name: Wayámpam)
  • Dock-Spus (Tukspush) (Takspas?áma) or "John Day"


There are published grammars,[7][8] a recent dictionary,[9] and a corpus of published texts.[10][11] Sahaptin has a split ergative syntax, with direct-inverse voicing and several applicative constructions.[12]

The ergative case inflects third-person nominals only when the direct object is first- or second-person (the examples below are from the Umatilla dialect):

1) i-q?ínu-?ana yáka paanáy
3nom-see-asp bear
'the bear saw him'
2) i-q?ínu-?ana=a? yáka-n?m
3nom-see-asp=1sg bear-erg
'the bear saw me'

The direct-inverse contrast can be elicited with examples such as the following. In the inverse, the transitive direct object is coreferential with the subject in the preceding clause.


3) wín? i-q?ínu-?ana wapaan?á-an ku i-?íiyawi-ya paanáy
man 3nom-see-asp grizzly-acc and :3nom-kill-pst
'the man saw the grizzly and he killed it'


4) wín? i-q?ínu-?ana wapaan?á-an ku pá-?iiyawi-ya
man 3nom-see-asp grizzly-acc and inv-kill-pst
'the man saw the grizzly and it killed him'

The inverse (marked by the verbal prefix pá-) retains its transitive status, and a patient nominal is case marked accusative.

5) ku pá-?iiyawi-ya wín?-na
and inv-kill-pst man-acc
'and it killed the man' (= 'and the man was killed by it')

A semantic inverse is also marked by the same verbal prefix pá-.


6) q?ínu-?ana=ma?
'I saw you'


7) pá-q?inu-?ana=nam
inv-see-asp =2sg
'you saw me'

In Speech Act Participant (SAP) and third-person transitive involvement, direction marking is as follows:


8) á-q?inu-?ana=a? paanáy
obv-see-asp=1sg 3sg.acc
'I saw him/her/it'


9) i-q?ínu-?ana=a? pn?m
3nom-see-asp=1sg 3erg
'he/she/it saw me'


The charts of consonants and vowels below are used in the Yakima Sahaptin (Ichishkiin) language:[13]


Bilabial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain lateral plain labialized plain labialized
Plosive plain p t k k? q q? ?
ejective p' t' k' k?' q' q?'
Fricative s ? ? x x? ? h
Affricate plain ts t? t?
ejective ts' t?' t?'
Nasal m n
Approximant l j w


Front Central Back
High i i: ? u u:
Low a a:

Vowels can also be accented (e.g. /á/).

See also


  1. ^ a b Umatilla at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Walla Walla at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Yakama at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Tenino at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sahaptin". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Leonard, Wesley Y.; Haynes, Erin (December 2010). "Making "collaboration" collaborative: An examination of perspectives that frame linguistic field research". Language Documentation & Conservation. 4: 269-293. ISSN 1934-5275.
  4. ^ Mithun, 1999
  5. ^ Beavert, Virginia and Hargus, Sharon Ichishkíin snwit yakama = Yakima Sahaptin dictionary. Toppenish, Wash.: Heritage University, Seattle: in association with the University of Washington Press, 2009; 492 pp. OCLC 268797329.
  6. ^ Sharon Hargus 2012, First position clitics in Northwest Sahaptin
  7. ^ Jacobs, 1931.
  8. ^ Rigsby and Rude, 1996.
  9. ^ Beavert & Hargus, 2009.
  10. ^ Jacobs, 1929.
  11. ^ Jacobs, 1937.
  12. ^ Rude, 2009.
  13. ^ Jansen, Joana Worth (2010). A Grammar of Yakima Ichishkíin Sahaptin. University of Oregon Graduate School.


  • Beavert, Virginia, and Sharon Hargus (2010). Ichishkiin Snwit Yakama/Yakima Sahaptin Dictionary. Toppenish and Seattle: Heritage University and University of Washington Press.
  • Hargus, Sharon, and Virginia Beavert. (2002). Yakima Sahaptin clusters and epenthetic [?]. Anthropological Linguistics, 44.1-47.
  • Jacobs, Melville (1929). Northwest Sahaptin Texts, 1. University of Washington Publications in Anthropology 2:6:175-244. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Jacobs, Melville (1931). A Sketch of Northern Sahaptin Grammar. University of Washington Publications in Anthropology 4:2:85-292. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Jacobs, Melville (1934). Northwest Sahaptin Texts. English language only. Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology 19, Part 1. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Jacobs, Melville (1937). Northwest Sahaptin Texts. Sahaptin language only. Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology 19, Part 2. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Rigsby, Bruce, and Noel Rude. (1996). Sketch of Sahaptin, a Sahaptian Language. In Languages, ed. by Ives Goddard, pp. 666-692. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 17. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Rude, Noel. (1988). Pronominal prefixes in Klikitat Sahaptin. In Papers from the 1988 Hokan-Penutian Languages Workshop: Held at the University of Oregon, June 16-18, 1988, compiled by Scott DeLancey, pp. 181-197. Eugene, Oregon: University of Oregon Papers in Linguistics.
  • Rude, Noel. (1994). Direct, inverse and passive in Northwest Sahaptin. In Voice and Inversion, ed. by T. Givón. Typological Studies in Language, Vol. 28:101-119. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Rude, Noel. (2006). Proto-Sahaptian vocalism. University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics, Volume 18: 264-277.
  • Rude, Noel. (2009). Transitivity in Sahaptin. Northwest Journal of Linguistics, Vol. 3, Issue 3, pp. 1-37.
  • Rude, Noel. (2011). External possession, obviation, and kinship in Umatilla Sahaptin. University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics, Volume 30: 351-365.
  • Rude, Noel. (2012). Reconstructing Proto-Sahaptian Sounds. University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics, Volume 32: 292-324.
  • Rude, Noel. (2014). Umatilla Dictionary. Seattle & London: University of Washington Press.

External links

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