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Native to United States
Region Washington, Oregon, and Idaho
Ethnicity 10,000 Sahaptins (1977)[1]
Native speakers
100–125 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Variously:
uma – Umatilla
waa – Walla Walla
yak – Yakima
tqn – Tenino
Linguist list
qot Sahaptin
Glottolog saha1240[2]

Sahaptin (also Shahaptin), Sħáptənəxw, is a Plateau Penutian language of the Sahaptian branch 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.[3] Many of the tribes surrounding the land, were skilled with horses and trading with one another.

The Yakama tribal Cultural Resources program has been promoting the use of the traditional name of the language, Ichishkíin Sɨ́nwit, instead of Sahaptin which means "stranger in the land." [4]


The Sahaptin language into four languages, since it forms a dialect cluster :[5]

  • Northern Sahaptin group
    • Northwest Sahaptin dialect cluster: Klickitat (Klikitat) (Yakama name: Xwálxwaypam or L'ataxat), Tainapam (Taidnapam / Táytnapam or Upper Cowlitz), Upper Nisqually (Meshal / Mashel or Mica'l, also known as Mishalpam), Yakima (Yakama) (Lower or Yakama proper, autonym: Mámachatpam), Kittitas (Upper Yakama, autonym: Pshwánapam or Pshwanpawam)
    • Northeast Sahaptin dialect cluster: Wanapum (Wanapam) (Wánapam), Palouse (Palus) (Yakama name: Pelúuspem), Lower Snake (Chamnapam, Wauyukma, and Naxiyampam), Walla Walla (Waluulapan)
  • Southern Sahaptin group (Columbia River cluster): Umatilla (Rock Creek Indians, Yakama name: Amatalamlama; Imatalamlama), Skin-pah (Sk'in tribe or Sawpaw, also known as Fall Bridge and Rock Creek people or K'milláma, a Tenino subtribe; perhaps another Yakama name for the Umatilla, which were known as Rock Creek Indians), Tenino (Tygh Valley dialect of the Tygh (Taih, Tyigh or Tayxɫáma) or "Upper Deschutes", Celilo dialect of the Wyam (Wayámɫáma) (Yakama name: Wayámpam) or "Lower Deschutes", also known as "Celilo Indians", Tenino dialect of the Dalles Tenino or "Tinainu (Tinaynuɫáma)"; John Day dialect oft the Dock-Spus (Tukspush or Takspasɫáma) or "John Day.")


There exist published grammars,[6][7] a recent dictionary,[8] and a corpus of published texts.[9][10] Sahaptin has a split ergative syntax with direct-inverse voicing and several applicative constructions.[11]

The ergative case inflects 3rd person nominals only when the direct object is 1st or 2nd person (examples below are from the Umatilla dialect).

1) i-q̓ínu-šana yáka paanáy
3nom-see-asp bear 3acc.sg
‘the bear saw him’
2) i-q̓ínu-šana=aš yáka-nɨm
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) wínš i-q̓ínu-šana wapaanłá-an ku i-ʔíƛ̓iyawi-ya paanáy
man 3nom-see-asp grizzly-acc and :3nom-kill-pst 3acc.sg
‘the man saw the grizzly and he killed it’


4) wínš i-q̓ínu-šana wapaanłá-an ku pá-ʔiƛ̓iyawi-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-ʔiƛ̓iyawi-ya wínš-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) q̓ínu-šana=maš
‘I saw you’


7) pá-q̓inu-šana=nam
‘you saw me’

In Speech Act Participant (SAP) and 3rd person transitive involvement direction marking is as follows:


8) á-q̓inu-šana=aš paanáy
obv-see-asp=1sg 3sg.acc
‘I saw him/her/it’


9) i-q̓ínu-šana=aš pɨ́nɨm
3nom-see-asp=1sg 3erg
‘he/she/it saw me’

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Umatilla at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Walla Walla at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Yakima at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Tenino at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Sahaptin". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Mithun, 1999.
  4. ^ Beavert, Virginia and Hargus, Sharon Ichishkíin sɨ́nwit yakama = Yakima Sahaptin dictionary. Toppenish, Wash. : Heritage University ; Seattle : in association with the University of Washington Press, 2009; 492 pp. OCLC 268797329
  5. ^ Sharon Hargus 2012, First position clitics in Northwest Sahaptin
  6. ^ Jacobs, 1931.
  7. ^ Rigsby and Rude, 1996.
  8. ^ Beavert & Hargus, 2009.
  9. ^ Jacobs, 1929.
  10. ^ Jacobs, 1937.
  11. ^ Rude, 2009.


  • Beavert, Virginia, and Sharon Hargus (2010). Ichishkiin Sɨ́nwit 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 [ɨ]. 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[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahaptin_language — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.
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7 news items

Indian Country Today Media Network

Indian Country Today Media Network
Wed, 10 Dec 2014 12:01:14 -0800

“These legend recordings have proven to be very useful tools for teaching the Sahaptin language to others. They also express many important things about my culture—our traditions, our values, our history,” she says on the Kickstarter page. She also ...

Yakima Herald-Republic

Yakima Herald-Republic
Fri, 23 Oct 2015 23:23:25 -0700

White Swan High School student Kristin Heemsah struggles to remember the Sahaptin language term for a part of a salmon during class Oct. 21, 2015. The Yakama Nation language course is a new offering at the school as the school beefs up its tribal ...


Thu, 17 Dec 2015 07:07:53 -0800

I told them I spoke my mom's Sahaptin language and my father's Tiwa language. I was told that didn't count because they were "just" American Indian languages. I then mentioned I had had three years of Latin in high school I was told that didn't count ...


Wed, 28 Oct 2015 20:45:00 -0700

... but not “Squaw,” a case of feminism trumping racism apparently. In 1999, Washington State changed the name of Squaw Tit peak in Yakima County to Pushtay, which means “small mound” in the Sahaptin language spoken by the Yakama and Umatilla, ...

Daily Astorian

Daily Astorian
Fri, 02 Jan 2015 08:24:13 -0800

“I was a linguist and a linguist is most interested in grammar.” Rude, who retired as soon as the dictionary was finished, now lives at the Oregon Coast. He researched not only the Umatilla dialect of the Sahaptin language, but also Walla Walla and Nez ...


Mon, 16 Sep 2013 14:11:15 -0700

Like many native languages, the Nez Perce language and Sahaptin language group including Umatilla and Walla Walla are no longer the mother tongues of most tribal members. Government boarding schools in the 19th and 20th centuries forbid tribal ...


Mon, 31 Dec 2012 21:54:51 -0800

On it, two animal spirits, called spílya (“coyote” in the Sahaptin language), danced, actively creating order from chaos. It would protect me through the turmoil of the Alder Creek dig, Van Pelt said. Months before arriving in California, I studied ...

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