Their language means “the walking language”, and their demonym is “Niimi’ipuu” meaning “the walking people”. This tribe was lead by their Chief Joseph (hinmatóoyalahtq’it – “thunder traveling to higher areas”) in the Nez Perce war of the 1870s, where they were literally corned by the US army in retaliation for attempting to escape to Canada. Afterwards, the consequences of this war ultimately lead to the gradual demise of their language. Today, it is spoken by fewer than 100 people, mostly elders. Fortunately, the Nez Perce has been able to maintain and rebuild much of their culture, including Salmon fishing, the Nez Perce horse breeding program.
Their language has some interesting sounds such as an affricate lateral fricative [tɬʼ], many types of ejectives [p’], [t’], [k’], [kʼʷ], [qʼʷ], and [q’] (similar to Amharic, Ethiopia’s national language), as well as glottalized sonorants [m’], [n’], [l’], [j’], [w’]. The language also has signs of ergativity, which may or may not be similar to that of Basque and Georgian. The sentence order of Nez Perce is very free, unlike our strict Subject-Verb-Object syntax in English. Nez Perce has 3 grammatical cases, marked by transitivity.
A dictionary, a grammar book, and two dissertations have been published on their language. Although the dictionary by Aoki is over $400 USD as of May 2018, there is an older, free dictionary.
For more information on resources or about the Nez Perce language, do not hesitate to contact us.
Free Nez Perce dictionary
Videos to learn some Nez Perce:
An elder speaking Nez Perce with an English explanation after:
Aoki, Haruo. (1970). Nez Perce grammar. University of California publications in linguistics (Vol. 62). Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-09259-7. (Reprinted 1973, California Library Reprint series).