Sahaptian languages

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Pacific Northwest
Linguistic classificationPenutian?

Sahaptian (also Sahaptianic, Sahaptin, Shahaptian) is a two-language branch of the Plateau Penutian family spoken by Native American peoples in the Columbia Plateau region of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho in the northwestern United States.

The terms Sahaptian (the family) and Sahaptin (the language) have often been confused and used interchangeably in the literature.

Family division[edit]

Sahaptian includes two languages:

1. Nez Perce (Niimiʼipuutímt)
2. Sahaptin (Sħáptənəxw)

Nez Perce has two principal dialects, Upper and Lower. Sahaptin has somewhat greater internal diversity, with its main dialects being Umatilla and Yakama.

Noel Rude's (2012) classification of Sahaptian is as follows.[1]


Reconstruction ofSahaptian languages

Work on Proto-Sahaptian reconstruction has been undertaken by Noel Rude (2006,[2] 2012[1]).

Proto-Sahaptian consonants:[1]: 306 

Bilabial Alveolar Post-
Velar Uvular Glottal
plain lateral central plain labialized plain labialized
Stop/Affricate p t ƛ c č k q ʔ
Ejective ƛ̓ č k̓ʷ q̓ʷ
Fricative ł s š x x̣ʷ h
Sonorant plain m n l y w

Proto-Sahaptian vowels:[1]: 293 

front central back
high i ɨ u
mid o
low æ ɑ


  • Aoki, Haruo (1963). On Sahaptian-Klamath Linguistic Affiliations. International Journal of American Linguistics 29, no. 2: 107–112.
  • Aoki, Haruo (1966). Nez Percé vowel harmony and proto-Sahaptian vowels. Language, 42, 759-767.
  • Aoki, Haruo (1970). Nez Percé grammar. University of California publications in linguistics (Vol. 62). Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-09259-7.
  • 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 (1965). Continuity and change in Sahaptian vowel systems. International Journal of American Linguistics, 31, 306-311.
  • Rigsby, Bruce; & Silverstein, Michael (1969). Nez Percé vowels and proto-Sahaptian vowel harmony. Language, 45, 45-59.
  • Rude, Noel. (2012). Reconstructing Proto-Sahaptian Sounds. University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 32, pp. 292–324. Papers for the Forty-seventh International Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages, Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada, August 3–5, 2012, edited by Joel Dunham, John Lyon & Natalie Weber.


  1. ^ a b c d Rude, Noel. 2012. Reconstructing Proto-Sahaptian Sounds. In Papers for the 47th International Conference on Salish and neighbouring languages, 292-324. Working Papers in Linguistics (UBCWPL). Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
  2. ^ Rude, Noel. 2006. Proto-Sahaptian vocalism. In Papers for the 41st International Conference on Salish and neighbouring languages, 264-277. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.