The Niimíipuu (“The People”) or Nez Perce are a tribe in present day Idaho consisting of around 3,500 citizens. It is a federally recognized tribe by the United States government (Nez Perce, 2018). The Nez Perce were a nomadic people, traveling with the seasons as they hunted buffalo (Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, 2021). The Nez Perce were a dominant group in the area prior to the intervention of Europwans in their expansion west. Treaties were put in place between the Nez Perce and the United States government (National Park Service, 2020), which restricted the land of the Tribe. The name Nez Perce comes from French explorers who called them nez percé, or pierced nose.
The language spoken by the Tribe is also called Nez Perce (also known as Shahaptan, Chopunnish, Nimipu, Numipu, Nuumiipuutimt, or Nuumiipuutímt). The language is a member of the Sahaptian language group, which is a member of the Plateau Penutian family.
There are two main dialects, the Upriver and the Downriver dialects (Endangered Languages Project, n.d.). Nez Perce is a critically endangered language by UNESCO, which means that “the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently” (UNESCO, 2017). Today, Nez Perce is spoken by about 30-40 speakers who have varying levels of fluency in the language (Endangered Languages Project, n.d.).
Aoki (1987) described the language’s grammar and Aoki (1994) provided a dictionary (see https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520097636/nez-perce-dictionary). Aoki (1987) describes the language as a verb+subject+object (“SVO”) language. However, the language uses grammatical case where affixes are affixed to the verb, which allows for some freedom in word order. In such a language, one word may take the meaning of an entire sentence in English. An example from Aoki (1987) is:
Nez Perce: hi-tiwele-pa-y-na
English gloss: he- in-rain-come-past (:He arrived in the rain”)
Some interesting facts about Nez Perce according to the Niimiipuu Language Program (https://nezperce.org/about/language/):
- Nez Perce does not use any capital letters
- There are five vowels, which can be short or long
Nez Perce Language Resources
Nez Perce has several different alphabets in use. The Advisory Board of Elders has provided some information on its writing system here: https://nezperce.org/about/language/. There are at least two main dialects of Nez Perce from groups that are geographically distant from one another. Additionally, there are multiple writing systems
- Listen to Nez Perce: https://youtu.be/vluj16G0J_Y
- Phonology of Nez Perce: https://wals.info/languoid/lect/wals_code_nez
- Alphabet: https://omniglot.com/writing/nezperce.htm
- Nez Perce Orthography: https://archive.org/details/rosettaproject_nez_ortho-1/mode/2up
- Learn some vocabulary: http://www.native-languages.org/nez_words.htm
- Learn Numbers in Nez Perce: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9AR-72JMY0&list=PLPJ_aSHcU86vdnhwunsjMbFHv-CHuLyjk&index=23 and http://www.native-languages.org/nez_words.htm
- Learn Animal Names in Nez Perce: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ig1fLiQDmM&list=PLPJ_aSHcU86vdnhwunsjMbFHv-CHuLyjk&index=17 and http://www.native-languages.org/nez_animals.htm
- Explore a basic grammar: https://www.computing.dcu.ie/~mward/mthesis/chapter5.pdf
Learn some Nez Perce with lesson plans from the Tribe:
- Learn some Words in Nez Perce: https://www.nimipuutimt.org/niimi769ipuum-inmi769iwit.html
- Video Lessons: https://www.nimipuutimt.org/video-lessons.html
Aoki, H. (1987). Nez Perce detailed description. The Rosetta Project: University of California Press. Retrieved from: https://archive.org/details/rosettaproject_nez_detail-1
Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (2021). Nez Perce Tribe. Retrieved from https://www.critfc.org/member_tribes_overview/nez-perce-tribe/.
Endangered Languages Project (n.d.). NEz PErce. Retrieved from https://www.endangeredlanguages.com/lang/1715.
National Park Service (2020). Nez Perce. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/nepe/learn/historyculture/the-treaty-era.htm.
Nez Perce (2018). About us. Retrieved from https://nezperce.org/about/.
UNESCO (2017). Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/endangered-languages/atlas-of-languages-in-danger/.