Horace Axtell
Nez Perce Elder, Author, Religious Leader
& Nez Perce Language Teacher




We are indebted to Horace Axtell's contributions in providing useful phrases and words along with a Nez Perce dictionary for use in creating this important contribution to understanding and appreciating Nez Perce Culture.



"The traditional territory occupied by the Nez Perce people was between the Bitterroot Mountains on the east and the Blue Mountains on the west. This region is mostly in Idaho, but also it includes a large area in Washington and Oregon.

Today there are more than two thousand members of the Nez Perce tribe, but not all of them speak the Nez Perce language. As in other, similar cases, the number of speakers of the Nez Perce language is not easy to estimate with certainty, in the absence of universal criteria. There are still hundreds of people who can count up to ten, but only scores can tell traditional folk tales using classical vocabulary.

More than a century after relocation to reservations and after intermarriage among different tribal band members, the traditional dialect differences have been obliterated. However, it appears that there were at least two dialect clusters: the Upriver dialect cluster of people who lived in the middle and south fork areas of the Clearwater River, and the Downriver cluster of those who occupied areas further west.

The traditional neighbors of the Nez Perce people to the west were speakers of Sahaptin, a language genetically related to the Nez Perce. The Sahaptin language includes three dialect clusters: the Northwest cluster (Kittitas, Upper Cowlitz, Yakima, Klickitat), the Columbia River Cluster (Tenino, Tygh, Celilo, Rock Creek, John Day River, Umatilla), and the Northern cluster (Walla Walla, Snake River, Priest Rapids, Palouse). Of these dialects, the geographically close Palouse shows phonological and lexical similarities to Nez Perce.

The neighbors to the north and to the east were Salish, with whom the Nez Perce people had a sort of military alliance."


Source:Haruo Aoki, "Nez Perce Dictionary", University of California Press, Berkleley, pp ix-x of Introduction.


Useful Phrases




Useful Words




Source:Haruo Aoki, "Nez Perce Dictionary", University of California Press, Berkleley, pp ix-x of Introduction.



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