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Sapsik’ʷałá Project

The video above was produced by Cassy George, a Sapsik’ʷałá student. The information below was provided by Noel Rude, tribal linguist for the Confederate Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla Tribes).

Sapsik’ʷałá is a word composed of the verb "to teach" plus the agentive "one who," derived from the Sahaptin language. The language is called Sahaptin (ends with in), in contrast to the Sahaptian (ends with ian) language family. There are two closely related but mutually unintelligible languages in the Sahaptian language family—Nez Perce and Sahaptin. The term "Sahaptin" was likely borrowed from Salish, as it is not originally a Sahaptin word.

Sahaptin has many divergent dialects. People will say they are Umatilla, Walla Walla, Celilo, or Yakima, etc., and there is no single word for all the dialects except for the adverb ichishkíin 'with this manner'—short for 'in this manner of speaking.' It was Bruce Rigsby who first grouped the Sahaptin speakers into three primary dialect groups, which is quite helpful because it lets us say things that pertain generally to the larger groupings without specifying every particular dialect. The three dialect groups are Northwest (Yakima, Klikitat, Upper Cowlitz), Northeast (Walla Walla, Palouse, Wawyuk'kmá), and Columbia River (Umatilla, Warm Springs, Celilo, John Day).

Sahaptin is about equally head marking and dependency marking, with extremely "free" (pragmatic) word order. Its sound system fits the Pacific Northwest type, with large consonant inventory that includes a full series of ejectives (those popping sounds). The Sahaptian language family is purported to belong to the greater Penutian macro phylum, but this has not been not very well investigated and thus remains more hypothetical than demonstrated.