All materials produced under the auspices of the Nez Perce Language Program
are copyrighted by the Nez Perce Tribe and remain the intellectual property of
the Tribe. Any reproduction in full or in part will be prosecuted to the full extend of local and foreign law.
By Harold Crook and Nez Perce Tribal Elders, including Rachel Aripa, Horace
Axtell, Cecil Carter, Connie Claye, Florene Davis, Gordon Fisher, Josephine
Hayes, Jim McCormack, Beatrice Miles, Bernice Moffett, Richard Powaukee,
Katherine Rena Ramsey, Florine Rickman, Bessie Scott, Jeanette Scott, Allen
Slickpoo, Vera Sonneck, and Rachel Zumwalt.
The Nimiipuutimt Alphabet Book has been developed to aid in the learning of
the Nez Perce alphabet, as approved by the Language Program's Advisory Board of
Elders in March 1997.
Several different alphabets have been used to represent the Nez Perce
Language, and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. However, the
Advisory Board of Elders decided to use the writing system that had already been
employed by the Bilingual Committee of the Nez Perce Tribe in 1979 (this
committee included Mary Carter, Beatrice Miles, Henry Penney, Lota Sublett, and
Lucille Raboin among others).
It is essential that a spelling system show all the important distinctions in
the sounds that the learners need to make. This will help them to
pronounce the words correctly. It is also important that the spelling
system not incorporate unnecessary and confusing complications. Although
the alphabet used here introduces a few new letters, the Advisory Board
concluded that it has the advantage of representing all of the different sounds
and their important differences in the simplest manner. It is a practical
writing system that employs principles of education and the science of language.
The Nez Perce language has a number of sounds that we don't have in English.
This can make it hard at first to say the words correctly.
Five Vowels (plus long
Nimiipuutimt has five vowels that can be short or long in duration: a e
i o u or aa ee ii oo uu. The long vowels are written double (in English
dictionaries, long vowels are represented with a line over the top
ā ē ī ō ū). When you say a long vowel, it
takes longer to pronounce than a short vowel.
Some of these vowels sound just like they do in
English and some have a somewhat different sound. Just keep in mind that
whether they are long or short, each letter stand for essentially the same sound
(unlike English which can use many different ways of representing a sound).
As we begin with the vowels, let's talk about
stress (we are talking about language stress). Each word will have one
vowel that has the most stress or emphasis on it. Vowels with stress are
pronounced a little stronger and a little higher than other vowels.
It is important to say words with the stress on
the right vowel or the word will sound wrong or funny. For example, try
saying potato and tomato with the stress on the first or last vowel. See
how funny it sounds? Now consider the two English words cónvict and
convíct. The first one is a noun and the second one is a verb.
The convict might to got jail if, the court will
convict him of the crime.
The only difference between these two words is
which vowel has the stress. It is important to put the stress in the right
We indicate stressed vowels by putting a stress
mark ' over them: á é í ó ú. For the long vowels, we only put the mark
over the first part of the symbol: áa ée íi óo úu. Normally, we don't mark
stress on a word with only one vowel because we know that it must have the