Shoshoni language

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Sosoni' ta̲i̲kwappe, Neme ta̲i̲kwappeh
Native to United States
Region Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Idaho
Ethnicity Shoshoni people
Native speakers
1,000 (2007)[1]
1,000 additional non-fluent speakers (2007)[1]
Early form
  • Western Shoshoni
  • Northern Shoshoni
  • Gosiute
  • Eastern Shoshoni
Language codes
ISO 639-3 shh
Glottolog shos1248[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Shoshoni, also written as Shoshoni-Gosiute and Shoshone (/ʃˈʃni/;[3] Shoshoni: Sosoni' ta̲i̲kwappe, newe ta̲i̲kwappe or neme ta̲i̲kwappeh) is a Numic language of the Uto-Aztecan family, spoken in the Western United States by the Shoshone people. Shoshoni is primarily spoken in the Great Basin, in areas of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and Idaho.[4]

The consonant inventory of Shoshoni is rather small, but a much wider range of surface forms of these phonemes appear in the spoken language. The language has six vowels, distinguished by length.[5] Shoshoni is a strongly suffixing language, and it inflects for nominal number and case and for verbal aspect and tense using suffixes. Word order is relatively free but shows a preference toward SXV order.[6]

The endonyms newe ta̲i̲kwappe and Sosoni' ta̲i̲kwappe mean "the people's language" and "the Shoshoni language," respectively.[7] Shoshoni is classified as threatened, although attempts at revitalization are underway.[8]


Principal dialects of Shoshoni include Western Shoshoni in Nevada, Gosiute in western Utah, Northern Shoshoni in southern Idaho and northern Utah, and Eastern Shoshoni in Wyoming.[9]


The number of people who speak Shoshoni has been steadily dwindling since the late 20th century. In the early 21st century, fluent speakers number only several hundred to a few thousand people. An additional population of about 1,000 know it to some degree. The Duck Valley and Gusiute communities have established programs to teach it to their children. Ethnologue lists Shoshoni as "threatened" as it notes that many of the speakers are 50 and older.[9] UNESCO has classified the Shoshoni language as "severely endangered" in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.[10] The language is still being taught to children in a small number of isolated locations. The tribes have a strong interest in revitalization but efforts to preserve the language are scattered, with little coordination. Literacy is increasing. Shoshoni dictionaries have been published and Bible portions translated in 1986.[8]

As of 2012, Idaho State University offers elementary, intermediate, and conversational Shoshoni, in a 20-year project to preserve the language.[11] Open-source Shosoni audio is available online to complement classroom instruction, as part of its long-standing Shoshoni Language Project.[12][13]

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribe teaches Shoshoni to its children and adults as part of its Language and Culture Preservation Program.[14] On the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, elders have been active in digital language archiving. Shoshoni is taught using Dr. Steven Greymorning's Accelerated Second Language Acquisition techniques.[15]

A summer program known as the Shoshone/Goshute Youth Language Apprenticeship Program (SYLAP), held at the University of Utah's Center for American Indian Languages since 2009, has been featured on NPR's Weekend Edition.[16][17][18] Shoshoni youth serve as interns, assisting with digitization of Shoshoni language recordings and documentation from the Wick R. Miller collection, in order to make the materials available for tribal members.[16] The program released the first Shoshone language video game in August 2013.[19]

In July 2012, Blackfoot High School in Southeastern Idaho announced it would offer Shoshoni language classes. A Shoshoni charter school has also been proposed for Fort Hall, with a decision expected in September 2012.[20]


Shoshoni is the northernmost member of the large Uto-Aztecan language family, which includes over thirty languages whose speakers originally inhabited a vast territory stretching from the Salmon River in central Idaho down into El Salvador. Shoshoni belongs to the Numic subbranch of Uto-Aztecan. The word Numic comes from the cognate word in all Numic languages for "person". For example, in Shoshoni the word is neme, in Timbisha it is nümü, and in Southern Paiute the word is nuwuvi.



Shoshoni has a typical Numic vowel inventory of five vowels. In addition, there is the common diphthong /ai/, which functions as a simple vowel and varies rather freely with [e]; however, certain morphemes always contain [ai] and others always contain [e]. All vowels occur as short or long, but [ai:]/[e:] is rare.[21]

Short Long
Front Back


Front Back


High i ɨ u i: ɨ: u:
Mid ai o ai: o:
Low a a:


Shoshoni has a typical Numic consonant inventory:

Bilabial Coronal Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lab.
Nasal m n
Stop p t k ʔ
Affricate ts
Fricative s h
Semivowel j w

Syllable Structure[edit]

Shoshoni syllables are of the form (C)V(V)(C). Shoshoni does not allow onset clusters.

These structures are exemplified in words such as nɨkka "dance" (CVC CV), ɨkkoi "sleep" (VC CVV), and paa "water" (CVV).

Typical Shoshoni roots are of the form CV(V)CV(V).[22] Examples include kasa "wing" and papi "older brother."


Stress in Shoshoni is regular, but not distinctive. Primary stress usually falls on the first syllable (more specifically, the first mora) of a word; however, primary stress tends to fall on the second syllable if that syllable is long.[23]

As in other Numic languages, stress in Shoshoni is distributed based on mora-counting. Short Shoshoni vowels have one mora, while long vowels and vowel clusters ending in [a] have two morae. Following the primary stress, every other mora receives secondary stress. If stress falls on the second mora in a long vowel, the stress is transferred to the first mora in the long vowel and mora counting continues from there. With some dialectical variation, mora counting resets at the border between stems in compound words. Final syllables need not be stressed and may undergo optional final vowel devoicing.[23]

Phonological Processes[edit]

Given here are a few examples of regular, well-documented phonological rules in Shoshoni:[5]

  • Short, unclustered, unstressed vowels, when part of final syllables and followed by /h/, are devoiced. These same vowels, when preceded by /h/, are usually devoiced. These processes represent Shoshoni "organic devoicing." For instance, /tɨkkahkwan/ → [tɨkkAxwa] "ate up".
  • Final vowels may be devoiced optionally, representing Shoshoni "inorganic devoicing." If the final vowel is devoiced, the long or short consonant preceding it is also devoiced. Thus, /kammu/ → [kamMU] "jackrabbit".
  • Stops, affricates, and nasals are voiced and lenited between vowels. The stops and affricate become voiced fricatives; the nasals become nasalized glides. Thus /papi/[paβi] "brother," /tatsa/[taza] or [tadza] "summer," and /ima:/[iw̃a:] "tomorrow".
  • Stops, affricates, and nasals are lenited, but remain unvoiced, when they are preceded by underlying /h/. This /h/ is deleted in the surface form. Thus, /paikkahkwa/[pekkaxwa] "killed".
  • Stops, affricates, and nasals are voiced when part of an intervocalic nasal cluster. Thus, /pampi/ → [pambi] "head" and /wantsi/ → [wandzi] "antelope".


Shoshoni is an synthetic, agglutinative language, in which words, especially verbs, tend to be complex with several morphemes strung together. Shoshoni is a primarily suffixing language.


Absolutive Suffixes[edit]

Many nouns in Shoshoni have an absolutive suffix (unrelated to the absolutive case). The absolutive suffix is normally dropped when the noun the first element in a compound, when the noun is followed by a suffix or postposition, or when the noun is incorporated into a verb. For instance, the independent noun sɨhɨpin "willow" has the absolutive suffix -pin; the root loses this suffix in the form sɨhɨykwi "to gather willows". The correlation between any particular noun stem and which of the seven absolutive suffixes it has is irregular and unpredictable. The absolutive suffixes are as follows:[24]

  • -pin
  • -ppɨh
  • -ppɨ
  • -pittsih, -pittsɨh
  • -mpih
  • -pai
  • -ttsih

Number and Case[edit]

Shoshoni nouns inflect for three numbers (singular, dual, and plural) and three cases (subjective, objective, and possessive).

Number is marked by suffixes on all human nouns and optionally on other animate nouns. The regular suffixes for number are listed in the table below. The Shoshoni singular is unmarked.

Singular Dual Plural
Subjective Ø -nɨwɨh -nɨɨn
Objective Ø -nihi -nii
Possessive Ø -nɨhɨn -nɨɨn

Case is also marked by suffixes, which vary depending on the noun. Subjective case is unmarked. Many nouns also have a zero objective case marker; other possible objective markers are -tta, -a, and -i. These suffixes correspond with the possessive case markers -n, -ttan or -n, -an, or -n (in Western Shoshoni; this last suffix also appears as -an in Gosiute and is replaced by -in in Northern Shoshoni). These case markers can be predicted only to a degree based on phonology of the noun stem.[25]

Derivational Morphology[edit]

Nominal derivational morphology is also often achieved through suffixing. For instance, the instrumental suffix -(n)nompɨh is used with verb stems to form nouns used for the purpose of the verb: katɨnnompɨh "chair" is derived from katɨ "sit"; puinompɨh "binoculars" is derived from pui "see." The characterization suffix -kantɨn be used with a root noun to derive a noun characterized by the root: hupiakantɨn "singer" is derived from hupia "song"; puhakantɨn "shaman" is derived from puha "power", as one characterized by power.[24]



Shoshoni verbs may mark for number, mainly through reduplication or suppletion. The dual is commonly marked through reduplication of the first syllable of the verb stem, so that singular kimma "come" becomes kikimma in the dual (and remains kima in the plural). A suppletive form is often used for the dual or plural forms of the verb; for instance, singular yaa "carry" becomes hima in both the dual and plural. Suppletion and reduplication frequently work in tandem to express number: singular nukki "run" becomes the reduplicated nunukki in the dual and the suppleted nutaa in the plural; singular yɨtsɨ "fly" is reduplicated, suppleted dual yoyoti and suppleted plural yoti.[26]

Instrumental Prefixes[edit]

Shoshoni uses prefixes to add a specific instrumental element to a verb. For instance, the instrumental prefix to"- "with the hand or fist" can be used with the with the verb tsima "scrape" to yield tottsima "wipe," as in Pɨn puihkatti tottsimma yakaitɨn "He wiped at his eyes, crying".[26]

Common instrumental prefixes include:

  • kɨ"- "with the teeth or mouth"
  • ku"- "by heat"
  • ma- "with a non-grasping hand"
  • mu"- "with the nose or front of body"
  • ni"- "with the voice"
  • pi"- "with the buttocks or back of body"
  • sɨ"- "by cold"
  • sun- "with the mind"
  • ta"- "with the feet"
  • ta"- "with a hard instrument or rock"
  • to"- "with the hand or fist"
  • tsa"- "with a grasping hand"
  • tsi"- "with a sharp point"
  • tso"- "with the head"
  • wɨ"- "with a long instrument or body"; generic instrumental


Word Order[edit]

Subject-object-verb is the typical word order for Shoshoni.[27][28] For instance:

Nɨ         hunanna           puinnu. 
nɨ         hunan-na          pui-nnuh 
I          badger-OBJ        see-COMPL 
“I saw a badger.”
Sutɨ     sɨsɨwɨkka      sukkuh    tommo’itɨ. 
sutɨn    sɨsɨwɨkka      sukkuh    tommo-‘i-tɨn  
that     sometimes      there     winter-REP-HAB 
“He winters there sometimes.”

In ditransitive sentences, the direct and indirect object are marked with the objective case. The indirect object can occur before the direct object, or vice versa.[28]

Nɨ      tsuhnippɨha       satiia         uttuhkwa. 
nɨ      tsuhnippɨh-a      satii-a        uttuH-h/kkwan 
I       bone-OBJ          dog-OBJ        give-MOM 
“I gave the bone to the dog.”     
Puhakantɨ       hɨpitsooa     nattahsu’unna   uttunnu. 
puhakantɨn      hɨpitsoo-a    nattahsu’un-na  uttu-nnuh 
doctor          old.lady-OBJ  medicine-OBJ    give-COMPL 
“The doctor gave the old lady some medicine.”

The subject is not a mandatory component of a grammatical Shoshoni sentence. Therefore, impersonal sentences without subjects are allowed; those sentences have an object-verb word order.[29]

“It [the weather] is hot.”[28]

In particular, it is common for the subject to be deleted when a coreferential pronoun appears elsewhere in the sentence, or when the subject can be inferred from context.[28]

Pɨnnan        haintsɨha           kai         paikkawaihtɨn. 
pɨnnan        haintsɨh-a          kai         paikka-waih-tɨn 
COREF.POSS    friend-OBJ          not         kill-unable.HAB 
“He won’t kill his (own) friend.”
[In a narrative where one man shoots the another man]  
U            paikkahkwa.           Tiaihkwa. 
u            paikkaH-h/kkwan       tiaiH-h/kkwan 
him          kill-MOM              die-MOM 
“He killed him. He died.”

State-of-being sentences express “be” by excluding an overt verb,[28] resulting in a basic subject-object order.

Usɨ          um           pii. 
usɨn         un           pii 
that         his          mother 
“That is his mother.”

Sentence meaning is not dependent on word order in Shoshoni.[27] For example, if the subject is an unstressed pronoun then it is grammatical for the subject to follow the object of the sentence.[29]

Writing system[edit]

There are two main spelling systems in use. The older system is the Crum-Miller system used in Miller 1972; Crum & Dayley 1993 and 1997; and Crum, Crum, & Dayley 2001.[30][31][32][33] The other system is the Idaho State University system and is used in Gould & Loether (2002).[34] The Idaho State system is more phonetically based while the Crum-Miller is more phonemically based. Both systems use "e" to represent the vowel /ɨ/. There are also dictionaries available for everyday use.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Shoshoni at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Shoshoni". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. ^ John E. McLaughlin. 2012. Shoshoni Grammar. Languages of the World/Materials 488. Munich: Lincom Europa. Page 1.
  5. ^ a b McLaughlin, John E. (2012). Shoshoni Grammar. Munich: Lincom Europa. pp. 3–9. ISBN 9783862883042. OCLC 793217272. 
  6. ^ "WALS Online - Language Shoshone". The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Retrieved 2018-01-25. 
  7. ^ Gould, Drusilla; Loether, Christopher (2002). An introduction to the Shoshoni language : dammen da̲igwape. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. pp. 5, 176. ISBN 0874807301. OCLC 50114343. 
  8. ^ a b "Shoshoni". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-01-22. 
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  11. ^ "Native American Academic Services – Diversity Resource Center". Idaho State University. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  12. ^ "Idaho State University Shoshoni Language Project still going strong after 20 years". Idaho State University. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  13. ^ "An Introduction to the Shoshoni Language : University Press Catalog". Utah University Press. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  14. ^ "Language and Culture Preservation Program". Shoshone-Bannock tribe. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  15. ^ Tetona Dunlap. "As elders pass, Wind River Indian Reservation teachers turn to technology to preserve Shoshone language". County 10. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  16. ^ a b "Shoshone/Goshute Youth Language Apprenticeship Program". Center for American Indian Languages, University of Utah. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  17. ^ Paul Koepp (2010-07-21). "University of Utah program helps Shoshone youths keep language alive". Deseret News. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  18. ^ Jenny Brundin (2009-07-18). "Ten Teens Study To Guard Their Native Language". Morning Edition, NPR. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  19. ^ "First Shoshone Language Video Game". 2013-08-14. Retrieved 2013-08-20. 
  20. ^ "Idaho district to offer Shoshoni classes". Deseret News. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  21. ^ McLaughlin, John E. (2012). Shoshoni Grammar. Munich: Lincom Europa. p. 3. 
  22. ^ Shaul, David Leedom (2012). Survey of Shoshone Grammar with Reference to Eastern Shoshone. National Science Foundation. p. 13. 
  23. ^ a b McLaughlin, John E. (2012). Shoshoni Grammar. Munich: Lincom Europa. p. 11. ISBN 9783862883042. OCLC 793217272. 
  24. ^ a b McLaughlin, John E. (2012). Shoshoni Grammar. Munich: Lincom Europa. pp. 16–25. ISBN 9783862883042. OCLC 793217272. 
  25. ^ McLaughlin, John E. (2012). Shoshoni Grammar. Munich: Lincom Europa. pp. 26–38. ISBN 9783862883042. OCLC 793217272. 
  26. ^ a b McLaughlin, John E. (2012). Shoshoni Grammar. Munich: Lincom Europa. pp. 39–67. ISBN 9783862883042. OCLC 793217272. 
  27. ^ a b Gould, Drusilla; Loether, Christopher (2002). An introduction to the Shoshoni language : dammen daigwape. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. pp. 32–33. ISBN 0-87480-730-1. 
  28. ^ a b c d e McLaughlin, John E. (2012). Shoshoni Grammar. Munich: Lincom Europa. pp. 75–90. ISBN 9783862883042. OCLC 793217272. 
  29. ^ a b Shaul, David (2012). Survey of Shoshone Grammar with Reference to Eastern Shoshone. National Science Foundation. pp. 112–113. 
  30. ^ Miller, Wick R. (1972). Newe Natekwinappeh: Shoshoni Stories and Dictionary. University of Utah Anthropological Papers 94. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. 
  31. ^ Crum, Beverly; Dayley, Jon P. (1993). Western Shoshoni Grammar. Boise State University Occasional Papers and Monographs in Cultural Anthropology and Linguistics Volume No. 1. Boise, Idaho: Department of Anthropology, Boise State University. ISBN 978-0-9639749-0-7. 
  32. ^ Crum, Beverly; Dayley, Jon P. (1997). Shoshoni Texts. Occasional Papers and Monographs in Cultural Anthropology and Linguistics Volume No. 2. Boise, Idaho: Department of Anthropology, Boise State University. 
  33. ^ Crum, Beverly; Crum, Earl; Dayley, Jon P. (2001). Newe Hupia: Shoshoni Poetry Songs. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press. 
  34. ^ Drusilla Gould & Christopher Loether. 2002. An Introduction to the Shoshoni Language: Dammen Daigwape. Salt Lake City, Utah: The University of Utah Press.
  35. ^

External links[edit]