The Makah Language is is the ancestral Tongue of the Makah Indian Tribe. Called Qwiqwidicciat, the Makah language belongs to the Southern Nootkan branch of the Wakashan language family. It is the only representative of these respective classifications in the United States. All other languages related to Makah are spoken in British Columbia, Canada.
Traders, explorers and other early visitors to Makah Territory often believed that the Makah Language was closely related to the languages is the neighboring Salish and Chimakuan families, because these languages use similar sounds. In fact, the name Makah is a derivative of a Salish word inappropriately assigned to the tribe during treaty times. The Tribe's correct name into the ancestral language is Qwiqwidicciat "people who live by the rocks and seagulls," a reference to the rocky coastline.
Modern linguistic techniques indicate that Qwiqwidicciat became a language distinct from its closest relative, Nitinaht, about 1,000 years ago. Qwiqwidicciat and Nitinaht have a relationship that is similar to the relationship between Spanish and Italian today.
Like other tribal languages in North America, Qwiqwidicciat did not have a written component prior to contact with non-indians. There are 5 unique sounds, or phonetic units, in Qwiqwidicciat. Many of these sounds are not found in English or any other Indo-European language, so we use a variation of the international phonetic alphabet to represent Qwiqwidicciat in written form. The Makah Alphabet was formally adopted by the tribe in 1978.
The creation of the Makah Alphabet and the centralization of language preservation efforts through the Makah Language Program of the Makah Cultural and Research Center, demonstrated the Makah Tribe's dedication to the restoration of Qwiqwidicciat. These efforts were necessary because American Federal Policy deliberately sought to eradicate Tribal languages during the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.
In order to preserve and restore the Qwiqwidicciat, The Makah Language Program works with elders who speak Makah as their primary language. We record oral histories, conduct linguistic research, prepare entries for the Qwiqwidicciat-English dictionary and develop curricular materials for use in the public school on the reservation, and in Makah Cultural and Research Center exhibits and projects.