Southern Maidu
Native toUnited States
RegionCalifornia: Central California, scattered, foothills of the Sierras.
Language codes
ISO 639-3nsz
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Nisenan (or alternatively, Neeshenam, Nishinam, Pujuni, or Wapumni) is a nearly extinct Maiduan language spoken by the Nisenan people of central California in the foothills of the Sierras, in the whole of the American, Bear and Yuba river drainages.

Ethnologue states that there is only one speaker left. However, it is believed that there are a few other speakers left, although the number is not known. Most speakers also speak one or more of the different dialects.

There has recently been a small effort at language revival. Most notably the release of the "Nisenan Workbook" (three volumes so far) put out by Alan Wallace, which can be found at the California State Indian Museum in Sacramento and the Maidu Interpretive Center in Roseville.

As the Nisenan (like many of the Natives of central California) were not a unified nation but a collection of independent tribes which are grouped together primarily on linguistic similarity, there were many dialects to varying degrees of variation. This has led to some degree of inconsistency in the available linguistic data, primarily in regard to the phonemes.


The phonology of Nisenan is similar to both Konkow and Maidu. Taking into account the various dialects, there appears to be a fair amount of allophones across the dialects.


Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k ʔ
implosive ɓ ⟨b⟩ ɗ ⟨d⟩
Affricate ts ~ ⟨c⟩
Fricative s ~ ʃ h
Approximant l j w

The single affricate consonant has been most commonly described as alveolar [ts], though some sources describe it as postalveolar [tʃ]. According to the Nisenan Workbook by Alan Wallace, [tʃ] and [ts] appear in complementary distribution. For example, the word for 'ten' is transcribed as 'maacam' (/c/ being realized as [tʃ]) in Workbook #1 and 'maatsam' in Workbook #2. Similar allophony occurs between [s] and [ʃ].

/pʼ tʼ kʼ/ have been listed as ejectives (lenis ejectives according to "Central Hill Nisenan Texts with Grammatical Sketch" by Andrew Eatough) while other sources have labeled them simply as emphatic not specifying further as to how they contrast with the plain plosives. The Nisenan Workbooks depict these in transcription, though the sound guides have yet to distinguish them from the plain plosives.

One source noted an audible click with /b/ and /d/ among some older speakers of at least one dialect of one of the Maiduan languages. The sound guides in the Nisenan Workbooks hold /b/ and /d/ as voiced plosives as in English.

Some words have a double consonant (i.e. wyttee [one], dappe [coyote], konna [girl]) but it has not been made clear as to whether this is due to gemination as the double consonants in Japanese, or just simply the same consonant being on the end of one syllable and the start of the next.


All vowels come in long/short pairs

Front Central Back
Close i ɨ u
Mid e ə o
Open a

Long vowels are indicated by a doubling of the vowel.

/e/ is a bit lower, level with /ə/, somewhere between cardinal [e] and [ɛ]

/ɨ/ is sometimes further back, closer to cardinal [ɯ]

/u/ and /o/ are a bit lower and more centralized than the cardinal forms transcribed.


Note: Due to dialectal variation from tribe to tribe, some sources may have different words. These are taken from the Nisenan Workbooks.

1 = wyttee
2 = peen
3 = sap'yj
4 = cyyj
5 = maawyk
6 = tymbo
7 = top'yj
8 = peencyyj
9 = peli'o
10 = maacam
11 = maacam na wyttee (lit. 10 and 1 or 10+1; 'na' = +/and)
12 = maacam na peen (etc. for 13 and up)
20 = peenmaacam (lit. 2 10 or 2x10)
30 = sap'yjmaacam (etc. for 40 and up)
100 = maawykhaapa

See also


  1. ^ Nisenan at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access