Coeur d'Alene is a Southern Interior Salishan language spoken on and near the Coeur d'Alene reservation in northern Idaho.  It is spoken by a dwindling number of elders as a first language and a growing number of young people as a second language. The Interior division of the Salishan language includes three Northern languages: Lillooet, Thompson River Salish, and Shuswap; and four Southern languages or language groups: Moses-Columbian, Colville-Okanagan, Kalispel, including Spokane and Flathead (also known as Montana Salish), and Coeur d'Alene.  See Thompson (1979), Kinkade (1990), and Kuipers (2003) for more on the history of the Salishan languages. 

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark encountered several Coeur d'Alene as they passed through Nez Perce country in what is now Idaho in the early 1800's.  The Coeur d'Alene people remained relatively isolated for the next forty years, involving themselves only minimally in the fur trade.  By the time the Jesuit missionaries arrived in Coeur d'Alene territory in the 1840's, disease had reduced their number from an estimated 2,600 to approximately 700.  After two major battles against United States troops led by Colonel Edward J. Steptoe and Colonel George Wright and continued resistance to white settlement, the Coeur d'Alene petitioned for their own reservation on their own land.  The Coeur d'Alene reservation was established by executive order of President Ulysses S. Grant on November 8, 1873.  

In most areas of U.S. expansion, the number of speakers of native American languages has diminished; such is the case with the Coeur d'Alene.  The number of remaining fluent speakers of the Coeur d'Alene language is difficult to determine.  Johnson (1975) estimated fewer than ten proficient speakers in 1975.  Since then, at least six speakers have died.  The Coeur d'Alene reservation was made open to speakers of the Spokane language some time after it was established, and there is some confusion among younger members as to who speaks which language.

Though the Coeur d'Alene language is clearly endangered, much effort is being made to revitalize its use.  The language has been successfully taught in the local schools, at Lewis-Clark State College, and at the North Idaho College, and there is a vital and growing tribal language program intended to foster use of the language.  See for information about the tribal language programs.

The analyses presented in these texts collected by Gladys Reichard in the 1920's are based on knowledge Ivy Doak has gained from over twenty years of work with native-speaking Coeur d’Alene elders and her recordings of them.  Doak’s main native-speaking consultants have been Felix Aripa of Worley, Idaho; the late Don George of Plummer, Idaho; the late Blanche LaSarte of Plummer and DeSmet, Idaho; the late Lawrence Nicodemus, who resided near Nest Creek on the reservation; and the late Margaret Stensgar of DeSmet, Idaho.  The speakers ranged in age from mid-sixties to early eighties. Other cultural and linguistic consultants include the late Lawrence Aripa; Lavinia Felsman; Marie Irene Lowley; and the late Anne Antelope Samuels.   Kim Matheson, Raymond Brinkman, and the late Richard Mullen have also provided insight into story-telling traditions and the use of the Coeur d’Alene language. 


Grammatical sketch

Adapted from the first two chapters of Coeur d'Alene Grammatical Relations by Ivy Doak, 1997






Ivy Doak
Timothy Montler