Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Salishan languages

Salishan languages

Ask a question about 'Salishan languages'
Start a new discussion about 'Salishan languages'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
The Salishan languages are a group of languages of the Pacific Northwest
Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is a region in northwestern North America, bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and, loosely, by the Rocky Mountains on the east. Definitions of the region vary and there is no commonly agreed upon boundary, even among Pacific Northwesterners. A common concept of the...

 (the Canadian province of British Columbia
British Columbia
British Columbia is the westernmost of Canada's provinces and is known for its natural beauty, as reflected in its Latin motto, Splendor sine occasu . Its name was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1858...

 and the American states of Washington, Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

, Idaho
Idaho is a state in the Rocky Mountain area of the United States. The state's largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans". Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, as the 43rd state....

 and Montana
Montana is a state in the Western United States. The western third of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges. Smaller, "island ranges" are found in the central third of the state, for a total of 77 named ranges of the Rocky Mountains. This geographical fact is reflected in the state's name,...

). They are characterised by agglutinativity and astonishing consonant cluster
Consonant cluster
In linguistics, a consonant cluster is a group of consonants which have no intervening vowel. In English, for example, the groups and are consonant clusters in the word splits....

s — for instance the Nuxálk
Nuxálk language
Nuxálk is a Salishan language spoken in the vicinity of the Canadian town Bella Coola, British Columbia by approximately 20-30 elders...

 word (xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬːskʷʰt͡sʼ) meaning ‘he had had [in his possession] a bunchberry
Bunchberry is a common name for two species of dwarf dogwoods:*Cornus canadensis - Canadian or Eastern Bunchberry*Cornus suecica - Eurasian or Northern Bunchberry...

 plant’ has thirteen obstruent
An obstruent is a consonant sound formed by obstructing airflow, causing increased air pressure in the vocal tract, such as [k], [d͡ʒ] and [f]. In phonetics, articulation may be divided into two large classes: obstruents and sonorants....

 consonants in a row with no vowels.

The terms Salish and Salishan are used interchangeably by Salishan linguists and anthropologists. The name Salish is the endonym of the Flathead Nation
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation are the Bitterroot Salish, Kootenai and Pend d'Oreilles Tribes. The Flatheads lived between the Cascade Mountains and Rocky Mountains. The Salish initially lived entirely east of the Continental Divide but established their...

. Linguists later applied the name to related languages. Many languages do not have self-designations and instead have specific names for local dialects, as the local group was more important culturally than larger tribal relations.

All Salishan languages are extinct
Extinct language
An extinct language is a language that no longer has any speakers., or that is no longer in current use. Extinct languages are sometimes contrasted with dead languages, which are still known and used in special contexts in written form, but not as ordinary spoken languages for everyday communication...

 or endangered
Endangered language
An endangered language is a language that is at risk of falling out of use. If it loses all its native speakers, it becomes a dead language. If eventually no one speaks the language at all it becomes an "extinct language"....

—some extremely so, with only three or four speakers left. Practically all Salishan languages have only speakers who are over sixty years of age, and many have only speakers over eighty. Salish is most commonly written using the Americanist phonetic notation
Americanist phonetic notation
Americanist phonetic notation is a system of phonetic notation originally developed by European and American anthropologists and language scientists for the phonetic and phonemic transcription of Native American and European languages...

 to account for the various vowels and consonants that do not exist in most modern alphabets.

Family division

The Salishan language family consists of twenty-three languages. Below is a list of Salishan languages, dialects, and sub-dialects. This list is a linguistic classification that may not correspond to political divisions. Many Salishan groups consider their variety of speech to be a separate language rather than a dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...


Bella Coola

1. Nuxálk
Nuxálk language
Nuxálk is a Salishan language spoken in the vicinity of the Canadian town Bella Coola, British Columbia by approximately 20-30 elders...

( Bella Coola, Salmon River)
  • Kimsquit
  • Bella Coola
  • Kwatna
  • Tallheo

Coast Salish

A. Central Coast Salish ( Central Salish)
2. Comox
Comox language
Comox, also known as K'omoks, is a Coast Salish language historically spoken in the northern Georgia Strait region, spanning the east coast of Vancouver Island and the northern Sunshine Coast and adjoining inlets and islands...

  • Island Comox ( Qʼómox̣ʷs)
  • Sliammon (Homalco-Klahoose-Sliammon) ( ʔayʔaǰúθəm)
3. Halkomelem
Halkomelem language
Halkomelem is a language of the First Nations peoples of southeastern Vancouver Island from the west shore of Saanich Inlet northward beyond Nanoose Bay, and of the mainland around the Fraser River Delta upriver to Harrison Lake and the lower...

Island ( Hulʼq̱ʼumiʼnumʼ, həl̕q̓əmín̓əm̓)
  • Cowichan
    Cowichan Tribes
    The Cowichan Tribes First Nations government, located in and around the Cowichan Valley and Duncan, British Columbia, it is the single largest band government in British Columbia....

  • Snuneymuxw/Nanaimo
    Snuneymuxw First Nation
    The Snuneymuxw First Nation is the band government of the Snuneymuxw of west-central Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The Snuneymuxw First Nation have lived along the eastern coast of south-central Vancouver Island, British Columbia for an estimated 5,000 years...

Downriver ( Hunqʼumʔiʔnumʔ)
  • Musqueam
    Musqueam Indian Band
    The Musqueam Indian Band is a First Nations government in the Canadian province of British Columbia, and is the only Indian band whose reserve community lies within the boundaries of the City of Vancouver....

  • Katzie
Upriver ( Upper Sto:lo, Halqʼəméyləm)
  • Kwantlen
    Kwantlen may refer to one of the following:*Kwantlen people, an indigenous Coast Salish people in British Columbia*Kwantlen First Nation, the band government of the Kwantlen people...

  • Chehalis (Canada)
    Chehalis First Nation
    The Chehalis First Nation or Chehalis Indian Band is the band government of the Sts'Ailes people, whose territories lie between Deroche and Agassiz, British Columbia...

  • Chilliwack
  • Tait
    Tait may refer to:*Tait , a Scottish surname*Tait , a masculine given name*Tait School, an Elementary School.* Tait , a Christian band started by Michael Tait of dc Talk and Newsboys, along with Chad Chapin...

  • Skway
4. Lushootseed
Lushootseed is the language or dialect continuum of several SalishNative American groups of modern-day Washington state...

( Puget Salish, Skagit-Nisqually, Dxʷləšúcid)
  • Skagit ( Skaǰət)
  • Snohomish
    Snohomish (tribe)
    The Snohomish are a Lushootseed Native American tribe who reside around the Puget Sound area of Washington, north of Seattle. They speak the Lushootseed language. The tribal spelling is Sdoh-doh-hohbsh, which means "wet snow" according to the last chief of the Snohomish tribe, Chief William...

     ( Sduhubš)
  • Duwamish-Suquamish
    Duwamish (tribe)
    The Duwamish are a Lushootseed Native American tribe in western Washington, and the indigenous people of metropolitan Seattle, where they have been living since the end of the last glacial period...

     ( Dxʷduʔabš)
  • Puyallup
    Puyallup (tribe)
    The Puyallup are a Coast Salish Native American tribe from western Washington state, U.S.A. They were forcibly relocated onto reservation lands in what is today Tacoma, Washington, in late 1854, after signing the Treaty of Medicine Creek. The Puyallup Indian Reservation today is one of the most...

     ( Spuyaləpubš)
  • Nisqually
    Nisqually (tribe)
    Nisqually is a Lushootseed Native American tribe in western Washington state in the United States. The tribe lives on a reservation in the Nisqually River valley near the river delta. The Nisqually Indian Reservation, at , comprises 20.602 km² of land area on both sides of the river, in...

     ( Sqʷaliʔabš)
5. Nooksack ( Nooksack ɬə́čələsəm, ɬə́čælosəm) (†)
6. Pentlatch
Pentlatch language
The Pentlatch or Puntlatch or Puntledge language is a Salishan language that was spoken on Canada's Vancouver Island in a small area between Comox and Campbell River, British Columbia. Pentlatch became extinct in the 1940s. The name of this people and their language survives on the modern map as...

( Pənƛ̕áč) (†)
7. Sháshíshálh
Sháshíshálh language
The Sháshíshálh language, also called Shashishalhem and the Sechelt language, is a Coast Salish language spoken by the Shishalh people of southwestern British Columbia, Canada, centred on their reserve communities in the Sechelt Peninsula area of the Sunshine Coast.As of 1999, the language was...

( Sechelt, Seshelt, Shashishalhem, šášíšáɬəm)
8. Squamish ( Sḵwx̱wú7mesh snichim, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Sqwxwu7mish, sqʷx̣ʷúʔməš)
i. Straits Salish group ( Straits)
9. Klallam
Klallam language
Klallam or Clallam is a nearly extinct Straits Salishan language that was traditionally spoken by the Klallam peoples at Beecher Bay on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington...

( Clallam, Nəxʷsƛ̕áy̓emúcən)
  • Becher Bay
  • Eastern
  • Western
10. Northern Straits ( Straits)
  • Lummi ( Xwlemiʼchosen, xʷləmiʔčósən) (†)
  • Saanich ( SENĆOŦEN, sənčáθən, sénəčqən)
  • Samish
    The Samish are a Native American tribe who live in the U.S. state of Washington. The seat of their tribal government is in Anacortes. The Native American form of "Samish" is /sʔémǝš/, from /s–/, "nominalizer", /ʔé/, "be there", and /–mǝš/, "people".-Pre-Contact with Europeans:The Samish were less...

     ( Siʔneməš)
  • Semiahmoo
    Semiahmoo may refer to:*Semiahmoo Bay, south-eastern section of Boundary Bay, bisected by the US-Canada border near White Rock, British ColumbiaIn Canada:*Semiahmoo people, a Coast Salish people*Semiahmoo First Nation, government of the Semiahmoo people...

     ( Tah-tu-lo) (†)
  • Sooke ( Tʼsou-ke, c̓awk) (†)
  • Songhees
    The Songhees or Songish, also known as the Lekwungen or Lekungen, are an indigenous North American Coast Salish people who reside on southeastern Vancouver Island, British Columbia in the Greater Victoria area...

     ( Lək̓ʷəŋín̓əŋ) (†)
11. Twana
Twana language
The Twana language or Skokomish language belongs to the Salishan family of Native American languages. It is believed by some elders within the Skokomish community that the language branched off from Lushootseed because of the region-wide tradition of not speaking the name of someone who died for...

( Skokomish, Sqʷuqʷúʔbəšq, Tuwáduqutšad) (†)
  • Quilcene
  • Skokomish
    Skokomish (tribe)
    The Skokomish are one of nine tribes of the Twana, a Native American people of western Washington state in the United States. The tribe lives along Hood Canal, a fjord-like inlet on the west side of the Kitsap Peninsula and the Puget Sound basin...

     ( Sqʷuqʷúʔbəšq)

B. Tsamosan ( Olympic)
i. Inland
12. Cowlitz
Cowlitz language
The Cowlitz language is a member of the Tsamosan branch of the Coast Salish family of Salishan languages.-The Cowltiz tribe:The 'Cowlitz tribe' was originally two distinct tribes: the Lower Cowlitz and the Upper Cowlitz...

( Lower Cowlitz, Sƛ̕púlmš) (†)
13. Upper Chehalis
Chehalis (tribe)
The Chehalis people are a native people of westernWashington state in the United States. They should not be confused with the similarly named Chehalis First Nation of the Harrison River in the Fraser Valley area of British Columbia....

( Q̉ʷay̓áyiɬq̉) (†)
  • Oakville Chehalis
  • Satsop
  • Tenino Chehalis
ii. Maritime
14. Lower Chehalis
Chehalis (tribe)
The Chehalis people are a native people of westernWashington state in the United States. They should not be confused with the similarly named Chehalis First Nation of the Harrison River in the Fraser Valley area of British Columbia....

( ɬəw̓ál̕məš) (†)
  • Humptulips
  • Westport-Shoalwater
  • Wynoochee
15. Quinault
Quinault (tribe)
The Quinault are a group of Native American peoples from western Washington in the United States.-Lands:The Quinault Indian Reservation, at , is located on the Pacific coast of Washington, primarily in northwestern Grays Harbor County, with small parts extending north into southwestern Jefferson...

( Kʷínayɬ)
  • Queets
  • Quinault
    Quinault may refer to:* Quinault , a Native American tribe* MV Quinault, a Steel Electric Class ferry previously part of the Washington State Ferry system* Château Quinault, a Saint-Émilion wineryPeople:...

C. Tillamook
16. Tillamook
Tillamook language
Tillamook is an extinct Salishan language, formerly spoken by the Tillamook people in northwestern Oregon, United States. The last fluent speaker is believed to have died in the 1970s; between 1965 and 1972, in an effort to prevent the language being destroyed, a group of researchers from the...

( Hutyéyu) (†)
  • Siletz
    Siletz (tribe)
    The Siletz people are a Native American tribe from Oregon and an Indigenous people of the Northwest Plateau. Today they are enrolled in the federally recognized Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon....

  • Garibaldi-Nestucca
  • Nehalem
    Nehalem, meaning "the place where people live" in the Salish language, may refer to:* Tillamook , a Native American tribe also known as the Nehalem...

Interior Salish

A. Northern
17. Shuswap
Shuswap language
The Shuswap language, known to its speakers as Secwepemctsín , is the traditional language of the Shuswap people of British Columbia. An endangered language, Shuswap is spoken mainly in the Central and Southern interior of British Columbia between the Fraser River and the Rocky Mountains...

( Secwepemctsín, səxwəpməxcín)
  • Kinbasket
  • Shuswap Lake
  • Canim Lake
  • Chu Chua
  • Deadman's Creek–Kamloops
  • Fraser River
  • Pavilion-Bonaparte
18. Lillooet ( Lilloet, St'át'imcets)
  • Lillooet-Fountain
  • Mount Currie–Douglas
19. Thompson River Salish
The Nlaka'pamux , commonly called "the Thompson", and also Thompson River Salish, Thompson Salish, Thompson River Indians or Thompson River people) are an indigenous First Nations/Native American people of the Interior Salish language group in southern British Columbia...

( Nlakaʼpamux, Ntlakapmuk, nɬeʔkepmxcín, Thompson River, Thompson Salish, Thompson, known in frontier times as the Hakamaugh, Klackarpun, Couteau or Knife Indians)
  • Lytton
  • Nicola Valley
  • Spuzzum–Boston Bar
  • Thompson Canyon

B. Southern
20. Coeur d’Alene
Coeur d'Alene language
Coeur d'Alene is a Salishan language spoken by only five of the 800 individuals in the Coeur d'Alene Tribe on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation in northern Idaho, United States. It is considered an endangered language.-References:...

( Snchitsuʼumshtsn, snčícuʔumšcn)
21. Columbia-Moses ( Columbia, Nxaʔamxcín)
  • Chelan
  • Entiat
  • Columbian
    The Sinkiuse-Columbia were a Native American tribe so-called because of their former prominent association with the Columbia River. They called themselves .tskowa'xtsEnux, or .skowa'xtsEnEx , or Sinkiuse. They applied the name also to other neighboring Interior Salish peoples...

  • Wenatchee ( Pesquous)
22. Colville-Okanagan ( Okanagan, Nsilxcín, Nsíylxcən, ta nukunaqínxcən)
  • Quilchena & Spaxomin
  • Arrow Lakes
    The Sinixt are a First Nations People...

  • Penticton
  • Similkameen
  • Vernon
  • Colville-Inchelium
  • Methow
  • San Poil–Nespelem
  • Southern Okanogan
23. Spokane–Kalispel–Bitterroot Salish–Upper Pend d'Oreille
  • Salish
    Montana Salish language
    The Salish or Séliš language , here called Montana Salish to distinguish it from the Salish language family to which it gave its name, also known as Kalispel–Pend d'oreille and Kalispel–Spokane–Flathead, is a Salishan language spoken by about 64 elders of the Flathead Nation in north-central...

     ( Séliš, Bitterroot Salish, Flathead)
  • Kalispel ( Qalispé)
  • Chewelah
  • Kalispel
    Kalispel may refer to:* Pend d'Oreilles , a tribe of Native Americans* Kalispel-Pend d'Oreille, the language of the Pend d'Oreilles tribe* Kalispell, Montana, a city in the United States...

     ( Qlispé, Lower Pend d'Oreille, Lower Kalispel)
  • Upper Pend d’Oreile ( Čłqetkʷmcin, Qlispé)
  • Spokane
    Spokane (tribe)
    The Spokane are a Native American people in the northeastern portion of the U.S. state of Washington. The Spokane Indian Reservation, at , is located in eastern Washington, almost entirely in Stevens County, but includes two very small parcels of land and part of the Spokane River in...

     ( Npoqínišcn)

Pentlatch, Nooksack, Twana, Lower Chehalis, Upper Chehalis, Cowlitz, and Tillamook are now extinct
Extinct language
An extinct language is a language that no longer has any speakers., or that is no longer in current use. Extinct languages are sometimes contrasted with dead languages, which are still known and used in special contexts in written form, but not as ordinary spoken languages for everyday communication...

. Additionally, the Lummi, Semiahmoo, Songhees, and Sooke dialects of Northern Straits are also extinct.

Genetic relations

No relationship to any other language is well established. The most plausible connection is with the language isolate
Language isolate
A language isolate, in the absolute sense, is a natural language with no demonstrable genealogical relationship with other languages; that is, one that has not been demonstrated to descend from an ancestor common with any other language. They are in effect language families consisting of a single...

 Kutenai (Kootenai), but this is not solidly established.

Edward Sapir
Edward Sapir
Edward Sapir was an American anthropologist-linguist, widely considered to be one of the most important figures in the early development of the discipline of linguistics....

 suggested that the Salishan languages might be related to the Wakashan
Wakashan languages
Wakashan is a family of languages spoken in British Columbia around and on Vancouver Island, and in the northwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, on the south side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca....

 and Chimakuan languages
Chimakuan languages
The Chimakuan language family consists of two languages spoken in northwestern Washington, USA on the Olympic Peninsula. It is part of the Mosan sprachbund, and one of its languages is famous for having no nasal consonants...

 in a hypothetical Mosan family. This proposal persists primarily through Sapir’s stature: with little evidence for such a family, no progress has been made in reconstructing it.

The Salishan languages, principally Chehalis, contributed greatly to the vocabulary of the Chinook Jargon
Chinook Jargon
Chinook Jargon originated as a pidgin trade language of the Pacific Northwest, and spread during the 19th century from the lower Columbia River, first to other areas in modern Oregon and Washington, then British Columbia and as far as Alaska, sometimes taking on characteristics of a creole language...


Family features

  • post-velar harmony
    Vowel harmony
    Vowel harmony is a type of long-distance assimilatory phonological process involving vowels that occurs in some languages. In languages with vowel harmony, there are constraints on which vowels may be found near each other....

     (more areal)
  • presence of syllables without vowels
  • grammatical reduplication
    Reduplication in linguistics is a morphological process in which the root or stem of a word is repeated exactly or with a slight change....

  • nonconcatenation (infix
    An infix is an affix inserted inside a word stem . It contrasts with adfix, a rare term for an affix attached to the end of a stem, such as a prefix or suffix.-Indonesian:...

    es, metathesis
    Metathesis (linguistics)
    Metathesis is the re-arranging of sounds or syllables in a word, or of words in a sentence. Most commonly it refers to the switching of two or more contiguous sounds, known as adjacent metathesis or local metathesis:...

    , glottalization
    Glottalization is the complete or partial closure of the glottis during the articulation of another sound. Glottalization of vowels and other sonorants is most often realized as creaky voice...

  • tenselessness
  • nounlessness (controversial)

In popular culture

Stanley Evans
Stanley Evans (author)
Stanley Evans is a full-time Canadian writer who has been a soldier, a surveyor, and deep-sea fisherman. He was born in England, immigrated to Canada in 1954 and currently resides in Victoria, British Columbia. He began his career by writing articles for newspapers and magazines...

 has written a series of crime fiction novels that use Salish lore and language.

An episode of Stargate SG-1
Stargate SG-1
Stargate SG-1 is a Canadian-American adventure and military science fiction television series and part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Stargate franchise. The show, created by Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner, is based on the 1994 feature film Stargate by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich...

 ("Spirits", 2x13) features a culture of extraterrestrial humans loosely inspired by Pacific coastal First Nations culture, and who speak a language referred to as "ancient Salish".

External links