Salish-Spokane-Kalispel language

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Region Montana
Ethnicity 8,000 Pend d'Oreilles (Kalispel), Flathead, Spokane peoples (1977–1997)[1]
Native speakers
66  (2005)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
fla – Flathead
spo – Spokane
Glottolog kali1307[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
Salish Language Revitalization Institute school bus in Missoula, 2011
This article is about the Salishan language spoken in Montana and Washington State. For the family of Salishan languages, see Salishan languages.

The Salish or Séliš language /ˈslɪʃ/, also known as Kalispel–Pend d'oreille, Kalispel–Spokane–Flathead, or, to distinguish it from the Salish language family to which it gave its name, Montana Salish, is a Salishan language spoken (as of 2005) by about 64 elders of the Flathead Nation in north-central Montana and of the Kalispel Indian Reservation in northeastern Washington state, and by another 50 elders (as of 2000) of the Spokane Indian Reservation of Washington. As of 2012, Salish is "critically endangered" in Montana and Idaho according to UNESCO.[3]

Dialects are spoken by the Spokane (Npoqínišcn), Kalispel (Qalispé), Pend d'Oreilles, and Bitterroot Salish (Séliš). The total ethnic population was 8,000 in 1977, but most have switched to English.

As with many other languages of northern North America, Salish is polysynthetic; like other languages of the Mosan language area, there is no clear distinction between nouns and verbs. Salish is famous for native translations that treat all lexical Salish words as verbs or clauses in English, for instance translating a two-word clause that what would appear to mean "I-killed a-deer" as I killed it. It was a deer.

Language revitalization[edit]

Salish is taught at the Nkwusm Salish Immersion School, in Arlee, Montana.[4][5][6][7] Public schools in Kalispell, Montana offer language classes, a language nest, and intensive training for adults.[8] An online Salish Language Tutor and online Kalispel Salish curriculum are available.[9][10] A dictionary, "Selis nyo?nuntn: Medicine for the Salish Language," was expanded from 186 to 816 pages in 2009;[11] children's books and language CDs are also available.[12]

Salish Kootenai College offers Salish language courses, and trains Salish language teachers at its Native American Language Teacher Training Institute as a part of its ongoing efforts to preserve the language.[13][14] As of May 2013, the organization Yoyoot Skʷkʷimlt ("Strong Young People) is teaching language classes in high schools.[15]

Salish-language Christmas carols are popular for children's holiday programs, which have been broadcast over the Salish Kootenai College television station,[16] and Salish-language karaoke has become popular at the annual Celebrating Salish Conference, held in Spokane, Washington.[17][18] As of 2013, many signs on U.S. Route 93 in the Flathead Indian Reservation include the historic Salish and Kutenai names for towns, rivers, and streams. The Missoula City Council is seeking input from the Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee regarding appropriate Salish-language signage for the City of Missoula.[19]


Salish has five vowels, /a e i o u/, plus an epenthetic schwa [ə] which occurs between an obstruent and a sonorant consonant, or between two unlike sonorants. (Differences in glottalization do not cause epenthesis, and in long sequences not all pairs are separated, for example in /sqllú/[sqəllú] "tale", /ʔlˀlát͡s/[ʔəlˀlát͡s] "red raspberry", and /sˀnmˀné/[səʔnəmˀné] "toilet". No word may begin with a vowel.

Salish has pharyngeal consonants, which are rare worldwide and uncommon but not unusual in the Mosan Sprachbund to which Salish belongs. It is also unusual in lacking a simple lateral approximant and simple velar consonants (/k/ only occurs in loanwords), though again this is known elsewhere in the Mosan area.

Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar
/ Palatal
Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
central lateral plain labial plain labial
Nasal plain m n
glottalized ˀm ˀn
Plosive plain p t q ʔ
ejective kʷʼ qʷʼ
Affricate plain ts
ejective tsʼ tɬʼ tʃʼ
Fricative s ᵗɬ ʃ χ χʷ h
Approximant plain ᵈl ~ ᵈɮ j w ʕ ʕʷ
glottalized ˀl ˀj ˀw ˀʕ ˀʕʷ

Salish contrasts affricates with stopfricative sequences. For example, [ʔiɬt͡ʃt͡ʃeˀn] "tender, sore" has a sequence of two affricates, whereas [stiʕít.ʃən] "killdeer" has a tee-esh sequence. All stop consonants are clearly released, even in clusters or word-finally. Though they are generally not aspirated, aspiration often occurs before obstruents and epenthetic schwas before sonorants. For example, the word /t͡ʃɬkʷkʷtˀnéˀws/ "a fat little belly" is pronounced [t͡ʃɬkʍkʍtʰəʔnéʔʍs]; likewise, /t͡ʃt͡ʃt͡sʼéˀlʃt͡ʃn/ "woodtick" is pronounced [t͡ʃt͡ʃt͡sʼéʔt͡ɬʃᵗʃən], and /ppíˀl/ is [pʰpíḭᵗɬə̥].


  1. ^ a b Flathead at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Spokane at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kalispel–Spokane". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  4. ^ Kim Briggeman (2012-09-02). "School keeping Salish language thriving in new generation". The Missoulian (Missoula, MT). Retrieved 2012-09-06. 
  5. ^ Ratledge, Mark (2009-07-07). "Nkwusm works to preserve Salish language". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  6. ^ Sakariassen, Alex (2014-03-20). "A loss for words". Missoula Independent: Features. Retrieved 2014-03-28. 
  7. ^ Martin, Amy. “Montana Offers A Boost To Native Language Immersion Programs” All Things Considered - NPR, May 2, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2015.
  8. ^ "Language". Kalispel Tribe. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  9. ^ "Language Software". Story Teller. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  10. ^ "Language Curriculum". Kalispel Tribe. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  11. ^ Cederberg, Jenna (2009-01-10). "Salish language dictionary expands from 186 pages to 816". The Buffalo Post, a news blog about Native people and the world we live in, at The Missoulian newspaper. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  12. ^ "Nkwusm - Salish Language Merchandise". Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  13. ^ Brooks Johnson (2012-12-06). "Beyond Belief". Missoula Independent. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  14. ^ "New Push Begins To Save Salish Language". Canku Ota 8 (4). 2010-04-01. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  15. ^ Schilling, Vincent (2013-05-11). "Language Preservation Made Vance Home Gun a Champion for Change". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved 2013-05-13. 
  16. ^ "Valley Journal: Translating tradition: Salish language accents Arlee holiday concert". Valley Journal (Ronan, MT). 2011-12-21. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  17. ^ "2013 Celebrating Salish Conference". Kalispel Tribe. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  18. ^ Hval, Cindy (2013-03-14). "Tribes keep language alive : Recent conference led by the Kalispels draws hundreds of participants". The Spokesman-Review, (Spokane, WA). Retrieved 2013-03-27. 
  19. ^ Devlin, Vince (2013-10-15). "Missoula councilors seek tribal elders' help for 'wayfinding' signs". Ravalli Republic. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  • "Phonetic Structures of Montana Salish". Flemming, Ladefoged, & Thomason, 1994. In UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics 87: Fieldwork Studies of Targeted Languages II

Further reading[edit]

  • Giorda, Joseph, and Gregory Mengarini. A Dictionary of the Kalispel or Flat-Head Indian Language. [St. Ignatius]: St. Ignatius print, Montana, 1877.
  • Post, John A., and Brenda J. Speck. An Edition of Father Post's Kalispel Grammar. Missoula: University of Montana, 1980.
  • Vogt, Hans. The Kalispel Language, An Outline of the Grammar with Text, Translations and Dictionary. Oslo: I kommisjon hos J. Dybwad, 1940.

External links[edit]

Vocabulary and dictionaries[edit]