Kutenai language

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Native to Canada, United States
Region British Columbia, Montana, Idaho
Ethnicity 1,510 Ktunaxa (2000 census – 2014)[1]
Native speakers
31  (2002–2014)[1]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-2 kut
ISO 639-3 kut
Glottolog kute1249[2]
Kutenai language

The Kutenai language (English pronunciation: /ˈktn, -ni/), also Kootenai, Kootenay and Ktunaxa, is named after and is spoken by some of the Kutenai Native American/First Nations people who are indigenous to the area of North America that is now Montana, Idaho, and British Columbia.[3]


Kutenai is a language isolate. There have been attempts to place Kutenai in either a Macro-Algonkian or Macro-Salishan language family, most recently with Salish,[4] but these have not been generally accepted as proven.[5][6]


Like other northwest languages, Kutenai has a rich inventory of consonants and a small inventory of vowels. However, there do exist other allophones of the three basic phonemic vowels. The lack of a phonemic distinction between voiced and voiceless consonants is much like other languages of the interior northwest.[4] Due to Kutenai's location on the periphery of the northwest linguistic area, the loss of a rich lateral inventory is consistent with other interior northwest languages which today have only one or two lateral consonants. One such language group contains the Sahaptian languages which have had a similar loss of laterals. Nez Perce has /ts/ which was the lateral affricate in the proto-language. Nez Perce, like Kutenai, also lies in the eastern periphery of the Northwest Linguistic area.[4] Another typological analysis investigates the lexical category of preverbs in Kutenai. This lexical category is distinctive of neighboring Algonquian languages which are located just on the other side of the Kootenay mountains, neighboring the Kutenai linguistic area.[7] Another typological relationship Kutenai could have is the presence of its obviation system.[8]

Current status[edit]

As of 2012, an active revitalization effort has taken hold in Canada,[3] using modern technologies and the FirstVoices website.[9][10]

History of description[edit]

The first grammar of Kutenai, by Roman Catholic missionary Philippo Canestrelli, was published in 1894 in Latin.[11]

Paul L. Garvin did various descriptive work describing the phonemics, morphology, and syllabification in Ktunaxa. He also has two sources of transcriptions of speakers talking.[12][13]

In 1991 Lawrence Richard Morgan wrote a description of the Kutenai Language as his PhD dissertation through the University of California, Berkeley. This description is focused on how the language works and specifically what are the working parts of the language. Morgan's work is an exhaustive list of each grammatical particle, morpheme, and affix with their respective environments and their varying forms.[14]


Consonant phonemes[edit]

Kutenai has no phonemic distinction between voiced and voiceless consonants.[4]

Labial Dental Lateral Palatal Velar Uvular Laryngeal Labiovelar
Stops p [p] t [t̪] k [k] q [q] ʔ [ʔ]
Affricate ȼ [ts]
Ejectives [pʼ] [tʼ] [kʼ] [qʼ]
Ejective Affricate ȼʼ [tsʼ]
Fricatives s [s] [ɬ] x [χ] h [h]
Nasals m [m] n [n]
Syllabic Nasals [m̩] [n̩]
Approximants y [j] w [w]

Vowel phonemes[edit]

Vowels in Ktunaxa are also contrastive in regards to length. An example of a minimal pair are the words for 'really, just about, nearly' [tuχa] and 'really, real, sure' [tuːχa].

Front Back
High i [i] u [u]
Low a [a]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kutenai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kutenai". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b "Canada: The Ktunaxa - Living the Language". (Al Jazeera English). 2012-05-02. Retrieved 2012-07-08.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ a b c d Morgan 1991
  5. ^ Marianne Mithun. The Languages of Native North America (1999, Cambridge).
  6. ^ Lyle Campbell. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America (1997, Oxford).
  7. ^ Dryer 2002
  8. ^ Dryer 2007
  9. ^ "FirstVoices: Ktunaxa Community Portal". Retrieved 2012-07-08. 
  10. ^ "British Columbia aboriginal communities using technology to bring endangered languages back from the brink - thestar.com". The Star (Toronto). 2012-05-04. Retrieved 2012-07-08. 
  11. ^ Canestrelli, Philippo (1894). Grammar of the Kutenai Language. Retrieved 2010-11-15. 
  12. ^ Garvin 1948
  13. ^ Garvin 1953
  14. ^ Morgan


  • Campbell, Lyle (1997) American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Dryer, Matthew S (2002) A Comparison of Preverbs in Kutenai and Algonquian. In Proceedings of the Thirtieth Algonquian Conference, edited by David Pentland, pp. 63–94. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba.
  • Dryer, Matthew S. (2007) Kutenai, Algonquian, and the Pacific Northwest from an areal perspective. In Proceedings of the Thirty-Eighth Algonquian Conference, edited by H. C. Wolfart, pp. 155–206. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba.
  • Dryer, Matthew S (1991). "Subject and inverse in Kutenai". Proceedings of the Hokan-Penutian Workshop. American Indian Languages Conferences. Occasional papers in linguistics. Volume 16. University of California, Santa Cruz. pp. 183–202. Retrieved 2013-09-19. 
  • Mithun, Marianne (2000) The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7
  • Morgan, Lawrence Richard (1991) A Description of the Kutenai Language. University of California, Berkeley. Unpublished.

External links[edit]

Ktunaxa language learning resources[edit]