Bella Coola language
|Region||Bella Coola area, Central Coast region, British Columbia|
|Ethnicity||1,660 Nuxalk (2014, FPCC)|
|17 (2014, FPCC)|
Bella Coola / /, also known as Nuxalk //, is a Salishan language spoken in the vicinity of the Canadian town of Bella Coola, British Columbia by perhaps 20 elderly people. While the language is still sometimes called Bella Coola by linguists, the native name Nuxalk is preferred by some, notably by the Nuxalk Nation government.
Though the number of truly fluent speakers has not increased, the language is now taught in both the provincial school system and the Nuxalk Nation's own school, Acwsalcta, which means "a place of learning". Nuxalk language classes, if taken to at least the Grade 11 level, are considered adequate second language qualifications for entry to the major B.C. universities.
Nuxalk is spoken in Bella Coola, British Columbia, surrounded by Wakashan- and Athabascan-speaking tribes. It was once spoken in over 100 settlements, with varying dialects, but in the present day most of these settlements have been abandoned and dialectal differences have largely disappeared.
Nuxalk forms its own subgroup of the Salish language family. Its lexicon is equidistant from Coast and Interior Salish, but it shares phonological and morphological features with Coast Salish (for example, the absence of pharyngeals and the presence of marked gender). Nuxalk also borrows many words from contiguous North Wakashan languages (especially Heiltsuk), as well as some from neighbouring Athabascan languages and Tsimshian.
Nuxalk has 28 consonants depicted below in IPA and the Americanist orthography of Davis & Saunders when it differs from the IPA.
|Stop||aspirated||pʰ ⟨p⟩||tʰ ⟨t⟩||t͡sʰ ⟨c⟩||kʲʰ ⟨k⟩||kʷʰ ⟨kʷ⟩||qʰ ⟨q⟩||qʷʰ ⟨qʷ⟩|
|ejective||pʼ ⟨p̓⟩||tʼ ⟨t̓⟩||t͡sʼ ⟨c̓⟩||t͡ɬʼ ⟨ƛ̓⟩||kʼʲ ⟨k̓⟩||kʼʷ ⟨k̓ʷ⟩||qʼ ⟨q̓⟩||qʼʷ ⟨q̓ʷ⟩||ʔ|
|Fricative||s||ɬ ⟨ł⟩||xʲ ⟨x⟩||xʷ||χ ⟨x̣⟩||χʷ ⟨x̣ʷ⟩||(h)|
Nuxalk linguist Hank Nater postulates the existence of phonemic syllabic consonantal counterparts of the sonorants: /m̩, n̩, l̩/ (⟨ṃ ṇ ḷ⟩), and /i, u/ (reanalysing them as /j, w/). By this analysis, Nuxalk would only have one phonemic vowel, /a/. Words claimed to have unpredictable syllables include sṃnṃnṃuuc 'mute', smṇmṇcaw '(the fact) that they are children'.
/i/ may be pronounced:
- [ɪ] before postvelars
- [ɪː, ɛː] between postvelars
- [e̞, e̞ː], before a sonorant followed by a consonant or word boundary
- [i] adjacent to palatovelars
- [e] elsewhere
/a/ may be pronounced:
- [ɑ] ([ɒ]?) surrounded by postvelars
- [ɐ] before rounded velars followed by a consonant or word boundary
- [a] ([ä]?) before a sonorant followed by a consonant or word boundary
- [æ] elsewhere
/u/ may be pronounced:
- [o̞] surrounded by postvelars
- [o̞, o̞ː, ɔ, ɔː] before a sonorant followed by a consonant or word boundary
- [u, ʊ] before rounded velars followed by a consonant or word boundary
- [o] elsewhere
In addition to the Americanist orthography of Davis & Saunders used in this article for clarity, Nuxalk also has a non-diacritical Bouchard-type practical orthography that originated in Hank Nater's The Bella Coola Language (1984), and was used in his 1990 Nuxalk-English Dictionary. It continues to be used today at Acwsalcta for Nuxalk language learning, as well as in Nuxalk documents and names. The orthographic variants are summarized below.
The notion of syllable is challenged by Nuxalk in that it allows long strings of consonants without any intervening vowel or other sonorant. Salishan languages, and especially Nuxalk, are famous for this. For instance, the following word contains only obstruents:
- 'then he had had in his possession a bunchberry plant.'
- (Nater 1984, cited in Bagemihl 1991: 16)
Other examples are:
- [pʰs] 'shape, mold'
- [pʼs] 'bend'
- [pʼχʷɬtʰ] 'bunchberry'
- [t͡sʰkʰtʰskʷʰt͡sʰ] 'he arrived'
- [tʰt͡sʰ] 'little boy'
- [skʷʰpʰ] 'saliva'
- [spʰs] 'northeast wind'
- [tɬʼpʰ] 'cut with scissors'
- [st͡sʼqʰ] 'animal fat'
- [st͡sʼqʰt͡sʰtʰx] 'that's my animal fat over there'
- [sxs] 'seal fat'
- [tʰɬ] 'strong'
- [qʼtʰ] 'go to shore'
- [qʷʰtʰ] 'crooked'
- [kʼxɬɬtʰsxʷ sɬχʷtʰɬɬt͡s] 'you had seen that I had gone through a passage' (Nater 1984, p. 5)
Linguists disagree as to how to count the syllables in such words, what if anything constitutes the nuclei of those syllables, and if the concept of 'syllable' is even applicable to Nuxalk. Some assign every stop consonant in such words to a separate syllable, whereas others attempt to consolidate them.
For example, /tɬ/ 'strong' at first appears to be a single syllable with /ɬ/ as the syllable nucleus. However, [tʰt͡sʰ] 'little boy' (phonemically /tt͡s/) may be thought of as having one syllable or two (/t.t͡s/). If one, /t͡s/ would make an unusual nucleus, with /t/ the syllable onset; and if two, both /t/ and /t͡s/ would be considered nuclei, since most theoretical approaches require every syllable to have a nucleus, as part of the definition of 'syllable'. If that assumption is relaxed, so that Nuxalk syllables can be modeled without nuclei, then /tɬ/ 'strong' could be thought of as onset and coda of a single syllable, but it would still not be clear if the /t/ and /t͡s/ of 'little boy' should be considered onset and coda of one syllable, or two onset-only syllables. This syllabic structure may be compared with Miyako phonology.
The first element in a sentence expresses the event of the proposition. It inflects for the person and number of one (in the intransitive paradigm) or two (in the transitive paradigm) participants.
|Third Person||-Ø or -s||-(n)aw|
E.g. ƛ̓ikm-Ø ti-wac̓-tx 'the dog is running'.
Whether the parenthesized segments are included in the suffix depends on whether the stem ends in an underlying resonant (vowel, liquid, nasal) and whether it is non-syllabic. So qāχla 'drink' becomes qāχla-ł 'we drink', qāχla-nap 'you (pl.) drink', qāχla-naw 'they drink', but nuyamł 'sing' becomes nuyamł-ił 'we're singing', nuyamł-ap 'you (pl.) are singing', nuyamł-aw 'they're singing'.
However, the choice of the 3ps marker -Ø or -s is conditioned by semantics rather than phonetics. For example, the sentences tix-s ti-ʔimlk-tx and tix-Ø ti-ʔimlk-tx could both be glossed 'it's the man', but the first is appropriate if the man is the one who is normally chosen, while the second is making an assertion that it is the man (as opposed to someone else, as might otherwise be thought) who is chosen.[further explanation needed]
The following are the possible person markers for transitive verbs, with empty cells indications non-occurring combinations and '--' identifying semantic combinations which require the reflexive suffix -cut- followed by the appropriate intransitive suffix:
E.g. sp̓-is ti-ʔimlk-tx ti-stn-tx 'the man struck the tree'.
Whether a word can serve as an event isn't determined lexically, e.g. ʔimmllkī-Ø ti-nusʔūlχ-tx 'the thief is a boy', nusʔūlχ-Ø ti-q̓s-tx 'the one who is ill is a thief'.
There is a further causative paradigm whose suffixes may be used instead:
This has a passive counterpart:
This may also have a benefactive gloss when used with events involving less activity of their participant (e.g. nuyamł-tus ti-ʔimlk-tx ti-ʔimmllkī-tx 'the man made/let the boy sing'/'the man sang for the boy'), while in events with more active participants only the causative gloss is possible. In the later group even more active verbs have a preference for the affix-lx- (implying passive experience) before the causative suffix.
The executor in a transitive sentence always precedes the experiencer. However, when an event is proceeded by a lone participant, the semantic content of the event determines whether the participant is an executor or an experiencer. This can only be determined syntactically if the participant is marked by the preposition ʔuł-, which marks the experience.
Some events are inherently transitive or intransitive, but some may accept multiple valencies (e.g. ʔanayk 'to be needy'/'to want [something]').
Prepositions may mark experiencers, and must mark implements. Any participants which are not marked by prepositions are focussed. There are three voices, which allow either the executor, the experiencer, or both to have focus:
- Active voice - neither is marked with prepositions.
- Passive voice - the event may have different suffixes, and the executor may be omitted or marked with a preposition
- Antipassive voice - the event is marked with the affix -a- before personal markers, and the experiencer is marked with a preposition
The affix -amk- (-yamk- after the antipassive marker -a-) allows an implement to have its preposition removed and to be focused. For example:
- nuyamł-Ø ti-man-tx ʔuł-ti-mna-s-tx x-ti-syut-tx 'the father sang the song to his son'
- nuyamł-amk-is ti-man-tx ti-syut-tx ʔuł-ti-mna-s-tx 'the father sang the song to his son'
There are four prepositions which have broad usage in Nuxalk:
Nuxalk has a set of deictic prefixes and suffixes which serve to identify items as instantiations of domains rather than domains themselves and to locate them in deictic space. Thus the sentences wac̓-Ø ti-ƛ̓ikm-tx and ti-wac̓-Ø ti-ƛ̓ikm-tx, both 'the one that's running is a dog', are slightly different - similar to the difference between the English sentences 'the visitor is Canadian' and 'the visitor is a Canadian' respectively.
The deixis system has a proximal/medial/distal and a non-demonstrative/demonstrative distinction. Demonstratives may be used when finger pointing would be appropriate (or in distal space when something previously mentioned is being referred to).
Proximal demonstrative space roughly corresponds to the area of conversation, and proximal non-demonstrative may be viewed as the area in which one could attract another's attention without raising one's voice. Visible space beyond this is middle demonstrative, space outside of this but within the invisible neighborhood is medial non-demonstrative. Everything else is distal, and non-demonstrative if not mentioned earlier.
The deictic prefixes and suffixes are as follows:
Female affixes are used only when the particular is singular and identified as female; if not, even if the particular is inanimate, masculine or plural is used.
The deictic prefixes only have a proximal vs. non-proximal distinction, and no demonstrative distinction:
|Proximal||Medial and Distal|
tu- is used in earlier varieties and some types of narratives, except for middle non-demonstrative, and the variant ʔił- may be used "in the same collection of deictic space".
While events are not explicitly marked for tense per se, deixis plays a strong role in determining when the proposition is being asserted to occur. So in a sentence like mus-is ti-ʔimmllkī-tx ta-q̓lsxʷ-t̓aχ 'the boy felt that rope', the sentence is perceived as having a near-past (same day) interpretation, as the boy cannot be touching the rope in middle space from proximal space. However this does not hold for some events, like k̓x 'to see'.
A distal suffix on any participant lends the event a distant past interpretation (before the past day), a medial suffix and no distal suffix lends a near past time, and if the participants are marked as proximal the time is present.
Not every distal participant occurs in past-tense sentences, and vice versa—rather, the deictic suffixes must either represent positions in space, time, or both.
||This paragraph may be confusing or unclear to readers. (August 2012)|
The -m suffix is one of the most puzzling verbal affixes in the language. Some argue that it has varying uses of its morpheme, or that the suffix itself represents different morphemes due to the transitive bases the suffix consists of. The plural of the -m suffix has no known cognates. Another suffix is -uks. This suffix was never recorded,[clarification needed] and its derivatives are skeptical.[clarification needed] Some say that, because of the -uks suffix, Bella Coola influenced the Wakashan and Athapaskan languages, also originating from the British Columbian coast. Others believe, though, that the -uks suffix used in the Bella Coola language were previously recorded in the Chinook Jargon, thus it was taken from that language.[clarification needed] At this point in time, linguists have two stances on this argument: either -uks did originate from the Chinook jargon, or -uks is one of the few elements originating from languages spoken south of the Salishan area of the British Columbia coast, which is difficult to decipher due to the lack of recorded evidence on it. Linguists are unsure what this meaning could bring. An opinion sometimes considered is that people of all the mentioned languages, from Chinook to Bella Coola to Wakashan/Athapaskan, were somehow congregated, and its people were, for more than a brief amount of time, associated with one another. This could have derived from inter-tribal marriages, which meshed the different structural components of the language to form one unique, syntactical language structure. We cannot testify to this hypothesis, though, due to the lack of archives previously produced/left behind by the people that once spoke these languages fluently.
Personal pronouns are reportedly nonexistent but the idea is expressed via verbs that translate as "to be me", etc.
|ck||Inferential Dubitative||'I figure'|
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- Nuxalk Nation Website
- First Nations Languages of British Columbia Nuxalk page
- Nuxalk bibliography
- Nuxalk information at LanguageGeek.