March 15, 2004

Delays, delays, delays

Sorry folks, I had expected to get up the rest on Huntington on the weekend, or failing that, today. Real life keeps interfering in extra-curricular activities. I'm not sure I'll be able to put anything up until Wednesday. In the mean time, go look at the coverage of recent events in Spain over at AFOE. Start here and keep rolling.

BTW - any readers out there who are experts in Salishan languages? I'm trying to find out which Salishan languages, if any, still have a reasonably healthy speaking community (e.g., spoken in most households in at least one place and has at least some speakers under the age of 10.) Ethnologue suggests that the answer is none.

Posted 2004/03/15 16:39 (Mon) | TrackBack

There is no Salishan language that is healthy by those or any other reasonable criteria. Very few Salishan languages have any speakers under the age of 10. One of the few that does is Shuswap (Secwepmectsin), which has something like 40 speakers under the age of 15. The majority of these are students or alumni of Chief Atahm School in Adams Lake, the reserve near the town of Chase, which is a 100% Shuswap immersion school. Only a handful of children are growing up speaking Shuswap at home.

I don't know of a site that has such information for all of the Salishan languages, but for the eleven located in British Columbia, information is available at the First Nations Languages of British Columbia web site. Speaker numbers are

Posted by: Bill Poser at March 16, 2004 8:26

I posted this on Language Hat's comments page:

In the US you probably would have a problem finding a community where the children are acquiring the language, but my guess is that in Canda among the Thompson Salish or Shuswap you maight still find healthy language communities. You can track down contacts via

These folks would probably know:

A list of speaker estimates for Native AMerican languages. Note that a lot of these are based on Ethnologue estimates, which are often pretty inaccurate for languages with under 500 speakers.

Experiences in language revival at Salish Kootenai College.

Loohootseed Research on Pugit Sound Salishan

Salish language communities, estimates of speaker populations reported here are based primarily on the Statistics Canada?s 2001 census

Secwepemc(ts?n)/Shuswap 600
Okanagan/Nsilxc?n 500 in Canada, 200 in US
Nlaka?pamux/Thompson 400
Comox/Sliammon 400
Lillooet/St??t?imcets 200
Halkomelem/Halq?em?ylem 125
Nuxalk/Bella Coola 20
Straits 20

Posted by: zaelic at March 16, 2004 12:01

Some good comments in the LH thread, with more doubtless to come, so keep checking it.

Posted by: language hat at March 16, 2004 18:31

xpost from LH
Out of curiosity, I'd be interested to know why you want to know There's a long discussion in the literature about what number is an appropriate benchmark for determining endangered status. Joshua Fishman has probably written more than anyone about it, but a lot of his work is based on languages like Irish and Basque, that have speakers in the thousands.

My sense from the literature is that it is not simply a numerical line, but one has to include access to the majority culture, especially the "glass teat" of TV (Harlan ellison's term).

One should also note that speakers of these languages don't particularly care for some of the terminology. Describing people as speakers of a 'dying language' often puts a terrible onus on the speakers, making them feel guilty for not preserving their language in face of the onslaught of modernity.

Posted by: joe tomei at March 16, 2004 23:16

Thanks for cross-posting it, LH. I looked at Bill Poser's website and the links zaelic provided, and it tells me pretty much what I wanted to know. Unfortunately, I was hoping that there was at least one Salish language still in regular use.

But than, let me ask a slighlty different question (which I'm going to post ot the thread on LH's blog as well), is Chinook drawn from largely Salish roots? I know that Chinook counts no native speakers, but it has an activist community comparable to Cornish and Manx.

You see, I'm tinkering with this idea for a science fiction short story which Huntington's belief in traditional American monolingualism has inspired, but it involves Native American languages in Canada and the western part of the US. I know a bit about Dakelh and quite a lot about the Algonquian languages, but those languages are actually still quite widely spoken and have fairly active communities. There are still children growing up speaking those languages. In contrast, the languages of southwest BC and western Washington are not something I studied at all.

Posted by: Scott Martens at March 17, 2004 9:27

But than, let me ask a slighlty different question (which I'm going to post ot the thread on LH's blog as well), is Chinook drawn from largely Salish roots? I know that Chinook counts no native speakers, but it has an activist community comparable to Cornish and Manx.

I take it this is the Chinook Jargon you're talking about, rather than any of the languages of the Chinookan family? The entry in Marianne Mithun's The Languages of Native North America says

The lexicon is drawn primarily from Lower Chinook, Nootka, Chehalis, English, and French, with additional loanwords from Cree, Hawaiian and other languages.

The languages named are respectively Chinookan, Wakashan, Salishan, and I guess you know the rest.

Posted by: Tim May at March 17, 2004 19:48
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