Salish-Spokane-Kalispel language

This article is about the Salishan language spoken in Montana and Washington State. For the family of Salishan languages, see Salishan languages.
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]
Salish Language Revitalization Institute school bus in Missoula, 2011

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 Salish clause that would appear to mean "I-killed a-deer" into English as I killed it. It was a deer.

Language revitalization

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, "Seliš nyoʔnuntn: 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
Post-velar Pharyngeal Glottal
central lateral plain labial plain labial
Nasal plain m n
glottalized ˀm ˀn
Plosive plain p t k̟ʷ k̠ʷ ʔ
ejective k̟ʷʼ k̠ʼ k̠ʷʼ
Affricate plain ts
ejective tsʼ tɬʼ tʃʼ
Fricative s ᵗɬ ʃ x̟ʷ x̠ʷ h
Approximant plain ᵈl ~ ᵈɮ j ʕ ʕʷ
glottalized ˀl ˀj ˀw̟ ˀʕ ˀʕʷ

The post-velars are normally transcribed as uvular consonants: q, qʼ, χ, qʷ, qʷʼ, χʷ.

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].


Given its polysynthetic nature, Salish-Spokane-Kalispel encodes meaning in single morphemes rather than lexical items. In the Spokane dialect specifically, the morphemes ¬–nt and –el’, denote transitivity and intransitivity respectfully. Meaning, they show whether or not a verb takes a direct object or it does not. For example, in (1) and (2), the single morphemes illustrate these properties rather than it being encoded in the verb as it is in English.

(1) ɫx̥ʷntén ‘I made a hole in it’.

       //ɫox̩ʷ-nt-en//   open(ed)-TRANS-1 sg. subj.

(2) pllstél ‘He got to kill (one)’

       //puls-VC-st-el'// die, kill-OC-TRANS-SUCCESS

Something that is unique to the Spokane dialect is the SUCCESS aspect morpheme: -nu.[20] The SUCCESS marker allows the denotation that the act took more effort than it normally would otherwise. In (3) and (4) we can see this particular transformation.

(3) ɫp'ntén ‘I marked it

       //ɫip'-nt-en//  mark-TRANS- 1 sg. subj.

(4) ɫp'nún ‘I had a hard time marking it’

       //ɫip'-nu-nt-en// mark-SUCCESS-TRANS- 1 sg. subj.

The SUCCESS aspect and an OUT-OF-CONTROL morpheme reduplication, found in other Native languages, are commonly found together in Spokane Salish. An OUT-OF-CONTROL reduplication morpheme denotes that the action was done by accident. Below, (5), (6) and (7) exemplify this.

(5) ɫuʔntén ‘I stabbed it/him/her’.

       //ɫuʔ-nt-en// stab-TRANS- 1 sg. subj.

(6) ɫuʔnún ‘I managed to stab it/him/her’.

       //ɫuʔ-nu-nt-en// stab-SUCCESS-TRANS- 1 sg. subj.

(7) tuʔʔnún ‘I managed to stab it/him/her by accident’.

       //tuʔ-VC-nu-nt-en// stab-OC-SUCCESS-TRANS- 1 sg. subj.

The intransitive morpheme that describes extra effort is –el’. Barry Carlson states that:

"Spokane intransitive success forms, created with -el', emphasize that a subject's control requires extra effort in an event and they focus the duration of this effort well before the event beginning. This makes the predication a result. Thus, their true meaning can only be seen in a larger context."

That is to say, that for intransitive instances it is context driven and therefore extra context is needed in order to use the morpheme –el’. Example (8) derived from (1) illustrates this:

(8) pllstél’ ‘He got to kill (one)’

       //puls-VC-st-el'// die, kill-OC-TRANS-SUCCESS
       šíč'l' 	       u 	       ʔax̩í 	    u 	      pllstél'
       he missed    and      finally    and     he got to kill (one)
      ‘He kept missing, but finally he got to kill (one)’


  1. 1 2 Flathead at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Spokane at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Kalispel–Spokane". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  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.
  20. Carlson, Barry (1996). "Situation aspect and a Spokane control morpheme.". International journal of American linguistics: 59–69.

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Montana Salish language.
Salish-Spokane-Kalispel language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
For a list of words relating to Salish-Spokane-Kalispel language, see the Salish-Spokane-Kalispel language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Vocabulary and dictionaries



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