Salishan languages: Wikis


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This article is about the Salish/Salishan language. For the Tacoma, Washington, neighborhood, see Salishan, Tacoma, Washington.
Pacific Northwest and Interior Plateau/Columbia Plateau in Canada and the United States
ISO 639-2 and 639-5: sal
Salishan langs.png

Pre-contact distribution of Salishan languages (in red).

The Salishan (also Salish) languages are a group of languages of the Pacific Northwest (the Canadian province of British Columbia and the American states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana).[1] They are characterised by agglutinativity and astonishing consonant clusters—for instance the Nuxálk word xłp̓x̣ʷłtłpłłskʷc̓ (IPA: [xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬːskʷʰt͡sʼ]) meaning "he had had a bunchberry plant" has 13 consonants in a row with no vowels.

The terms Salish and Salishan are used interchangeably by Salishan linguists and anthropologists. The name Salish is actually the endonym of the Flathead Nation. The name was later extended by linguists to refer to other related languages. Many languages do not have self-designations and instead have specific names for local dialects as the local group was more important culturally than larger tribal relations.

All Salishan languages which are not extinct are endangered—some extremely so with only three or four speakers left. Practically all languages only have speakers who are over sixty years of age, and many languages only have speakers over eighty. Salish is most commonly written using the Americanist phonetic notation to account for the various vowels and consonants that do not exist in most modern alphabets.


Family division

The Salishan language family consists of twenty-three languages. Below is a list of Salishan languages, dialects, and sub-dialects. This list is a linguistic classification that may not correspond to political divisions. Many Salishan groups consider their variety of speech to be a separate language rather than a dialect.

Flathead Indians (1903)

Bella Coola

1. Nuxálk (a.k.a. Bella Coola, Salmon River)

Coast Salish

A. Central Coast Salish (a.k.a. Central Salish)
2. Comox
  • Island Comox (a.k.a. Qʼómox̣ʷs)
  • Sliammon (Homalco-Klahoose-Sliammon) (a.k.a. ʔayʔaǰúθəm)
3. Halkomelem
Island (a.k.a. Hulʼq̱ʼumiʼnumʼ, həl̕q̓əmín̓əm̓)
Downriver (a.k.a. Hunqʼumʔiʔnumʔ)
Upriver (a.k.a. Upper Sto:lo, Halqʼəméyləm)
4. Lushootseed (a.k.a. Puget Salish, Skagit-Nisqually, Dxʷləšúcid)
5. Nooksack (a.k.a. Nooksack ɬə́čələsəm, ɬə́čælosəm) (†)
6. Pentlatch (a.k.a. Pənƛ̕áč) (†)
7. Sháshíshálh (a.k.a. Sechelt, Seshelt, Shashishalhem, šášíšáɬəm)
8. Sḵwxwú7mesh snichim (a.k.a. Squamish, Sqwxwu7mish, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, sqʷx̣ʷúʔməš)
i. Straits Salish group (a.k.a. Straits)
9. Klallam (a.k.a. Clallam, Nəxʷsƛ̕áy̓emúcən)
  • Becher Bay
  • Eastern
  • Western
10. Northern Straits (a.k.a. Straits)
  • Lummi (a.k.a. Xwlemiʼchosen, xʷləmiʔčósən) (†)
  • Saanich (a.k.a. SENĆOŦEN, sənčáθən, sénəčqən)
  • Samish (a.k.a. Siʔneməš)
  • Semiahmoo (a.k.a. Tah-tu-lo) (†)
  • Sooke (a.k.a. Tʼsou-ke, c̓awk) (†)
  • Songhees (a.k.a. Lək̓ʷəŋín̓əŋ) (†)
11. Twana (a.k.a. Skokomish, Sqʷuqʷúʔbəšq, Tuwáduqutšad) (†)
B. Tsamosan (a.k.a. Olympic)
i. Inland
12. Cowlitz (a.k.a. Lower Cowlitz, Sƛ̕púlmš) (†)
13. Upper Chehalis (a.k.a. Q̉ʷay̓áyiɬq̉) (†)
  • Oakville Chehalis
  • Satsop
  • Tenino Chehalis
ii. Maritime
14. Lower Chehalis (a.k.a. ɬəw̓ál̕məš) (†)
15. Quinault (a.k.a. Kʷínayɬ)
C. Tillamook
16. Tillamook (a.k.a. Hutyéyu) (†)

Interior Salish

A. Northern
17. Shuswap (a.k.a. Secwepemctsín, səxwəpməxcín)
  • Kinbasket
  • Shuswap Lake
  • Canim Lake
  • Chu Chua
  • Deadman's Creek–Kamloops
  • Fraser River
  • Pavilion-Bonaparte
18. Stʼatʼimcets (a.k.a. Lillooet, Lilloet, St'át'imcets)
  • Lillooet-Fountain
  • Mount Currie–Douglas
19. Thompson River Salish (a.k.a. Nlakaʼpamux, Ntlakapmuk, nɬeʔkepmxcín, Thompson River, Thompson Salish, Thompson, known in frontier times as the Hakamaugh, Klackarpun, Couteau or Knife Indians)
  • Lytton
  • Nicola Valley
  • Spuzzum–Boston Bar
  • Thompson Canyon
B. Southern
20. Coeur d’Alene (a.k.a. Snchitsuʼumshtsn, snčícuʔumšcn)
21. Columbian (a.k.a. Columbia, Nxaʔamxcín)
22. Colville-Okanagan (a.k.a. Okanagan, Nsilxcín, Nsíylxcən, ta nukunaqínxcən)
23. Spokane-Kalispel-Flathead (a.k.a. Kalispel)
  • Flathead (a.k.a. Séliš)
  • Kalispel (a.k.a. Qalispé)

Pentlatch, Nooksack, Twana, Lower Chehalis, Upper Chehalis, Cowlitz, and Tillamook are now extinct. Additionally, the Lummi, Semiahmoo, Songhees, and Sooke dialects of Northern Straits are also extinct.

Genetic relations

No relationship to any other language is well established. The most plausible connection is with the language isolate Kutenai (Kootenai), which is generally considered not unlikely but not solidly established.

Edward Sapir suggested that the Salishan languages may be related to the Wakashan and Chimakuan languages in a hypothetical Mosan family. This proposal persists primarily due to Sapir's stature. There is little evidence for it and no progress has been made in reconstructing such a family.

The Salishan languages, principally Chehalis, contributed greatly to the vocabulary of the Chinook Jargon.

Family features

In popular culture

Stanley Evans has written a series of crime fiction novels that use Salish lore and language.

An episode of Stargate SG-1 ("Spirits", 2x13) features a culture of extraterrestrial humans loosely inspired by Pacific coastal First Nations culture, and who speak a language referred to as "ancient Salish".

External links


  • Boas, Franz, et al. (1917). Folk-Tales of Salishan and Sahaptin Tribes. Memoirs of the American Folk-lore Society, 11. Lancaster, Pa: American Folk-Lore Society.
  • Czaykowska-Higgins, Ewa; & Kinkade, M. Dale (Eds.). (1997). Salish languages and linguistics: Theoretical and descriptive perspectives. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-015492-7.
  • Flathead Culture Committee. (1981). Common Names of the Flathead Language. St. Ignatius, Mont: The Committee.
  • Kroeber, Paul D. (1999). The Salish language family: Reconstructing syntax. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press in cooperation with the American Indian Studies Research Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington.
  • Kuipers, Aert H. (2002).Salish Etymological Dictionary. Missoula, MT: Linguistics Laboratory, University of Montana. ISBN 1879763168
  • Liedtke, Stefan. (1995). Wakashan, Salishan and Penutian and Wider Connections Cognate Sets. Linguistic data on diskette series, no. 09. Munchen: Lincom Europa,z\v1995.
  • Pilling, James Constantine. (1893). Bibliography of the Salishan Languages. Washington: G.P.O..
  • Pilling, James Constantine (2007). Bibliography of the Salishan Languages. Reprint by Gardners Books. ISBN 9781430469278
  • Thompson, Laurence C. (1973). The northwest. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Linguistics in North America (pp. 979-1045). Current trends in linguistics (Vol. 10). The Hague: Mouton.
  • Thompson, Laurence C. (1979). Salishan and the northwest. In L. Campbell & M. Mithun (Eds.), The languages of native America: Historical and comparative assessment (pp. 692-765). Austin: University of Texas Press.


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