So, have you picked up your copy of the Skwxwu7mesh Snichim-Xweliten Snichim Skexwts yet?
In case you’re not fluent, that translates as Squamish-English Dictionary. The book, containing about 8,000 words in the Squamish language spoken by B.C.’s Aboriginal Squamish peoples, has just been completed by a team of elders, linguists and researchers after 18 years of work.
The challenges facing the team were enormous.
First of all, Squamish is an oral language, which didn’t even have a written equivalent until one was adopted in the 1980s. Not to mention that there are only about 10 people on the planet who are actually fluent in Squamish – mostly elders living in the Lower Mainland and B.C.
Squamish is one of an amazing diversity of 32 languages and 59 dialects spoken in B.C. before the arrival of Europeans, according to a great article on the subject in the Vancouver Sun. More specifically, Squamish is one of 10 languages in the Coast Salish branch of the Salish language family. There were once 23 Salish languages in total.
The Squamish language, like many of B.C.’s Aboriginal languages, suffered a near fatal hit in the last century as a result of the residential school system. For decades, young Squamish students were forcibly sent away to residential schools, where they were strictly forbidden from speaking their own language. Even today, many elders are reluctant to speak the traditional language owing to this legacy of abuse.
So, interested in learning a little Squamish? Here are a few words and their translations, with links to a great website where you can hear the words pronounced:
- Thank you: Huy chexw
- Chair: k’ayk
- Fork: sch’áḵw’els (For the real advanced linguists out there, here’s a whole sentence. Bring me the fork: Mis chexw ta sch’áḵw’els.)
Now, onto the real mystery: What in the world does that number 7 mean in the word Skwxwu7mesh (Squamish)? Apparently, it’s used to represent a “glottal stop,” a sound that isn’t found in standard English and can’t be represented with the English alphabet (For reference, a glottal stop is similar to the sound in the middle of the expression “oh-oh!”).
You can pick up your own copy of the Squamish-English Dictionary on Amazon.
Any Squamish speakers out there? Would you mind leaving a comment in Squamish for our readers (with the English translation)?