Keeping Coast Salish Languages Strong

March 31st, 2020 by Technology plays an important role in helping Hul'q'umi'num' learners improve their fluency. Agnes Violet Sharon Seymour’s desire to learn Hul'q'umi'num' stretches back to when she was a girl, listening to her father and uncle talk in the Coast Salish language. I wanted to be able to communicate and understand them,” she says. Seymour wants that same generational bond for her son, Luke Jarrett Spaal' Seymour, who is learning Hul'q'umi'num' at school. Seymour, from Kwa'mutsun, a member of Quw'utsun' tribe, is among seven students gathered at the Shhwulmuhwqun Language House in Duncan this morning for a science of speech class. By day’s end, Seymour, whose Hul'q'umi'num' name is Ts'i'y'a lhaat, will have had the chance to use ultrasound, acoustic speech analysis and palatography to hone her pronunciation. University of Victoria professor Sonya Bird leads a team of linguists using these technologies to help Hul'q'umi'num' learners like Seymour improve their fluency in one of the most complex languages in the world. Bird says Hul'q'umi'num' has 37 consonants, 24 of which don’t occur in English, making authentic pronunciation difficult for second-language learners. University and community-based partners, including Hul'q'umi'num' Language and Culture Society and Simon Fraser University, are involved in the project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. They are working against time to transmit knowledge of Hul'q'umi'num' to younger generations. Few first-language speaking Elders remain. Read more: University of Victoria

Canadian film made in language spoken by just 20 people in the world

March 28th, 2019 by Plenty of films are somewhat incomprehensible, but a forthcoming movie is in a language that only about 20 people in the world can speak fluently. With subtitles, audiences will be able to understand a feature film titled SGaawaay K’uuna, translated as Edge of the Knife, which has its UK premiere in April. It is in two dialects of the highly endangered Haida language, the ancestral tongue of the Haida people of British Columbia. It is unrelated to any other language, and actors had to learn it to understand their lines. The film is playing an important role in preserving the language, its director Gwaai Edenshaw said. He told the Guardian: “I know that, if our language is this far gone, statistically it’s supposed to be over. But that’s not something that we’re willing to accept.” The Haida are an Indigenous First Nations community whose traditional territory is Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands), an archipelago of forested islands off the west coast of Canada. Edenshaw said most of the fluent Haida speakers were in his Haida Gwaii homeland. “There’s a smattering off the island [who] also speak it.” Edenshaw himself speaks some of the language but is not fluent, having been taught at school in English. He added that the community generally lives off the sea and makes dugout canoes and houses from local red cedars. Noting that their numbers were ravaged by smallpox and other diseases in the 19th century, he said a former population of tens of thousands has dwindled to a few thousand today. Read more:

How SFU and First Nations Keep Endangered Languages Alive

July 18th, 2016 by A group of Haida elders in their nineties gathered around a microphone on Lucy Bell's dining room table. Every Haida word they spoke into it was another word recorded for future generations. It was a touching experience for Bell. Her grandmother spoke Haida, a language also known as Xaad Kil and X̱aaydaa Kil when she was young. "Many in my generation grew up hearing it but not speaking it, and knowing how precious it was to learn it," said Bell, now 45 and co-ordinator at Haida Gwaii's Xaad Kihlga Hl Suu.u Society of language. She learned Haida as an adult. Indigenous languages in Canada are declining as elder native speakers die. Not long after Bell made the Haida recordings, two of the elders who participated passed away. Read more: The Tyee