Keeping Coast Salish Languages Strong

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

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