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Kootenai language

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Title: Kootenai language  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Languages of the United States, Salishan languages, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation, Glottal stop (letter)
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Kootenai language

Native to Canada, United States
Region British Columbia, Montana, Idaho
Ethnicity Ktunaxa
Native speakers Template:Sigfig  (2011)Template:Infobox language/ref
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-2 kut
ISO 639-3 kut
Linguist List Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
Kutenai language

The Kutenai language (/ˈkt(ə)n, -ni/), also Kootenai, Kootenay and Ktunaxa, is named after and is spoken by some of the Kutenai Native American/First Nations people who are indigenous to the area of North America that is now Montana, Idaho, and British Columbia.[1]


Kutenai is typologically a language isolate within the Northwest Linguistic Area.[2] Like other northwest languages, Kutenai has a rich inventory of consonants and a small inventory of vowels. However, there do exist other allophones of the three basic phonemic vowels. The lack of a phonemic distinction between voiced and voiceless consonants is much like other languages of the interior northwest.[2] Due to its geographic location, as well as the presence of the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative, there have been sound correspondences using the comparative method which link infer a relationship between Proto-Kutenai and Proto-Salish.[2] An essential sound correspondence is the lateral fricative. Sound correspondences with Salishan indicate that Proto-Kutenai-Salishan, the common ancestor of Kutenai and Proto-Salish, had a voiced lateral resonant /l/, a voiceless lateral fricative /ɬ/, a voiceless lateral affricate /ƛ/ or /tɬ/, and an ejective lateral affricate.[2] The voiceless lateral affricate and its ejective counterpart have evidently become /ts/ and its ejective counterpart. Due to Kutenai's location on the periphery of the northwest linguistic area, the loss of a rich lateral inventory is consistent with other interior northwest languages which today have only one or two lateral consonants. One such language group contains the Sahaptian languages which have had a similar loss of laterals. Nez Perce has /ts/ which was the lateral affricate in the proto-language. Nez Perce, like Kutenai, also lies in the eastern periphery of the Northwest Linguistic area.[2] Another typological analysis investigates the lexical category of preverbs in Kutenai. This lexical category is distinctive of neighboring Algonquian languages which are located just on the other side of the Kootenay mountains, neighboring the Kutenai linguistic area.[3] Another typological relationship Kutenai could have is the presence of its obviation system.[4]

Current status

The 2002 US Census counted 6 Kutenai speakers in the United States and the 2011 Canadian Census counted 100 speakers.[5]

As of 2012, an active revitalization effort has taken hold in Canada,

History of description

The first grammar of Kutenai, by Roman Catholic missionary Philippo Canestrelli, was published in 1894 in Latin.[9]

Paul L. Garvin did various descriptive work describing the phonemics, morphology, and syllabification in Ktunaxa. He also has two sources of transcriptions of speakers talking.[10][11]

In 1991 Lawrence Richard Morgan wrote a description of the Kutenai Language as his PhD dissertation through the University of California, Berkeley. This description is focused on how the language works and specifically what are the working parts of the language. Morgan's work is an exhaustive list of each grammatical particle, morpheme, and affix with their respective environments and their varying forms.[12]


Consonant phonemes

Kutenai has no phonemic distinction between voiced and voiceless consonants.[2]

Labial Dental Lateral Palatal Velar Uvular Laryngeal Labiovelar
Stops p [p] t [t̪] k [k] q [q] ʔ [ʔ]
Affricate ȼ [ts]
Ejectives [pʼ] [tʼ] [kʼ] [qʼ]
Ejective Affricate ȼʼ [ʦʼ]
Fricatives s [s] ǂ [ɬ] x [χ] h [h]
Nasals m [m] n [n]
Syllabic Nasals [m̩] [n̩]
Approximants y [j] w [w]

Vowel phonemes

Vowels in Ktunaxa are also contrastive in regards to length. An example of a minimal pair are the words for 'really, just about, nearly' [tuχa] and 'really, real, sure' [tuːχa].

Front Back
High i [i] u [u]
Low a [a]

See also



  • Campbell, Lyle (1997) American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Dryer, Matthew S (2002) A Comparison of Preverbs in Kutenai and Algonquian. In Proceedings of the Thirtieth Algonquian Conference, edited by David Pentland, pp. 63–94. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba.
  • Dryer, Matthew S. (2007) Kutenai, Algonquian, and the Pacific Northwest from an areal perspective. In Proceedings of the Thirty-Eighth Algonquian Conference, edited by H. C. Wolfart, pp. 155–206. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba.
  • Mithun, Marianne (2000) The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7
  • Morgan, Lawrence Richard (1991) A Description of the Kutenai Language. University of California, Berkeley. Unpublished.

External links

  • First Nations Languages of British Columbia Ktunaxa page
  • Ktunaxa language at
  • Resources in and about the Kutenai language at

Ktunaxa language learning resources

  • FirstVoices: Ktunaxa Community Portal online spoken dictionary, phrasebook, and language learning games
  • First Voices Language Tutor online course
  • wupnik' natanik, "new + times = technology"
  • iPhone
  • Kootenai Culture Committee of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Ksanka ʼA·kłukaqwum = Kootenai Dictionary. Elmo, Mont: Kootenai Culture Committee, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, 1999.

Template:Languages of Montana Template:Languages of Canada

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