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Salish-Spokane-Kalispel language

Region Montana
Ethnicity Pend d'Oreilles (Kalispel), Flathead, Spokane peoples
Native speakers
64  (2005)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
fla – Flathead
spo – Spokane
Salish Language Revitalization Institute school bus in Missoula, 2011

The Salish or Séliš language , here called Montana Salish to distinguish it from the Salish language family to which it gave its name, also known as Kalispel–Pend d'oreille and Kalispel–Spokane–Flathead, is a Salishan language spoken (as of 2005) by about 64 elders of the Flathead Nation in north-central Montana and of the Kalispel Indian Reservation in north-eastern Washington state, and by another 50 elders (as of 2000) of the Spokane Indian Reservation of Washington. As of 2012, the language is defined as "critically endangered" in Montana and Idaho by UNESCO.[2]

Dialects are spoken by the Spokane (Npoqínišcn), Kalispel (Qalispé), Pend d'Oreilles, and Bitterroot Salish (Séliš). The total population was 8,000 in 1977, but most have switched to English.

As with many other languages of northern North America, Salish is polysynthetic; like other languages of the Mosan language area, there is no clear distinction between noun and verb. Salish is famous for native translations that treat all lexical Salish words as verbs or clauses in English, for instance translating a two-word clause that what would appear to mean "I-killed a-deer" as I killed it. It was a deer.


  • Language revitalization 1
  • Phonology 2
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4
  • External links 5
    • Vocabulary and dictionaries 5.1
    • Audio 5.2
    • Video 5.3

Language revitalization

Salish is taught at the Nkwusm Salish Immersion School, in Arlee, Montana.[3][4][5] Public schools in Kalispell, Montana offer language classes, a language nest, and intensive training for adults.[6] An online Salish Language Tutor and online Kalispel Salish curriculum are available.[7][8] A dictionary, "Selis nyo?nuntn: Medicine for the Salish Language," was expanded from 186 to 816 pages in 2009;[9] children's books and language CDs are also available.[10]


Salish-language Christmas carols are popular for children's holiday programs, which have been broadcast over the Salish Kootenai College television station,[14] and Salish-language karaoke has become popular at the annual Celebrating Salish Conference, held in Spokane, Washington.[15][16] As of 2013, many signs on U.S. Route 93 in the Flathead Indian Reservation include the historic Salish and Kutenai names for towns, rivers, and streams. The Missoula City Council is seeking input from the Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee regarding appropriate Salish-language signage for the City of Missoula.[17]


Salish has five vowels, /a e i o u/, plus an epenthetic schwa [ə] which occurs between an obstruent and a sonorant consonant, or between two unlike sonorants. (Differences in glottalization do not cause epenthesis, and in long sequences not all pairs are separated, for example in /sqllú/[sqəllú] "tale", /ʔlˀlát͡s/[ʔəlˀlát͡s] "red raspberry", and /sˀnmˀné/[səʔnəmˀné] "toilet". No word may begin with a vowel.

Salish has pharyngeal consonants, which are rare worldwide and uncommon but not unusual in the Mosan Sprachbund to which Salish belongs. It is also unusual in lacking a simple lateral approximant and simple velar consonants (/k/ only occurs in loanwords), though again this is known elsewhere in the Mosan area.

Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar
/ Palatal
Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
central lateral plain labial plain labial
Nasal plain m n
glottalized ˀm ˀn
Plosive plain p t q ʔ
ejective kʷʼ qʷʼ
Affricate plain ts
ejective tsʼ tɬʼ tʃʼ
Fricative s ᵗɬ ʃ χ χʷ h
Approximant plain ᵈl ~ ᵈɮ j w ʕ ʕʷ
glottalized ˀl ˀj ˀw ˀʕ ˀʕʷ

Salish contrasts affricates with stopfricative sequences. For example, "tender, sore" has a sequence of two affricates, whereas "killdeer" has a tee-esh sequence. All stop consonants are clearly released, even in clusters or word-finally. Though they are generally not aspirated, aspiration often occurs before obstruents and epenthetic schwas before sonorants. For example, the word /t͡ʃɬkʷkʷtˀnéˀws/ "a fat little belly" is pronounced [t͡ʃɬkʍkʍtʰəʔnéʔʍs]; likewise, /t͡ʃt͡ʃt͡sʼéˀlʃt͡ʃn/ "woodtick" is pronounced [t͡ʃt͡ʃt͡sʼéʔt͡ɬʃᵗʃən], and /ppíˀl/ is [pʰpíḭᵗɬə̥].


  1. ^ Flathead at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Spokane at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  3. ^ Kim Briggeman (2012-09-02). "School keeping Salish language thriving in new generation". The Missoulian (Missoula, MT). Retrieved 2012-09-06. 
  4. ^ Ratledge, Mark (2009-07-07). "Nkwusm works to preserve Salish language". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  5. ^ Sakariassen, Alex (2014-03-20). "A loss for words". Missoula Independent: Features. Retrieved 2014-03-28. 
  6. ^ "Language". Kalispel Tribe. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  7. ^ "Language Software". Story Teller. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  8. ^ "Language Curriculum". Kalispel Tribe. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  9. ^ Cederberg, Jenna (2009-01-10). "Salish language dictionary expands from 186 pages to 816". The Buffalo Post, a news blog about Native people and the world we live in, at  
  10. ^ "Nkwusm - Salish Language Merchandise". Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  11. ^ Brooks Johnson (2012-12-06). "Beyond Belief". Missoula Independent. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  12. ^ "New Push Begins To Save Salish Language". Canku Ota 8 (4). 2010-04-01. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  13. ^ Schilling, Vincent (2013-05-11). "Language Preservation Made Vance Home Gun a Champion for Change". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved 2013-05-13. 
  14. ^ "Valley Journal: Translating tradition: Salish language accents Arlee holiday concert". Valley Journal (Ronan, MT). 2011-12-21. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 
  15. ^ "2013 Celebrating Salish Conference". Kalispel Tribe. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  16. ^ Hval, Cindy (2013-03-14). "Tribes keep language alive : Recent conference led by the Kalispels draws hundreds of participants". The Spokesman-Review, (Spokane, WA). Retrieved 2013-03-27. 
  17. ^ Devlin, Vince (2013-10-15). "Missoula councilors seek tribal elders' help for 'wayfinding' signs". Ravalli Republic. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  • "Phonetic Structures of Montana Salish". Flemming, Ladefoged, & Thomason, 1994. In UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics 87: Fieldwork Studies of Targeted Languages II

Further reading

  • Giorda, Joseph, and Gregory Mengarini. A Dictionary of the Kalispel or Flat-Head Indian Language. [St. Ignatius]: St. Ignatius print, Montana, 1877.
  • Post, John A., and Brenda J. Speck. An Edition of Father Post's Kalispel Grammar. Missoula: University of Montana, 1980.
  • Vogt, Hans. The Kalispel Language, An Outline of the Grammar with Text, Translations and Dictionary. Oslo: I kommisjon hos J. Dybwad, 1940.

External links

  • Nkwusm Salish Language Revitalization Institute
  • Char-Koosta News Salish lessons
  • Salish language, Kalispel Tribe website, written and audio online course
  • "Salish Language Tutor, Story Teller". Kalispel Tribe. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  • Seliš Nuwewlštn, A Beginning Course in Salish & Pend d’Oreille Dialect, Salish Institute
  • Language of the Kalispel, Gonzaga University
  • Spokane Salish Blog
  • "Flathead, aka Kalispel, Kalispel-Pend d'Oreille, Kalispel-Pend D'oreille". Endangered Languages Project. 
  • Salish language books and CDs, from Nkwusm
  • Connolly, Thomas E., S. J. (1958). Quay-Lem U En-Chow-Men. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  • OLAC resources in and about the Kalispel-Pend d'Oreille language

Vocabulary and dictionaries

  • Salish Words, Salish/Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee
  • Sounds of the Kalispel, English-Kalispel
  • Learn Spokane Salish Picture Dictionary
  • Dictionaries, Language of the Kalispel, 1800s
  • English to Salish Dictionary, 2005
  • Pete, Tachini (2010). Seliš nyoʻnuntn = Medicine for the Salish language: English to Salish translation dictionary (2nd ed ed.). Pablo, MT : Lincoln, NE: Salish Kootenai College Press.  


  • Salish Audio, Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee
  • Montana Salish (Flathead), UCLA Phonetics Lab Archive
  • Flathead-Kalispel language - Audio Bible stories and lessons


  • Nkwusm Salish Language School YouTube channel
  • Salish stories, from Seliš Nuwewlštn, A Beginning Course in Salish & Pend d’Oreille Dialect

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