Endangered Language Watch: Salish


As a recently arrived transplant to Kalispell, Montana, I couldn’t help noticing that several of the road signs on Highway 93 are written in English and an interesting looking language that I later learned was called ‘Salish.’ Salish consists of consonant clusters (sometimes as many as 13 in a row) with few vowels. It originated with the Flathead Indians still found today in parts of Montana and Washington.

Here are a few examples of written Salish:

The town of Kalispell is named for a Salishan word meaning ‘flat land above the lake.’ During the 1700’s Salish was so prevalently spoken that settlers who spent time with the Flatheads noted that speaking solely Salish “one [could] converse from the United States to the Willamette without the necessity of an interpreter.” Father Gregory Mengarini, a Catholic missionary sent to convert the Flatheads in the Rocky Mountains, learned the language so well that he printed a Salish dictionary in 1879.

Today, several dialects of Salish still exist. Currently, there are around 50 fluent speakers of Salishan dialects working to keep this endangered language alive. If you would like to hear Salish spoken, the UCLA Phonetics Lab Archive has greatly contributed to the fight to preserve the language by recording and archiving several tribal elders and teachers speaking the language. The Salish Language Revitalization Institute is also an excellent resource for learning more about Salish grammar and vocabulary and the importance of keeping the language alive.

Stay tuned as I explore other Indian languages and cultures during my stay in Montana!

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Images Copyright Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

  • Learn Russian Language
    Posted at 02:00h, 21 October Reply

    The Salish language is very new to me.

    According to my research Salish, also known as Salishan, are a group of languages of the Pacific Northwest. I was amazed that the Salishan language family consists of twenty-three languages.

    This post is very interesting.

  • Sydney
    Posted at 09:36h, 02 November Reply

    Is Salish a part of the Spokane language?

  • Diana Cote
    Posted at 16:18h, 01 January Reply

    I spu/us es tlwisi ecxey pqelqey. Qe selish nqwelqweltn lu ihe. Qe nuwewlshtn lu qwamqwumt…translation My heart is flying around like a bald eagle. Our salish words are here. Our language is here. I appreciate that you have shared our words as the more people who become aware that we are losing the language the more we can develop Salish language centers. We have to start teaching the language as a living language and start using our words like I did here…lemlmtsh kw l i spu?us ecxey slaxt…thank you you are in my heart like a friend…

  • Kay
    Posted at 02:30h, 18 July Reply

    Can anyone tell me what Kutemaxen or Knegwa means? It’s from the Salish language of the Colville-Okanogan… any help would be appreciated only found sights that want money. Was so happy to see that the language is being taught to young and old alike in BC and here in our states!!

    Thank you,

  • James
    Posted at 19:13h, 18 July Reply


    These two word are not properly spelled for Colville-Okanagan. Where do you have them from? I’ll ask my brother, who does much curriculum development in Salish, if he recognizes them.

  • James
    Posted at 19:28h, 18 July Reply

    To follow up: I think I recognize the first word “Kutemaxen” as containing the suffix -axan, which refers to the arm. I don’t know what it might mean. The second one *might* be a verb-like form, referring to “I, myself” but I don’t know what it might be. I’ll get back to you.

  • Follow up to James
    Posted at 01:52h, 09 October Reply

    Hi James, thanks for the information! I left my email if you find anything else on Kutemaxen. Was found numerous times on mission records for marriages by Jesuit priests.
    Thanks again Kay:)

  • Angela
    Posted at 07:21h, 25 April Reply

    what is the salish translation for the word cry?

  • Rose
    Posted at 14:11h, 14 June Reply

    How can I learn more quinault northwest indian native american language, which is my culture, I usually know some n I’m forgetting 🙂

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