Questions about our Schitsu’umsh Language

Why do Indian words have to be spelled that way?

A phonetic writing system has two goals: (1) to faithfully represent how the language sounds. (That’s an entirely different goal than written English, which preserves a four-hundred year tradition of the evolution of the language); and (2) to preserve the distinctiveness of the language. We don’t want to ‘hear’ only the speech sounds familiar to us, the ones that are ‘like’ English; we want to develop our listening and speaking skills to become good speakers of . Settling for the “nearest English equivalent” will only help obliterate everything distinctively , leading to the demise of the language.

Lawrence Nicodemus (1909-2004), the world’s authority on the Language, learned to translate the language as a teenager, using the International Phonetic Alphabet. In 1975 he developed a modified writing system using only characters found on a common typewriter keyboard. He hoped that his system—still a phonetic alphabet—would make it easier for tribal members to learn the language. All of his writings and all of the materials gathered by the tribal language program use that system for consistency.

Students of any age who learn his system can effectively sound out the correct pronunciations
for the Language.

Someone told my grandson not to call me yeah-yeah

We don’t tell families how to refer to their grandparents. We do point out that Coeur d’Alene and Spokane-Kalispel-Flathead (or Bitterroot, or Montana-Salish) have very similar terms for ‘mother’s mother’: (Kalispel) and (ln) (Coeur d’Alene). A long time ago, both resulted in a common baby-talk, ye’ye’, and later an English pronunciation that sounds (now) more like ‘yeah-yeah’. Both languages have different terms for ‘father’s mother’: qene’ (Kalispel) and (km)(CdA). In some families, “yeah-yeah” is used to refer to both grandmas, and even sometimes to grandma’s sisters, or female relatives.

Families often have pet names and nicknames for members. Our goal is only to teach what we’ve learned about the Coeur d’Alene language.

Why dont you have more samples of elders talking on your web page?

We do our best to enlist help from those persons most knowledgeable and most able to speak . As students of the language we know that in the coming years and generations most people will learn this language from their peers. Current learners benefit from a variety of voices of both listeners and speakers. Besides it’s very demanding of our elder experts to recite and use what we think we ought to know. Most of them have already put in their time. It’s up to the people they’ve trained to continue the tradition of speaking .

Sometimes I see hyphens in words, sometimes not. What do they mean?

In older materials, and especially archival records of government officials or early contact, the hyphens most likely represent attempts to sound out the pauses and breaths in longer words, or to ‘count’ the syllables. In newer materials like curricula, sometimes hyphens are used to separate out the parts of words. For example (km) is “my-name”, and hn-ch’m-qin-kwe’ (rb) is “place-surface-head-water”, or the Coeur d’Aleneterm for the ancient headquarters and village site, now called “Coeur d’Alene, ID”. We use this standard in teaching materials, much like you would see explanations in dictionary entries, but generally don’t break words, phrase, and explanations up in most of our documents. On the map it’s hnch’mqinkwe’.

My dialect is very different from what I see people now saying in Coeur d’Alene.

Historically the aboriginal territory of the Coeur d’Alenes was the only place in the world where the Coeur d’Alene language was spoken. The near neighbors the Spokane, Kalispel, and Flatheads spoke dialects of a different, but related language. Sometimes that language is called Kalispel(Qlispe`)(by linguists and other scholars) or Spokane or Flathead (or Montana-Bitterroot Salish), or even “Salish”. Salish is also the name of the language family, which includes twenty-three languages spoken from Montana to the coast, including Coeur d’Alene. When the Jesuits entered the region they used Kalispel for their prayers and hymns believing that, like in Europe, it was spoken over a large enough area to be understood widely. Later, Kalispel speaking Spokanes, Flatheads, Pend Oreilles, and Kalispels inter-married with Coeur d’Alenes. Ninety Spokane families relocated to the Worley and Lovell Valley areas in the 1890’s when forced out of the growing town of Spokane, WA. Those priests and individual Indian families brought their language traditions with them. They spoke a different language than Coeur d’Alene. The differences among the Coeur d’Alene-speaking families was small and there was, and is, little trouble in recognizing the differences. Sometimes the seeming ‘dialect’ differences you describe are really differences between the languages. We work to sort them out and talk about the differences between Coeur d’Alene and Kalispel.

How long will it take to learn Schitsu’umsh?

The rest of all of our lives. No, seriously, listen to the “accents” of immigrants who have lived in the United States a long time. Listen to the television interviews of baseball players born in Latin America, or NBA players from Europe, or government officials from other countries who now speak English as a second language. Listen to the translators who accompany visiting dignitaries when they visit Washington, DC and are shown on American television with the President. It takes a long time to learn a language and even longer to be good at it. The good news is in our circumstances, with very few speakers, it’s possible for many people to learn some things quickly. Students of the language can be somewhat conversational after a year of study.

I often see lim lemtsh spelled “” What’s the significance of the period in the middle of it?

There’s a ‘t’ sound in the language, a ‘ts’ sound, a ‘s’ and a ‘sh’. The combination in                      (rb) is a ‘t’ followed by a ‘sh’, not a ‘ts’ followed by a ‘h’. Therefore, Lawrence often inserted a period between the ‘t’ and ‘s’ or ‘sh’, when they were analytically separate.

How do you say it in Indian?

We often get requests for Coeur d’Alene that require us to rethink how we want to say it, so that the translation fits the request. For example…

ul ta’l q’esp ch’epł ha t’aqne’
‘A long time ago we had grain sacks’

‘They were heavy’

‘aachatmaq’wn khwa a yeryerpet
‘I used to load them onto our wagon’

ch’n twa [h]nmaq’wminn
‘;And go to the granary’

What’s the Coeur d’Alene ‘word’ for “grain”? you might ask. “How do you say, ‘I filled the grain sack,’ or ‘I took the grain to the elevator’?”
You might get more than one answer, or different answers from the people you ask. They would likely say, “It depends on the context.” More than likely, Coeur d’Alene speakers will not tell you about the thing, the grain, but about the activity. So much of the language centers on the action, or verb. To talk about who, what, when, where, how, and so forth, we often begin with the verb.
The verb p’aq’w in Coeur d’Alene means ‘to spill, or pour small things (like grain, sand, or small gravel—but not liquids).’ We refer to the verb in this form as the ‘root,’ or ‘stem.’ We make many other words and phrases by adding to it.

p’aq’w-nt-s ‘he spilled it’
hn-p’aq’w-nt-s ‘he poured it into something’
(for example, he poured grain into a partially filled sack)
chat-p’aq’w-nt-s ‘he poured it on top (of the pile)’
(e.g., he poured grain onto the back of a wagon, or a pile on the floor)
tsan-p’aq’w-nt-s ‘he poured it underneath something’
(or he spilled it under the wagon as he was loading it)
p’aq’u-q’w ‘it spilled out (of a hole in the sack)’
p’uq’u-‘lmkhw-nt-s ‘he poured it on the ground’
p’uq’u-‘lmkhw-n ‘seeder (an implement for broadcasting seeds)’
hn-p’aq’w-min-n ‘granary (literally, ‘a place to pour things in’)

Note that ‘grain’ is not part of any of these phrases. It’s not explicitly referred to, but only implied in the discussion of the activities. Note also that in the anecdote Lawrence uses hnmaq’wminn for ‘granary’, ‘a place where things lie’ (The stem is maq’w, ‘plural things lie’); apart from the anecdote, he lists a different word for ‘granary.’ That is, Lawrence uses different words for the same place, according to how he’s thinking about the activities. Nor is ‘grain’ part of the word for ‘grain sacks.’ What’s in the ‘sack’ is implied!