In the news recently was the story of the two remaining speakers of Ayapaneco, who do not talk to each other.
A little closer to home the remaining speaker of Nuchatlaht, an indigenous language of Canada, remains enthusiastic about speaking the language. Alban Michael is 84 years old and has been speaking Nuchatlaht since he was a child – it was his mother’s only language. Living in a remote part of north Vancouver Island, there is little opportunity for Mr Michael to speak his native language, although a friend from a nearby Mowachaht band has a dialect that is close enough for them to be able to converse.
Work is being done to preserve these native languages, including an immersion programme that teams an ‘apprentice’ with a fluent speaker – this seems to be getting results.
According to the article in the Victoria Times Colonist:
The roughly 30,000 aboriginal people of Vancouver Island mostly came from two linguistic families, Wakashan and Salishan, further divided into six languages (there is argument over that number, since it’s not always clear where a dialect ends and a language begins).
Some overlap in the manner of Swedish and Norwegian, while some have been described as different as Russian and Congolese.
Only a few hundred of those 30,000 natives still speak the old languages fluently. The First Peoples’ Council gave this snapshot:
- A total of 115 people are fluent in the dozen dialects (including Alban’s Nuchatlaht) of Nuu-chah-nulth on the north and west Island.
- Just a dozen speakers of Ditidaht (also known as Nitinat) remain.
- Kwak’wala, the language of the Kwakwaka’wakw, who live along the inner coast and islands north of the Comox Valley, has 148 fluent speakers.
- The Salishan languages are found from Sooke, through Victoria and Duncan and up to the Comox Valley: ? Thirty remain fluent in Comox-Sliammon.
- 278 are comfortable in the dialects of Hul’q'umi’num’, found from Cowichan Bay to Nanoose.
- About 60 speak the Sencoten language of the Saanich Peninsula. The associated tongues of T’souke, Lekwungen, Semiahmoo, which were spoken from Sooke through Victoria are listed as “sleeping.”