Salishan Languages

Alternate Names: Salish

The Salishan languages are a group of languages of the Pacific Northwest (the Canadian province of British Columbia and the American states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana).

They are characterised by agglutinativity and astonishing consonant clusters—for instance the Nuxálk word xłp̓x̣ʷłtłpłłskʷc̓ (IPA: [xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬːskʷʰt͡sʼ]) meaning “he had had a bunchberry plant” has 13 consonants in a row with no vowels.

The terms Salish and Salishan are used interchangeably by Salishan linguists and anthropologists. The name Salish is actually the endonym of the Flathead Nation.

The name was later extended by linguists to refer to other related languages. Many languages do not have self-designations and instead have specific names for local dialects as the local group was more important culturally than larger tribal relations.

All Salishan languages which are not extinct are endangered—some extremely so with only three or four speakers left.

Practically all Salish languages only have speakers who are over sixty years of age, and many languages only have speakers over eighty.

Salish is most commonly written using the International Phonetic Alphabet to account for the various vowels and consonants that do not exist in most modern alphabets.

The Salishan language family consists of twenty-three languages with all but two of them being concentrated together in a single large area. Below is a list of Salishan tribes, languages, dialects, and subdialects.

Neighboring groups have communicated often, to the point that it is difficult to untangle the influence each dialect and language has upon others.

A 1969 study found that “language relationships are highest and closest among the Interior Division, whereas they are most distant among the Coast Division.

The Salishan languages, principally Chehalis, contributed greatly to the vocabulary of the Chinook Jargon.

Bella Coola

1. Nuxálk (a.k.a. Bella Coola, Salmon River)

        Bella Coola

Coast Salish

A. Central Coast Salish (a.k.a. Central Salish)

2. Comox

         Comox (a.k.a. Qʼómox̣ʷs)
         Sliammon (Homalco-Klahoose-Sliammon) (a.k.a. ʔayʔaǰúθəm)

3. Halkomelem

        Island (a.k.a. Hulʼq̱ʼumiʼnumʼ, həl̕q̓əmín̓əm̓)


Downriver (a.k.a. Hunqʼumʔiʔnumʔ)


      Upriver (a.k.a. Upper Sto:lo, Halqʼəméyləm)

      Chehalis (Canada)

4. Lushootseed (a.k.a. Puget Salish, Skagit-Nisqually, Dxʷləšúcid)


             Skagit (a.k.a. Skaǰət)
             Snohomish (a.k.a. Sduhubš)


              Duwamish-Suquamish (a.k.a. Dxʷduʔabš)
              Puyallup (a.k.a. Spuyaləpubš)
              Nisqually (a.k.a. Sqʷaliʔabš)

5. Nooksack (a.k.a. Nooksack ɬə́čələsəm, ɬə́čælosəm) (†)
6. Pentlatch (a.k.a. Pənƛ̕áč) (†)
7. Sháshíshálh (a.k.a. Sechelt, Seshelt, Shashishalhem, šášíšáɬəm)
8. Sḵwxwú7mesh snichim (a.k.a. Squamish, Sqwxwu7mish,               Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, sqʷx̣ʷúʔməš)
          i. Straits Salish group (a.k.a. Straits)

9. Klallam (a.k.a. Clallam, Nəxʷsƛ̕áy̓emúcən)

     Becher Bay

10. Northern Straits (a.k.a. Straits)

           Lummi (a.k.a. Xwlemiʼchosen, xʷləmiʔčósən) (†)
           Saanich (a.k.a. SENĆOŦEN, sənčáθən, sénəčqən)
           Samish (a.k.a. Siʔneməš)
           Semiahmoo (a.k.a. Tah-tu-lo) (†)
           Sooke (a.k.a. Tʼsou-ke, c̓awk) (†)
           Songhees (a.k.a. Lək̓ʷəŋín̓əŋ) (†)

11. Twana (a.k.a. Skokomish, Sqʷuqʷúʔbəšq, Tuwáduqutšad) (†)

           Skokomish (a.k.a. Sqʷuqʷúʔbəšq)

B. Tsamosan (a.k.a. Olympic)

      i. Inland

12. Cowlitz (a.k.a. Lower Cowlitz, Sƛ̕púlmš) (†)
13. Upper Chehalis (a.k.a. Q̉ʷay̓áyiɬq̉) (†)

           Oakville Chehalis
           Tenino Chehalis

       ii. Maritime

14. Lower Chehalis (a.k.a. ɬəw̓ál̕məš) (†)


15. Quinault (a.k.a. Kʷínayɬ)


C. Tillamook

16. Tillamook (a.k.a. Hutyéyu) (†)





Interior Salish

A. Northern

       17. Shuswap (a.k.a. Secwepemctsín, səxwəpməxcín)

B. Eastern

          Shuswap Lake

C. Western

          Canim Lake
          Chu Chua
          Deadman’s Creek–Kamloops
          Fraser River

18. Stʼatʼimcets (a.k.a. Lillooet, Lilloet, St’át’imcets)

Mount Currie–Douglas

19. Thompson River Salish (a.k.a. Nlakaʼpamux, Ntlakapmuk, nɬeʔkepmxcín, Thompson River, Thompson Salish, Thompson, known in frontier times as the Hakamaugh, Klackarpun, Couteau or Knife Indians)

      Nicola Valley
      Spuzzum–Boston Bar
      Thompson Canyon

B. Southern

20. Coeur d’Alene (a.k.a. Snchitsuʼumshtsn, snčícuʔumšcn)
21. Columbian (a.k.a. Columbia, Nxaʔamxcín)

Wenatchee (a.k.a. Pesquous)

22. Colville-Okanagan (a.k.a. Okanagan, Nsilxcín, Nsíylxcən, ta nukunaqínxcən)


Quilchena & Spaxomin
Head of the Lakes


San Poil–Nespelem
Southern Okanogan

23. Spokane-Kalispel-Flathead (a.k.a. Kalispel)

Flathead (a.k.a. Séliš)
Kalispel (a.k.a. Qalispé)


Spokane (a.k.a. Npoqínišcn)

(†) Pentlatch, Nooksack, Twana, Lower Chehalis, Upper Chehalis, Cowlitz, and Tillamook are now extinct. Additionally, the Lummi, Semiahmoo, Songhees, and Sooke dialects of Northern Straits are also extinct.



Article Index:

Nooksack Place Names

The names remembered and recorded for places in the original Nooksack language, Lhéchalosem, tie the modern Nooksack Indian people to their traditional lands.

Names are known for places throughout the Nooksack territory where the language was spoken, as well as in surrounding areas which were not exclusively Nooksack.

All of these place names are covered in detail in Nooksack Place Names: Geography, Culture, and Language by Allan Richardson and Brent Galloway (UBC Press, 2011). Below is a sample of a few of special interest with brief etymologies that are given in brackets.


T’elt’álaw7 – The place where the Nooksack River splits at the head of its delta. [many arms]
Tl’eqx – California Creek. [soggy all around]
Lhelhókw’ey – Wiser Lake. [many-flying-place]
Ts’íkwemish – Bertrand Creek and village site at the mouth of Bertrand Creek.
Méqsen – Village known as “Stick Peter’s place”, Matsqui Indian Reserve #4. [nose]
Sqwehálich – Village on the south bank of the Nooksack River across from Lynden on Stickney Island, Lynden Jim’s place. [go through an opening-at back]
Lhchálos – Village at the east edge of the old part of Lynden. The name is the source of the language name Lhéchalosem.
Shóqwil – Trail crossing, fishing site with drying houses, and small prairie area on Fishtrap Creek just south of the international boundary near Northwood Road. [crossing (of water)]
Kwánech – Village located at Everson. [lots-at the bottom]
Temíxwten – Nooksack village with pit houses at Sumas, WA.  [earth-device]
Semáts Xácho7 – Sumas Lake.  [level place lake]
Nuxwsá7aq – Anderson Creek and the area at the mouth of Anderson Creek.  This place name is the source of the tribal name Nooksack.  [always-bracken fern roots]
Spálhxen – Village on Johnson Island opposite the mouth of Anderson Creek.  [prairie, meadow, open land]
Yexsáy – Smith Creek and village at the mouth of Smith Creek.  [place given as a gift]
Leme7ólh – Fishing rocks on the east bank of the Nooksack River ½ mile upriver from Deming.  [kicked (away) long ago]
Nuxw7íyem – South Fork Nooksack River and village at mouth of South Fork.  [always-clear water]
Nuxwt’íqw’em – Middle Fork Nooksack River and village located at its mouth.  [always-murky water]
Chuw7álich – North Fork Nooksack River.  [the next point]
Xwkw’ól7oxwey – Kendall Creek and village at the mouth of Kendall Creek. [always-dog salmon-place]
Kwelshán – The high open slopes of Mt. Baker.  [shooting place]
Kweq’ Smánit – Mt. Baker.  [white mountain]
Shéqsan ~ Ch’ésqen – Mt. Shuksan.  [high foot ~ golden eagle]
Ts’éq – Creek and fish camp at Acme.  [fermented salmon eggs]
xwaymaltxw – Camp at mouth of Skookum Creek on South Fork.  [slaughter-house]
Yúmechiy – Canyon in the South Fork where spring Chinook salmon were caught.  [spring salmon-place]
Kwetl’kwítl’ Smánit – Twin Sisters Mountain.  [red mountain]
Xachu7ámish – Village at the upper, southeast end of Lake Whatcom.  [lake people]
Ch’ínukw’ – Toad Lake.  [thunderbird]
Xalachiséy – Squalicum Lake.  [mark on the hand place]
Chúkwenet – Chuckanut Creek and camp located at the mouth of Chuckanut Creek.  [beach or tide goes way out]
Xwótqwem – Whatcom Creek and camp at mouth of Whatcom Creek.  [sound of water splashing or dripping fast and hard]
Nuxwkw’ól7exwem – Squalicum Creek.  [always-dog salmon-place to get]
Tl’aqatínus – Prairie and bluff at Fort Bellingham.  [long bluff]
Nuxws7áxwom – Cherry Point.  [place to always get butter clams]
Shkw’em – Camp location on Birch Bay at mouth of Terrell Creek, and Terrell Creek.  [swim]