Coast Tsimshian language

Coast Tsimshian Language

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Coast Tsimshian language

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For the Tsimshian peoples see Tsimshian, Gitxsan, and Nisga'a


Coast Tsimshian, known by its speakers as Sm'algyax, is a Tsimshianic language spoken by the Tsimshian nation in northwestern British Columbia and southeastern Alaska. Sm'algyax means literally "real or true language."

Strictly speaking, Tsimshian is not a language indigenous to Alaska, but has been spoken there since missionary William Duncan moved to Metlakatla on Annette Island in 1887 and took some of the native Canadians with him. A few Tsimshian also live in Ketchikan.

There is much debate over which family the Tsimshianic languages belong to. Many scholars believe that they are part of the controversial Penutian language stock, which includes languages spoken throughout the Pacific Northwest and California. Though probable, the existence of a Penutian stock has yet to be definitively proven. Some linguists still maintain that the Tsimshianic family is not closely related to any North American language.

The linguist Tonya Stebbins estimated the number of speakers of Coast Tsimshian in 2001 as around 400 and in 2003 as 200 or fewer (see references below). Whichever figure is more accurate, she added in 2003 that most speakers are over 70 in age and very few are under 50. About 50 of an ethnic population of 1,300 Tshimshian in Alaska speak the language.

Phonology

Vowels

Next to transcriptions in the IPA are the conventional orthography in angle brackets.





The low back vowel can either be the...
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