Secret Cabals in the Northwest

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For those of you who plan to be in Vancouver at the end of July (and who wouldn't want to?), the 43d International Conference on Salishan and Neighbouring Languages will be hosted by the Squamish Nation and Capilano College in North Vancouver, Friday July 25th and Saturday July 26th. Further information is available at

The conference's odd name is due to the fact that it has historically focussed on Salishan languages but is intended to include the various other languages of the greater Pacific Northwest region. Talks on Athabascan languages nominally fall within its purview but are relatively rare since we Athabascanists have our own conference.
The Dene Languages Conference meets in Cold Lake, Alberta next Friday and Saturday.


  1. Neil Dolinger said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 2:07 pm

    I felt bad that your news about the collaborative conference of Salishanists and Athabascanists (Na-Deneists?) did not attract the kind of reponse that the monolingualist in Louisiana did, so here's a comment (question) to make things right :-)

    At this point how many first- and second-language speakers are there for Salishan and Na-Dene languages?

    I had the pleasure of taking a semester course at Penn with a linguist who spent her summers in Oregon with her husband doing field research on reservations. The course was an introduction to all languages native to North America, but we ended by listening to tapes of the last native speaker of Eyak telling stories, and with a written translation in hand, attempting to identify the lexical and syntactical units. This was very similar to the Many Eyes challenge that Mark Liberman offered last month. Very different from what I ended up doing in my life, but lots of fun.

  2. Bill Poser said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 1:46 am

    I don't think I can answer this question off the cuff – I'll have to pull together some numbers. And frankly, the speaker counts you see are generally not very reliable. For Na-Dene the number of first language speakers is around 120,000. Almost all of these are speakers of Navajo, and most of the rest are speakers of Western Apache. The other languages have from 0 to maybe 2,500.

    The Salishan languages with the largest number of speakers are Shuswap, Thompson, and Okanagan, with around 350 speakers each. Most have far fewer, so the total is almost certainly under 3,000.

    I don't know of any statistics for second language speakers of these languages, but I don't think there are many. Offhand, I can think of a couple of speakers
    of Carrier who learned the fairly closely related Witsuwit'en as a second language as adults. There are probably a few more such cases, but I doubt that there are a great many. Non-native people who learn to speak a Salishan or Athabascan language with any proficiencyy are extremely rare. My guess would be that, excluding people who have learned Navajo, there are only a couple dozen or so.

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