Saanich dialect

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Native to Canada, United States
Region British Columbia, Washington
Native speakers
ca. 5 (2014)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog saan1246[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Saanich (also Sənčaθən, written as SENĆOŦEN in Saanich orthography) is the language of the First Nations Saanich people. Saanich is a member of a dialect continuum called Northern Straits which is a Coast Salishan language. North Straits varieties are closely related to the Klallam language.

Language revitalization efforts

"The W̱SÁNEĆ School Board, together with the FirstVoices program for revitalizing Aboriginal languages, is working to teach a new generation to speak SENĆOŦEN" at the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School.[3][4]

SENĆOŦEN texting, mobile app and portal

A Saanich texting app was released in 2012.[5] A SENĆOŦEN iPhone app was released in October 2011.[6] An online dictionary, phrasebook, and language learning portal is available at the First Voices SENĆOŦEN Community Portal.[7]



Saanich has no rounded vowels in native vocabulary. As in many languages, vowels are strongly affected by post-velar consonants.

  Front Central Back
High i   (u)
Mid e ə  
Low     ɑ

The rounded close high back vowel /u/ is found only in loanwords, such as CEPU (/kəˈpu/) "coat", from French.

/i/ is [ɪ] adjacent to a post-velar or labio-postvelar consonant, or preceding /ʔ/.

/e/ is [e̽]—rarely as low as [ɛ]—adjacent to a post-velar or labio-postvelar consonant or preceding /ʔ/. It is closer—almost [i]—next to a lateral, post-alveolar, or /w/.

/ɑ/ is [ɐ] before /j/. It is also affected[clarification needed] by post-velars and /ʔ/.

/ə/ is generally mid central, but becomes [ɑ̽] adjacent to a postvelar or labio-postvelar, or a laryngeal obstruent, and especially between two such consonants, whether or not it is stressed. When unstressed, it is a close central [ɨ] following post-alveolars and before sonorants (including /ŋ/), and it is central rounded [ʉ] before the labialized obstruents.


The following table includes all the sounds found in the North Straits dialects. No one dialect includes them all. Plosives are not aspirated, but are not voiced either. Ejectives have weak glottalization.

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Prevelar Post-velar Glottal
central lateral plain rounded plain rounded
Stop plain p t (k̟) k̟ʷ k̠ʷ ʔ
glottalized k̟ʷʼ k̠ʼ k̠ʷʼ
Affricate plain ts
glottalized ts̪ʼ tsʼ tɬʼ tʃʼ
Fricative s ɬ ʃ x̟ʷ x̠ʷ h
Nasal plain m n ŋ̠
glottalized (mʼ) (nʼ) (ŋ̠ʼ)
Approximant plain l j w
glottalized (lʼ) (jʼ) (wʼ)

The unrounded prevelar stop /k̟/ is found only in loanwords, as in CEPU (/k̟əˈpu/) above.

The dentals are often written ⟨θ⟩, ⟨tθʼ⟩, but this is inaccurate, as they are laminal sibilants, [s̻, ts̻], and are only rarely interdental. The alveolars /s, ts, tsʼ/, on the other hand, are apical, as are all alveolars, including the laterals. The post-velars are often written ⟨q⟩, ⟨χ⟩, etc., but are not actually uvular.

The phonemic status of the glottalized sonorants /mˀ nˀ ŋ̠ˀ lˀ jˀ wˀ/ is not agreed upon. Some linguists analyse them as unit phonemes, others as sequences of a plain sonorant and a glottal stop /ʔ/. They do not occur in word-initial position. They tend to [ʔC] following a stressed vowel, [Cʔ] preceding a stressed vowel, and creaky voiced sonorants elsewhere.


Saanich stress is phonemic. Each full word has one stressed syllable, either in the root or in a suffix, the position of which is lexically determined. "Secondary stress" is sometimes described, but this is merely a way of distinguishing lexical schwas (with "secondary stress", like all other vowels in a word) from epenthetic schwas ("unstressed").

Writing system

The Saanich orthography was created by Dave Elliott in 1978. It uses only uppercase letters, with one exception: the letter s, which marks the third person possessive suffix.

/e/ /ej/ /pʼ/ /k̟/ /t͡ʃ/ /k̟ʷ/ /tʼ/ /ə/ /h/
I Í J K // L Ƚ M
/i/ /ǝj/, /ɑj/ /t͡ʃʼ/ /k̠ʼ/ /k̠ʷʼ/ /k̠/ /k̠ʷ/ /l/, /lʼ/ /ɬ/ /m/, /mʼ/
/n/, /nʼ/ /ŋ/, /ŋʼ/ /ɑ/ /p/ /kʷʼ/ /s/ /ʃ/ /t/ /t͡s̪ʼ/ /tɬʼ/
Ŧ U W X Y Z s
/s̪/ /ǝw/, /u/ /w/ /xʷ/ /x̠/ /x̠ʷ/ /j/, /jʼ/ (?) -/s/

The glottal stop /ʔ/ is not always indicated, but may be written with a comma: ,.

Plain and glottalized resonants are not distinguished.

The vowel /e/ is usually written Á, unless it occurs next to a post-velar consonant (/k̠ k̠ʷ k̠ʼ k̠ʷʼ x̠ x̠ʷ ŋ̠ ŋ̠ʷ/), where it is written A.



In Saanich, metathesis is used as a grammatical device to indicate "actual" aspect. The actual aspect is most often translated into English as a be …-ing progressive. The actual aspect is derived from the "nonactual" verb form by a CV → VC metathesis process (i.e. consonant metathesizes with vowel).

     T̵X̲ÉT 'shove' (nonactual) T̵ÉX̲T 'shoving' (actual)
     ṮPÉX̲ 'scatter' (nonactual) ṮÉPX̲ 'scattering' (actual)
     ȾȽÉQ 'pinch' (nonactual) ȾÉȽQ 'pinching' (actual)


  1. There were 6 speakers of North Straits Salish in 8 of the 10 communities in 2014,[1] and 3 speakers of the only other surviving dialect in 2011.[2]
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Saanich". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Daily Fact #9: There are over 50 First Nations languages in Canada". Miss Teen Southern British Columbia. Retrieved 2013-06-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School". Retrieved 17 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Renee Lewis (2012-08-02). "Indigenous tap new app to save old languages". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 2012-08-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "FirstVoices Apps". FirstVoices. Retrieved 2012-10-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "FirstVoices: SENĆOŦEN Community Portal". Retrieved 2012-10-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Bill, Adriane; Cayou, Roxanne; & Jim, Jacquelin. (2003). NEȾE NEḰȺ SḴELÁLṈEW̲ [One Green Tree]. Victoria, B.C.: First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation & ȽÁU,WELṈEW̲ Tribal School. ISBN 1-4120-0626-0.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Montler, Timothy. (1986). An Outline of the Morphology and Phonology of Saanich, North Straits Salish. Occasional Papers in Linguistics (No. 4). Missoula, MT: University of Montana Linguistics Laboratory. (Web version of the author's PhD dissertation, University of Hawaii).
  • Montler, Timothy. (1996). Languages and Dialects in Straits Salishan. Proceedings of the International Conference on Salish and Neighboring Languages, 31, 249-256.
  • Montler, Timothy. (1999). Language and Dialect Variation in Straits Salishan. Anthropological Linguistics, 41 (4), 462-502.
  • Thompson, Laurence; Thompson, M. Terry; & Efrat, Barbara. (1974). Some Phonological Developments in Straits Salish. International Journal of American Linguistics, 40, 182-196.
  • YELḰÁTȾE [Claxton, Earl, Sr.]; & STOLȻEȽ [Elliot, John, Sr.]. (1994). Reef Net Technology of the Saltwater People. Brentwood Bay, B.C.: Saanich Indian School Board.

External links