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Secwepemctsin – Language of the Secwepemc

Secwepemc Alphabet

Secwepemctsin contains the cultural, ecological, and historical knowledge which includes: values, beliefs, rituals, songs, stories, social and political structures and spirituality of the people. The Secwepemc view all aspects of their knowledge, including language, as vitally linked to the land. This knowledge, passed down to the next generations orally, contained the teachings necessary for maintenance of Secwepemc culture and identity.

As the Secwepemc were given the land; they were also given a language. Language was given to the Secwepemc by the Creator for communication to the people and to the natural world. This communication created a reciprocal and cooperative relationship between them and the natural world which allowed the Secwepemc enabled them to survive and flourish in harsh environments. For example, the Secwepemc receive messages from the animals and birds who tell them when it is time to harvest and gather certain foods and medicines. The cricket will tell the Secwepemc when it is time to catch the salmon.

The language connects the land and the people. The language contains the mental, physical, and spiritual connectedness of the Secwepemc to the land. It protects and maintains all forms of Secwepemc knowledge, It keeps the people whole and connected to the Creator. It maintains the Secwepemc responsibility to the land. The language contains traditional ecological knowledge needed to protect biodiversity and it is used to transmit all forms of knowledge to future generations.

Secwepemctsin (language of the Secwepemc)

Secwepemctsin (language of the Secwepemc) is one of the Interior Salish languages of the large Salishan language family. Secwepemctsin sound system consists of 43 consonants and 5 vowels. Many of these sounds are not found in the English language and are difficult to learn. The present writing system for Secwepemctsin was developed by a Dutch linguist (Kuipers) approximately twenty years ago. Until that time, Secwepemctsin remained an oral language. The Kuipers system of writing Secwpemctsin is not accurate as the vowel sounds do not represent the Secwepemc sounds accurately. The international alphabet system much more accurately represents the Secwepemc sounds.

Click here to access the Secwepemc Alphabet

The Fate of Secwepemctsin

The Secwepemc language, culture, and way of life are being severely endangered and on the verge of extinction. The onslaught of colonization and forced attempts at assimilation and acculturation inflicted devastating atrocities on the Secwepemc way of life. Their lands, culture, and language were systematically attacked and destroyed. The oppressive and paternalistic efforts of the Canadian government and various churches to suppress language and culture were almost successful; however, remnants of the language and culture remain intact.

Secwepemctsin is in extreme endangerment throughout the Secwepemc Nation. In 1991, out of a total of 7,597 members in the Nation, there were 308 speakers of the language (3.9%)

Survey Done by Nathan Matthew Shuswap Nation 1999, copyright Secwepemc Cultural and Education Society

Survey Done by Nathan Matthew Shuswap Nation 1999

Band

Total Population

Fluent Speakers

Percentage

Adams Lake

636

35

5.5%

Alkali Lake

649

95

14.6%

Bonaparte

686

40

5.8%

Canim Lake

522

19

3.6%

Canoe Creek

581

12

2.0%

High Bar

59

-
-

Kamloops

925

18

1.9%

Little Shuswap

281

20

7.1%

Neskonlith

531

8

1.5%

North Thompson

553

23

4.2%

Shuswap

217

-
-

Skeetchestn

431

13

3.0%

Soda Creek

312

1

0.3%

Spallumcheen

660

-
-

Whispering Pines

108

0

0.0 %

Williams Lake

446

24

5.4 %

Total

7,597

308

3.9 %

These figures were complied in 1999, and since then many fluent Secwepemctsin speakers have passed away. All the fluent speakers are over the age of 65 years. Some of the factors which contribute to language loss include: fluent speakers do not speak the language in the home; virtually no children are being raised speaking the language in the home; and language programs in schools and in communities are not producing proficiency or fluency in the language (with the exception of Chief Atahm Immersion Program). Secwepemctsin is not spoken in the homes or the communities and so, intergenerational transmission is not taking place.

Chief Atahm School Language Programs

Language Loss

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