Zahir on Lushootseed.

A correspondent writes: “Here are a couple of videos from a guy I’m a big fan of, Zeke Zahir, a speaker of Puget Sound Salish (Lushootseed).” The first is a thirteen-minute talk by Zahir (his father was from Afghanistan) about how he came to learn Lushootseed (xʷəlšucid) and discussions he had with Vi Hilbert (taqʷšəblu), according to Wikipedia the last speaker with a full native command of the language. The second is a half-minute exchange in Lushootseed between Zahir and a little girl about cereal; all the dialogue is transcribed and translated in captions (perfect for learning a language), and it’s a lot of fun to see “ʔəcəda! OMG!” If you enjoy it, there are others like it in the list of videos on the right.

The talk is well worth watching; I’ll quote a few bits. When he asks taqʷšəblu if it’s appropriate to pay the language he’s learning as you would pay a medicine man, she says: “We pay Lushootseed with our mind. We give it our mind. That’s how you pay the language.” Later he says, “When you listen to those stories and you work with those stories and you start translating and transcribing those stories, and learning how to tell those stories, your mind changes.” The last segment is about the much-discussed topic of the influence of language on how we see the world; he says that indeed there are words and concepts that are hard to translate, but “the ultimate is that there are actual realities, that are real as this table, that exist in one language but not in another. And that’s very powerful. Because you’re literally living then in two different worlds…. So we’re very limited when we’re monolingual. We think we know a lot, we think we know how to talk about anything, but we don’t.” I like the last sentence a lot, and of course it applies to more than just knowing languages. (Thanks, Yoram!)


  1. Trond Engen says

    I was going to ask how the first syllable of xʷəlšucid became English lu-, but then I saw the alternative name (or spelling, or grammatical form, or something) dxʷləšúcid. That’s an initial cluster I won’t blame anyone for simplifying.

  2. Best native language revivalist material I have seen in a long time. The biggest problem facing small languages in the USA is simply the lack of engaging, effective language teachers. Zeke’s methods are fantastic.Hope he spreads his energy and teaching style!

  3. Amen, and I’m really glad you liked it!

  4. It’s great to hear somebody pronounce “Puyallup” more-or-less IN Puyallup. It’s not precisely how we PHS graduates say it. Much nicer and more interesting. I think I’ll convert.

  5. Hat: I’m not sure if you aren’t linking to the Anglo version of the “exchange” because you don’t know of it, or because you don’t want to advertise the product (although the Lushootseed version does that too), but here it is. It was quite celebrated in its day. Note also that three characters are involved in both versions, not just two.

  6. Was totally unaware of it; as far as I knew, the Lushootseed version was created ex nihilo.

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