The Sounds of Halkomelem

     Halkomelem, like other Salishan languages, has a very large inventory of sounds, half of which do not occur in English. This makes Halkomelem difficult for English speakers to learn and also presents difficults in representing Halkomelem words on the standard keyboard.


     The vowel system, containing only 6 vowels, is relatively simple: high front < i >, non-high front < e >, mid central (schwa) < u >, high back < oo >, mid back < o >, and low< a >.
* Vowels can be short or long. Long vowels are followed by a colon < V:>.
* Schwa < u > is the most commonly occurring vowel. It is pronounced as [U] between rounded consonants. In Downriver and Upriver dialects it is frequently pronounced as [I] between alveolar and palatal sounds.
* The non-high front vowel, represented here as < e >, shows a great deal of variation, dialect-to-dialect, speaker-to-speaker, and word-to-word. It is pronounced variously as [e], [E], and [ae].
* < oo > (phonetically [u]), is extremely rare, appearing in only a few borrowings from English, French, and Chinook Jargon.
* < o > is also rare.
* Vowels do not appear word-initially but may be preceded by a glottal stop < ' >. * In Island and Downriver Halkomelem, stress usually appears on the first vowel other than < i > and schwa, if there is one, otherwise on the first < i >, otherwise on the first schwa.
* In addition, some suffixes draw stress. * Upriver Halkomelem has developed a pitch-accent system.
* Due to limitations on available characters, stress is not represented here.


     The consonant system is extremely complicated. There are 36 consonants (see the chart of consonants).
* All of the obstruents (stops and fricatives) are voiceless.
* The stops (except for /tl'/) occur both plain and glottalized.
* Glottalized sounds are produced by making a glottal stop at the same time as the sound. You may hear a soft little pop accompanying these sounds.
* The dental, lateral, sibilant, and palatal stops < tth, th', tl', c, c', ch, ch' > are phonetically affricates; these are released with frication.
* Laterals include a lateral fricative < lh > and a lateral affricate < tl' >.
* Places of articulation for stops are: bilabial < p, p' >, dental < tth, th' >, alveolar < t, t', tl', c, c' >, palatal < ch, ch' >, velar < k, k' >, uvular < q, q' >, and glottal < ' >.
* Places of articulation for fricatives are: dental < th >, alveolar < s, lh >, palatal < sh >, (strongly palatalized) velar < x >, uvular < xh >, and glottal < h >.
* Velar and uvular stops and fricatives also have labialized counterparts < kw, kw', qw', qw', xw, xhw >. These are produced with rounded lips.
* Resonants are plain < m, n, l, y, w > or glottalized < m', n', l', y', w' >.
* A glottalized resonant is phonetically realized as a sequence of resonant plus glottal stop [R'] in word final position.
* When a glottalized resonant appears next to a full vowel (any vowel but schwa), it is realized as [V'R] or [R'V].
* When a glottalized resonant appears next to a schwa, it is realized as [uR'], ['Ru], or [uR'Ru].
* Halkomelem allows complex sequences of consonants.

Halkomelem Orthography

     There is no standard way of representing all dialects of the Halkomelem language. The system we use here is a compromise based on previous orthographies and limitations imposed by the World Wide Web. (See the chart on Comparing Orthographies.)
     In academic publications, linguists tend to use phonetic symbols to represent Halkomelem. The symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) are usually adapted for use for northwest languages (NW), since the IPA lacks unitary symbols for some sounds commonly occurring in this region. Three Downriver groups, Katzie, Musqueam, and Tsawwassen, also use phonetic symbols.
     Some groups have practical orthographies. For Island Halkomelem, the Cowichan Tribe have adopted one orthography, while another orthography (Island) has been adopted by the Chemainus, Nanaimo, Nanoose, and Penehalut First Nations. Upriver Halkomelem (Sto:lo) uses a different orthography.
     The orthography we have developed here avoids the use of diacritics or underlining so that it can be used on the web. Our orthography introduces one new feature, using < xh > for the uvular fricative. We have followed the Island and Cowichan practice of representing schwa as < u > (rather than as < e > in Sto:lo).
     We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that the use of this orthography may cause speakers or learners of the language. We hope that better means of representing symbols will become available for the web soon. At that time, we will try to update the site to include renditions of the Halkomelem words in local orthographies.

Halkomelem Words

     Halkomelem is a polysynthetic language. This means that many words of the language are made up of many different parts, including a root and one or more prefixes and suffixes.
     Some of the words referring to plants and animals are simply roots. For example:

q'am' (IH) 'bulb kelp'
qe:lq (UH) 'wild rose'
xewuq (DH) 'carrot'

     Most words are more complex.

* -ulhp is a suffix meaning 'plant or tree' that frequently occurs on plants. The word without this suffix refers to the product (berry, fruit, wood) or the plant. For example:

qel'q (IH) 'wild rose' qel'qulhp (IH) 'wild rose bush'
lila' (DH) 'salmonberry' lila'ulhp (DH) 'salmonberry bush'
t'ulum (UH) 'wild cherry bark' t'ulumulhp (UR) 'wild cherry tree'
xhpey' (DH) 'redcedar wood' xhpey'ulhp (DH) 'redcedar tree'
sch'i:ye (UH) 'strawberry' sch'iye:lhp (UH) 'strawberry plant'

* Some words have the suffix -ulhp, but the root to which it is attached is no longer used as an independent word. For example:

me'xwulhp (IH) 'Labrador tea bush'
qa:nlhp (DH) 'arbutus'
qwa:pulhp (UH) 'devil's club'

* Some words are actually descriptions of some feature or use of the plant or animal. We try to include literal meanings wherever possible. For example:

tuw'tuw'uluqup (IH) 'bracket fungus' means 'echo', literally 'throw the voice (-uluqup) back'
tuxhwa'culhp (IH) 'yew tree', literally 'bow tree' (yew was used to make tuxhwa' 'bow for shooting arrows')
sqw'uqwcus (IH) 'red huckleberry', literally 'beat hand' (the branches of the huckleberry were hit with the hand or sticks to knock off berries)
t'ec'ulhp (DH) 'spirea/hardhack', literally 'stretcher-stick plant' (the branches of the spirea were used to make te'c', sticks poked through salmon to stretch them out for drying or barbecuing).
q'umululp (DH) 'maple', literally 'paddle wood' (maple was used to make sq'umul 'paddle')

* Some plant names are actually phrases:

s'utl'qul tu kwasun (DH) 'puffball', literally 'dung of star'
slhewuls tu pipuha:m (UH) 'common plantain', literally 'frog's mat' (slhewul is a traditional mat woven out of cattails or tules)

* Placenames often refer to a location where a plant or animal is especially plentiful. These placenames are formed with the prefix xw- and/or the suffix -um. For example:

Qualicum (xwqw'al'uxwum) 'place of the dog salmon', from qw'al'uxw 'dog salmon' [IH]
Snake Island (xw'ulhquy'um) 'snake place', from 'ulhquy' 'snake' [IH]
Musqueam (xwmuthkwuy'um) 'place of the plant muthkwuy' [DH]
Cheam (xwchi:ya:m) 'strawberry place', from shchi:ye 'strawberry' [UH]
xwsaxwulh 'grassy place', from saxwulh 'grass' [IH]
t'equ'um 'a good place for salal berries', from t'eqe 'salal berry' [DH]

Go back to Languages