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History of the Language

We are the Syilx-speaking people – the original inhabitants of a vast and beautiful territory that encompasses forests, grasslands, lakes and desert.

History of Nsyilxcen
[Information provided to ONA by Jeannette Armstrong, 2009]

At contact, Salishan language speaking peoples occupied a large territory covering vast areas of the coast of BC, the straits Islands of Southern BC stretching into the interior over the Coastal, Cascade and Selkirk mountain ranges in the south central interior plateau region of BC, reaching down to cover most of Washington State, all of Northern Idaho, and parts of Northern Montana.

Linguistic study has established that the Nsyilxcen language emerged from a division of the family of languages known as Salishan. According to data collected and presented in a categorization chart of Salishan languages, an original older Salishan language is theorized to have separated into the two main divisions that over time developed into nine branches containing over twenty-five separate languages.   Kuipers categorizes Nsyilxcen as associated with the Interior Division and under the Southern Interior branch of Salishan languages.  (Kuipers viii-2)


A. Bella Coola-Nuxalk

B. North Georgia Branch

  • Comox-Sliammon
  • Pentlatch
  • Sechelt
  • South Georgia Branch
  • Squamish
  • Halkomelim (Cowichan, Musqueam, Stolo)
  • Nooksack
  • Northern Straits (Samish Sooke Sohghis Sanich, Lummi)
  • Clallamor Southern Straits
  • Puget Sound Branch
  • Lushootseed
  • Hood Canal Branch
  • Twana

C. Tsmosan – Olympic

  • Quinault
  • Lower Chehalis
  • Upper Chehalis (Sastop, Tenino, Oakville)
  • Cowlitz

D. Tillamook – Nehalem, Tillamook, Siletz

A Study of the 25 Salishan Languages shows root words common to our original first language. A dictionary of root words and suffixes which are common to all of them was put together by the linguists studying the 25 languages.  Linguist Aert Kuipers organized it into one volume, a dictionary of Proto-Salishan roots and suffixes.

Just a few examples proto-salishan root words common to all: