PODCAST – K’yuuwee hl ‘waasda Gasdla – K’iiwaay hla daa Gaasdll Door do push open

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K’yuuwee hl ‘waasda Gasdla (Xaad kil)
K’iiwaay hla daa Gaasdll (Xaayda kil)
Door do push open

Kihlgula Gaaya Severn Cullis-Suzuki


You can listen to this article online! Haawa to the Haida Gwaii Radio Society for their partnership and expertise.
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Produced by SGaan Kwahagang James McGuire, Haida Gwaii Radio Society

Jaalen Edenshaw once told me a story about his then two-year-old daughter, Haana. They were in Skidegate beginning their drive home to Masset. As they drove through the village, Haana casually said, “Xaada, this is real good ts’ilgy.” After they passed Balance Rock she said, “now I’m eating jilts!” At two years old, she was appreciating and even enjoying the difference between the two dialects of Haida on Haida Gwaii. 

Throughout the years, I have always discussed learning Haida with Jaalen and Jaskwaan.  Our families have been working to learn the Haida language. We are all language advocates, and becoming new speakers. Long ago, Jaalen told me he wanted to learn both dialects. To me, learning both sounded crazy at the time. 

But in the past, Haida people understood and spoke several different dialects. Today our fluent Elders can understand different dialects. In fact, Haida understood and spoke entirely different languages from the mainland. In the Swanton records (and others), there are references to formalities and speeches at gatherings and potlatches being in Tsimshian to accommodate their guests. Some Haida names, stories and even Supernaturals have their origins on the mainland;  there was a lot of interaction with the nations there. Today we may live in a mostly monolingual world where we mostly only speak one language, but it was not always so. 

To help us become more proficient in Haida, we need many opportunities to interact in Haida.  This means we need to create spaces and situations where we can speak Haida and we need to maximize the number of other people we can speak Haida to. I would love to stop using English when speaking with Jaalen, Kuuyang Ben Young of Hydaburg, and other Haida language learners, regardless of dialect differences. 

Jaskwaan and I call the project K’yuuwee hl ‘waasda Gasdla (Xaad kil) or K’iiwaay hla daa Gaasdll (Xaayda kil) – Door do Push Open. Along with linguist Dr. Patricia Shaw (my PhD supervisor) we presented the beginnings of this project at the 6th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC) in March of this year. Dr. Shaw founded the First Nations Endangered Language Program at UBC, and it was great for us to have a linguistic perspective for our project. ICLDC is an academic gathering of language learners, speakers, academics and advocates, hosted by the University of Hawaii Manoa in Honolulu every two years. The Hawaiians are helping to empower other language advocates around the world by sharing what they have learned in their inspiring journey of language revitalization. 

The first thing we did was look at the sounds of each of the two dialects. In linguistics, the sounds of a language are called the phonetic inventory. Looking at the different dialects, we definitely appreciated the work that Haida language advocates have done to create a common orthography. “Orthography” means the symbols used to write language and Haida language advocates have worked hard to align the orthography in all three Haida dialects. This work greatly facilitates looking at the commonalities and differences between dialects and we are very grateful for this groundwork. We found that understanding which sounds differ in the dialects was an important first key to understanding the other dialect. To describe these sounds, an inventory chart can be helpful. Below is a consonant inventory chart that helps show what all the sounds are in the Haida language and where they come from in the mouth and throat. 

IMAGE 1. Consonant inventory of Xaayda kil Skidegate (S) and Xaad kil Massett (M) dialects. The text in green highlights sound differences: these are written using a common symbol (e.g. G and x), but sound different. Where they are in the chart shows how and where in the vocal tract the sounds are expressed. REFERENCE: Consonant Chart template from UBC course FNEL 281, “Sounds of Endangered Languages: Conservation and Revitalization”(Patricia A. Shaw, 2017).

The “G” is one of the most striking differences. In Xaayda kil it is a voiced ‘g’ sound that comes from the back of the throat by your uvula.  However, in Xaad kil it comes from even farther down the throat, in the pharynx (see below Vocal Tract image), and sounds like a stop in the flow of air, like a glottal stop.  

IMAGE 2. Parts of the Vocal Tract. Where the sounds we make to speak come from. A drawing assignment from Dr. Shaw’s phonology class I took in 2017; I drew my son Tiisaan!

Writing down vocabulary in both dialects helped us to see that words that sounded very different were actually quite similar. Initially, my Xaayda kil-attuned ear could not always catch the Xaad kil sound of G which is not voiced, so words that sounded very different, when written on paper, looked similar. For example:

In Xaad kil, the “G” is not voiced and is very subtle, so to a new ear, is hard to even hear, while in the Xaayda kil, the G is very prominent. 

Another sound variation is X.  In Xaad kil x is less pronounced than in Xaayda kil. But when they are written, they look very similar. 

Another important sound difference is in the endings of noun words. In Xaad kil the sound ‘ee’ is used, while in Xaayda kil ‘aay’ is used. When written out, the pattern emerges:  

One thing that is not clear for the Xaad kil learner is the Xaayda kil use of “ga.” Writing down the endings of words we realized that –ga in Xaayda kil corresponds to the present tense –gang in Xaad kil. In doing this work, Jaskwaan and I also identified a writing convention difference for word boundaries: Xaad kil tenses are connected suffixes, while in Xaayda kil tense suffix is separate as its own word. In creating these tables, we started to see that things that initially sounded very different are not very different at all.

Tense endings:

The last piece we looked at (in this beginning exploration!), were differences in question words.  In Xaad kil the Yes-No Question (YNQ) markers is gu, in Xaayda kil it’s gwa.  Some examples:

Lastly, here are some Wh- question words in both dialects:

All this is just a start, and we would like to keep adding to this key. We are looking at where can see distinct differences and we are looking for how they correspond to one another in patterns of difference. If you have suggestions and insights into corresponding differences between dialects, please get in touch so we can add to this list! We hope that in creating a dialect key, we can leave English behind when we talk and that our children will be able to understand, honour and enjoy each other’s dialects. 

This article is published in the 2019 Special Haida Language Edition of Haida Laas featuring Haida language speakers, learners and advocates. View or download the full edition here.



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