Salish language dictionary expands from 186 pages to 816

2011-01-10T07:00:00Z 2013-02-27T15:37:29Z Salish language dictionary expands from 186 pages to 816By JENNA CEDERBERG of the Missoulian
January 10, 2011 7:00 am  • 

Four thousand new doses of medicine for the Salish language arrived at the Nkwusm language immersion school in Arlee this summer.

The second edition of Nkwusm executive director Tachini Pete's Salish language translation dictionary was printed in hardback form in August and copies are now being housed in the school where students learn the Native language each day.

The book, "Selis nyo?nuntn: Medicine for the Salish Language" includes English to Salish translations in the updated, streamlined form.

A scholar of the language for 16 years, Pete knows elders are elders and won't be around forever. Around 50 fluent Salish speakers remain today, and few are under the age of 75.

"That's always been my motivation, that other people could learn, not just me. I just want to provide the best tool they can have," Pete said.

It's the first time the language has been presented in this form so completely. Pete's first edition was 186 pages long. The latest edition boasts 816 pages. It's not only filled in with a treasure trove of new words and information, but it's in a more useable form, Pete said.

The first edition wasn't intended to be a dictionary.

But as Pete's binder full of notes on Salish grew, the interest in what they said did, too.

"People started asking, ‘Can we get copies of your notes?' " said Rosie Matt, school director at Nkwusm.

Matt herself is in the process of learning Salish. She uses the dictionary as a supplemental learning tool. Having a collection of the translations in book form can help make learning less intimidating, she said.

"I use it all the time. I'm really trying to learn, but spelling is really hard for me so I use it quite a bit," Matt said.

Pete knows how words are put together, not just what is takes to change it from English to Salish. Sometimes the translations aren't that literal, Matt said.

"I wrote it partly as a translation, but also I wrote in there some of the most commonly used forms of grammar so people can begin to recognize those patterns. I don't think most people would take the time to actually study the grammar," Pete said.

As students study the book, they'll see repeated patterns that present the language in a more digestible form, Pete said.

"It also allows the elders to help jog their memory about words and how words are constructed. For the most part, the elders haven't studied the language academically," Pete said. "It's the same with English; most people wouldn't know where to start, that's the challenge."

Manipulation of the language when fluent speakers are all gone will be difficult. From that point, the new generation of speakers will only have what's written down or recorded.


Nkwusm has 28 students, serving grades preschool through eighth. Pete helped found the school, which not only offers daily education for students, but hosts adult classes as well.

An order of 4,000 books arrived at Nkwusm in August. Students and faculty helped bring the dictionaries into the school.

"The day we had all these delivered, we probably had 30 to 40 people to unload them off the truck," Matt said.

The assembly line of helpers stretched from the school's entrance to what is now a storage area. Nkwusm is located in the former Jocko Lanes bowling alley.

Boxes of books not yet sold sit under the former bowling alley's "Welcome to Jocko Lanes" sign. The book was printed at Salish Kootenai College, just like the first edition. The University of Nebraska Press is its distributor, and copies can be purchased through sites like Calls and online orders have been coming in steadily, and the school recently shipped a copy to Paris.

Other copies have been gifted to Salish-Kootenai College and the People's Center in Pablo.

The profits from the book will go to Nkwusm or to help fund later editions of the book, Pete said. Pete estimates he has more than 15,000 hours invested in the dictionary already, and emphasizes that he wants the preservation of the Salish language, first and foremost, to benefit from the dictionary.

"I want people to learn and I want people to have access to the language," Pete said.

It's not the last edition you'll see from Pete.

"Well, it looks really nice and everything, but I still have that perfectionist's view that it's not perfect," Pete said. "The day I turned over the digital copy to the publisher, I started to do the third edition."

In the six months since that day, he's added another 100 pages of content.

The $45 dictionary is available by calling Nkwusm at 726-5050 or online at


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