Tsimshian (Sm’algya̲x)

Tsimshian is a Tsimshianic language spoken along the lower Skeena River in northwestern British Columbia in Canada, and at Metlakatla on Annette Island in southeastern Alaska in the USA.

The 2006 Canadian census counted 640 Tsimshian speakers, and there are thought to be 70 Tsimshian speakers in Alaska. Other sources estimate the number of Tsimshian speakers in Canada to be between 200 and 430 [Source 1, Source 2].

There are two main dialects of Tsimshian: Coastal and Southern. The former is spoken in Alaska, and the former in British Columbia. The majority of Tsimshian speakers are over 70, and few are under 50 years old.

Tsimshian is taught at the University of Alaska Southeast at Juneau.

The Tsimshian orthography used in Canada was developed in the 1960s by scholars working on Tsimshian, and related languages such as Gitksan and Nisga'a. It was substantially revised in the 1990s when textbooks for schools were being prepared. The Tsimshian Sm’algya̲x Authority currently oversees the language. A different orthography is used in Alaska, taught by the Dum Baal-dum organisation. In that orthography, the native name of the language is written Shm'algyack. This means 'real or true language'. The English name of the language is also written Zimshian.

Parts of the Book of Common Prayer were translated into Tsimshian by William Ridley and Jane Holmes Ridley and published in 1882.

Tsimshian alphabet and pronunciation

Tsimshian alphabet and pronunciation

Download an alphabet chart for Tsimshian (Excel)

Details of the Tsimshian alphabet provided by Wolfram Siegel

Sample sentences in Tsimshian

Source: Sm'algyax Living Legacy Talking Dictionary

Sample text (The Lord's Prayer)

Nagwādum gu zim lakāga n’lthōduksha na wānt. Am dum goiduksha na kingdom gunt. Shagaud-gun dum wāl halizokum nīwālda zim lakāga. Ginamlth a gum a sha gwa ām da shkabū wunēumt. Ada ma shalthīl na hadadakumi nīwālda dup wila shalthīl na hadak ga dī da gum. Ada gilau ma za dadēunt gum shpugait gun shpālt gaudit. Ada ma al dīlamaud gum a hadak gut. Awul nūngun nha wāl da da kingdom, dilth gutgiatit, dilth n’lthaumsh gut: ada dum lthā wila wāl dit. Amen.

Note: the spelling system used for this sample text is different to the alphabet above.

Source: A Zimshian Version of Portions of the Book of Common Prayer (1882)

Information about Tsimshian | Phrases | Numbers


Information about Tsimshian

Sm’algya̲x Living Legacy Talking Dictionary

Tsimshianic languages

Gitxsan, Nisga’a, Tsimshian

Languages written with the Latin alphabet

Page last modified: 26.04.21


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