Klallam Language

​​​The Klallam Language is the language of the people of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.

There are different dialects in the different areas, and were so between the different villages.

The Klallam Language Program has been in effect since 1992.

The Klallam language has always been spoken on the north shore of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula from the Strait of Juan de Fuca inland into the mountains. It has also been spoken in some other areas such as Beacher Bay on the south of Vancouver Island and on some nearby smaller islands. It is one language in a large family of Native American languages called Salishan or Salish languages that have been spoken in what is now Washington, British Columbia, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.

Although Klallam is a separate language, it is very closely related to the dialects called Northern Straits: Saanich, Lummi, Samish, Songish, and Sooke. Saanich, Songish, and Sooke have been spoken on southern Vancouver Island and neighboring small islands. Lummi and Samish have been spoken near Bellinghamn on the U.S. side of the border. Most of the words in Klallam are the same or very similar to words in the Northern Straits dialects. A speaker of Lummi, for example, could learn Klallam very easily, and vice versa.

The Klallam language, itself, has several dialects. Elwha Klallam, Becher Bay Klallam, Jamestown Klallam, and Little Boston Klallam are all very, very slightly different from one another in the pronunciation and usage of some words.

Some Klallam Words

The Klallam alphabet is based on a standard set of symbols used in writing many of the Native American languages of the Northwest. Since the Klallam language has several sounds not found in European languages like English, some specific symbols must be used to represent these sounds.

The Klallam words below and the alphabet are from Dr. Timothy Montler’s www.klallam.montler.net. Dr. Montler is the University of North Texas linguistics professor who has worked with the Tribe to preserve the language through writings and recordings.

The site contains more than 2,000 Klallam words, which are accompanied by sound files so that you can hear the pronunciation. The site also contains several stories told in Klallam and interviews with Klallam speakers (Montler).

The Language and the Tribe Today

The Elwha Klallam Tribe was fortunate to have so many Elders recorded as early as 1953. Over 21 Elders were recorded between 1953 and the present by linguists. By the time Congress passed the Native American Language Act in 1990, there were only eight people who could speak the language. Determined to keep the language alive as a spoken language, the Klallam Language Program was developed by the Elwha Klallam Tribe in 1992 to document and preserve the Klallam language by recording and transcribing tapes with tribal elders who spoke the language (Pierre 2003). However, more than just preserving the language, the Tribe wanted the language to come alive again.

Jamie Valdez, who teaches Klallam at the high school, explains the importance of language:

“You have to learn your language; it’s the backbone of your culture. If you don’t learn your language, you can’t truly practice your culture. If you are just practicing without any language, you are just … touching the surface. You have to go deeper and learn the language, you have to use the language. If you want to pray and talk to your ancestors, you have to do it in the language, because that is what they speak and that is what they are going to hear–and not enough people are doing that.”

In 1999, the Klallam language began to be taught at the Port Angeles High School. Over the last 8 years over 200 students have taken two years of Klallam Language. The Klallam Language Program also offers Inter-Tribal aduly language classes, with Jamestown and Port Gamble. Linguist Timothy Montler created Klallam video games and CD-ROM language lessons (Pierre 2003).

aa siʔám̕ sʔiʔə́yxʷɬ, aa siʔám̕ sčáyəʔčəʔɬ Our important elders, our important friends and relatives,
Harmony Arakawa cə nəsna my name is Harmony Arakawa.
čʔéɬx̣ʷaʔ nəxʷsƛ̕áy̕əm cn I am Klallam from Elwha,
ŋəsáɬ tiə sčiʔánəŋ ʔaʔ či nəsʔíst this is my 4th year pulling
táči st ʔaʔ či shiyís ʔaʔ cə ʔéʔɬx̣ʷaʔ and we traveled here in the spirit of Elwha.
mán̕ st kʷaʔčə ʔuʔ šaʔš’uʔɬ ʔaʔ či stáčiɬ We are very happy to have arrived here
ʔaʔ či nəxʷq̕éy̕t. at Port Gamble
t̕íyəm caʔ st ʔiʔ q̕ʷəyéyəšɬ ʔiʔ cə sčáyəʔčəɬ. to sing and dance with our relatives.
háʔnəŋ st siʔám̕ sčáyəʔčaɬ! Thank you my friends!

More people in the Tribe today are familiar with the Klallam language, and tribal members are beginning to use Klallam once again in speeches at community events (Cultural Advisory Committee 2003). For example, the speech above was written and delivered by Harmony Arakawa at a canoe journey.​​

Visit the Klallam Language site here: https://klallamlanguage.org