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Sm'algya̱x for Beginners

Do you speak Sm'algya̱x, the Tsimshian Language? Do you want to learn? Like other traditional languages, Sm'algya̱x went into decline. It's never too late to learn, and like any new skill, picking up a language starts with the basics.

Why learn Sm'algya̱x?

There are many reasons to want to pick up a traditional language, including:

  • Preserving Culture: Sm'algya̱x holds the stories, traditions, and wisdom of Gitga'at ancestors. By learning it, you keep the culture alive and thriving. Language is a part of the Gitga'at community and identity. 

  • Connecting with Elders: Elders are full of knowledge. Several of them speak Sm'algya̱x fluently. Learning the language forges a deeper connection, especially when you can hear their stories and learn from their experiences firsthand.

  • Empowering Future Generations: By passing the language to younger generations, they become empowered to carry on Gitga'at traditions. Sharing language allows it to continue indefinitely.

Factors that Contributed to Language Decline

There are a few reasons why Sm'algya̱x and other traditional languages have fewer fluent speakers today:

  • Colonization: When settlers arrived, they imposed their language and culture on First Nations communities, often forbidding traditional language. 

  • Residential Schools: In residential schools, speaking a Nation's language was banned, accelerating the decline of traditional languages.

  • Urbanization and Globalization: As First Nations communities became more integrated into urban areas and global society, many people chose to speak the dominant language of their surroundings instead of their traditional language.

How to Learn Sm'algya̱x Basics

Several learning resources, such as fluent speakers, online sources, and more, are available. 

In November 2023, Gitga'at First Nation hosted an evening of learning Sm'algya̱x Basics, which a fluent speaker hosted. Stay tuned for more opportunities like this in the future.

You can also learn the basics online from YouTube tutorials. Some excellent beginner resources are Useful Phrases for Beginning Sm'algya̱x (Tsimshian language) Learners and Introduce Yourself in the Tsimshian Language - Sm'algya̱x. Both of these videos are short, and there are more in the series if you would like to expand your vocabulary.

Consistency is key when learning a new language. Set aside time each day to practice what you have learned to keep it fresh. Seek out others who speak the language and immerse yourself in it as much as possible. Practice speaking with those who are fluent to improve your pronunciation and vocabulary.

Keep the Language Going

Learning a language in decline might be challenging, but it's worth it. Keeping Sm'algya̱x alive shows respect for the past and connects you to your culture. Good luck learning, and keep at it!


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