Wakashan Languages

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Wakashan Languages


a group of Indian languages spoken on Vancouver Island and in the adjacent coastal regions of British Columbia. Represented by the Kwakiutl and Nootka languages. The Wakashan languages have a rich consonantism (glottalized, labialized, and several lateralized consonants, and so on) and long and short vowels. The derivation of word forms is accomplished both by word compounding and by a very rich system of suffixes and internal inflection. Noun suffixes indicate the location of an object (“in the house,” “in the mountains,” “in the water,” “in the hand”), possession (“my,” and so on), the presence or absence of an object in the field of view, and other properties. Verbal suffixes, in addition to marking aspectual-temporal, voice, and other distinctions, convey numerous modal meanings and, in particular, indicate the source of the information (for example, “it is said,” “as I dreamed”).

The genetic relationships of the Wakashan languages have not been studied. The hypothesis of E. Sapir on the relationship of the Wakashan languages to the Algonkian-Ritwan and Salishan language groups has not been confirmed by subsequent research. The relationship of the Wakashan languages to Eskimo-Aleut and the languages of northern Asia has also been suggested. The typological similarity with the neighboring Salish and Quileut languages is explained by the presence of linguistic contact.


Boas, F. Kwakiutl Ethnography. Chicago, 1966.
Sapir, E., and M. Swadesh. Nootka Texts, Tales and Ethnological Narratives With Grammatical Notes and Lexical Materials. Philadelphia, 1939.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.