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Heiltsuk dialect

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Bella Bella
RegionNorthern Central Coast Regional District, British Columbia, Canada
EthnicityHeiltsuk people
Native speakers
95 (2016)[1]
125 L2
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ELPHailhzaqvla (Heiltsuk)
Heiltsuk is classified as Critically Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Heiltsuk /ˈhltsək/,[2] Haíłzaqvḷa, also known as Bella Bella and Haihais, is a dialect of the North Wakashan (Kwakiutlan) language Heiltsuk-Oowekyala that is spoken by the Haihai (Xai'xais) and Bella Bella First Nations peoples of the Central Coast region of the Canadian province of British Columbia, around the communities of Bella Bella and Klemtu, British Columbia. Bella Bella is the headquarters of the Heiltsuk Nation government.

Heiltsuk is spoken in the villages of Bella Bella and Klemtu, both located on coastal islands in British Columbia not far from Bella Coola and Ocean Falls. It is one of the four Northern Wakashan languages, the others being Haisla (spoken in Kitimaat), Oowekyala (in Rivers Inlet), and Kwakwala (in Alert Bay, Port Hardy, and various settlements).[3]

Heiltsuk is considered to be a dialect of Heiltsuk-Oowekyala, which, like neighbouring Haisla and Kwak'wala, are part of the Northern Wakashan language group. Heiltsuk has both conversational and ceremonial forms.[4]



The following is a chart of the consonants in Heiltsuk.

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain sibilant lateral plain labial plain labial
Plosive and
plain p ⟨b⟩ t ⟨d⟩ ts ⟨z⟩ ⟨λ⟩ k ⟨g⟩ ⟨gv⟩ q ⟨ǧ⟩ ⟨ǧv⟩ ʔ ⟨ʔ⟩
aspirated ⟨p⟩ ⟨t⟩ tsʰ ⟨c⟩ tɬʰ ⟨ƛ⟩ ⟨k⟩ kʷʰ ⟨kv⟩ ⟨q⟩ qʷʰ ⟨qv⟩
ejective ⟨p̓⟩ ⟨t̓⟩ tsʼ ⟨c̓⟩ tɬʼ ⟨ƛ́⟩ ⟨k̓⟩ kʷʼ ⟨k̓v⟩ ⟨q́⟩ qʷʼ ⟨q́v⟩
Fricative s ⟨s⟩ ɬ ⟨ɫ⟩ x ⟨x⟩ ⟨xv⟩ χ ⟨x̌⟩ χʷ ⟨x̌v⟩ h ⟨h⟩
Resonant plain m ⟨m⟩ n ⟨n⟩ l ⟨l⟩ j ⟨y⟩ w ⟨w⟩
glottalized ˀm ⟨m̓⟩ ˀn ⟨n̓⟩ ˀl ⟨l̓⟩ ˀj ⟨y̓⟩ ˀw ⟨w̓⟩

The resonants in intervocalic forms function similarly to vowels, and so will be charted below.


Heiltsuk has phonemic short, long, and glottalized vowels. There are mainly three vowel sounds in the Heiltsuk dialect /i, a, u/ which are written as ⟨i, u, a⟩,[5] although nine other sounds are heard as allophones [ɨ, ɪ, ʊ, ɛ, ə, ɔ, æ, ʌ, ɑ].[6]


Vowels and the syllabic resonants /m n l/ can take either high or low tone. High tone is written with an acute. Syllabic resonants are marked with a dot underneath (⟨ṃ ṇ ḷ⟩). Glottalized resonants may also be syllabic (⟨ṃ̓ ṇ̓ ḷ̓⟩), but do not distinguish tone.[7]

Bilabial Alveolar Lateral Palatal Velar Glottal
voiced consonantal m ⟨m⟩ n ⟨n⟩ l ⟨l⟩ j ⟨y⟩ w ⟨w⟩ h ⟨h, ħ⟩
vocalic high ḿ̩ ⟨ṃ́⟩ ń̩ ⟨ṇ́⟩ ĺ̩ ⟨ḷ́⟩ í ⟨í⟩ ú ⟨ú⟩ á ⟨á⟩
low ⟨ṃ⟩ ⟨ṇ⟩ ⟨ḷ⟩ i ⟨i⟩ u ⟨u⟩ a ⟨a⟩
glottalized consonantal ˀm ⟨m̓⟩ ˀn ⟨n̓⟩ ˀl ⟨l̓⟩ ˀj ⟨y̓⟩ ˀw ⟨w̓⟩ ʔ ⟨h̓, ʔ, ’⟩
vocalic low ˀm̩ ⟨ṃ̓⟩ ˀn̩ ⟨ṇ̓⟩ ˀl̩ ⟨ḷ̓⟩ ˀi ⟨i̓⟩ ˀu ⟨u̓⟩ ˀa ⟨a̓⟩

The velar and glottal resonants are sometimes preaspirated.[8]


  1. ^ "Census Profile, 2016 Census". Statistics Canada. Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  2. ^ William C. Sturtevant, 1978. Handbook of North American Indians: Northwest Coast
  3. ^ Rath, John C. (1981). A Practical Heiltsuk-English Dictionary with a Grammatical Introduction. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada.
  4. ^ Black, Martha (1997). Bella Bella: A Season of Heiltsuk Art. Toronto/Vancouver/Seattle: Royal Ontario Museum/Douglas & McIntyre/University of Washington Press. p. xii. ISBN 1-55054-556-6.
  5. ^ "Alphabet Chart – Ǧvu̓í/Rory Housty – Heiltsuk Language & Culture Mobilization Partnership". Retrieved 2021-07-28.
  6. ^ Rath, John C. (1974). On the Phonological Description of the Heiltsuk Language.
  7. ^ "Alphabet Chart – Ǧvu̓í/Rory Housty – Heiltsuk Language & Culture Mobilization Partnership". Retrieved 2021-07-28.
  8. ^ Rath, John (1975). The Heiltsuk Alphabet, from "A Concise English – Heiltsuk Dictionary" (PDF).


  • Boas, Franz. (1928). Bella Bella texts. Columbia University contributions to anthropology (No. 5).
  • Boas, Franz. (1932). Bella Bella tales. Memoirs of the American Folklore Society (No. 25).
  • Howe, Darin M. (2000). Oowekyala segmental phonology. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Ottawa).
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Poser, William J. (2003). The status of documentation for British Columbia native languages. Yinka Dene Language Institute Technical Report (No. 2). Vanderhoof, British Columbia: Yinka Dene Language Institute.
  • Rath, John C. (1974). On the Phonological Description of the Heiltsuk Language. Dutch Contributions to the 9th International Conference on Salish Languages.
  • Rath, John C. (1981). A practical Heiltsuk-English dictionary with a grammatical introduction. Mercury Series paper, Canadian Ethnology Service, (No. 75). Vol. i & ii. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada.
  • Windsor, Evelyn W. (1982). Oowekeeno oral traditions as told by the late chief Simon Walkus, Sr. Hilton, S.; & Rath, J. (Eds.). Mercury series (No. 84). Ottawa: National Museum of Man.

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