Lillooet language

Lillooet /ˈlɪlɛt/, known in the language itself as St̓át̓imcets / Sƛ’aƛ’imxǝc ([ˈst͡ɬʼæt͡ɬʼjəmxət͡ʃ]), is the language of the St’át’imc, a Salishan language of the Interior branch spoken in southern British Columbia, Canada, around the middle Fraser and Lillooet Rivers. The language of the Lower Lillooet people uses the name Ucwalmícwts,[4] because St’át’imcets means "the language of the people of Sat̓", i.e. the Upper Lillooet of the Fraser River.

St̓át̓imcets / Sƛ’aƛ’imxǝc
Native toCanada
RegionBritish Columbia
Ethnicity6,670 St̓át̓imc (2014, FPCC)[1]
Native speakers
Language codes
ISO 639-3lil

Lillooet is an endangered language with as few as 200 native speakers practically all of whom are over 60 years of age (Gordon 2005).

Regional varieties

St'at'imcets has two main dialects:

  • Upper St’at’imcets (AKA St’át’imcets, Fountain)
  • Lower St’at’imcets (AKA Lil'wat7úlmec, Mount Currie)

Upper St'at'imcets is spoken around Fountain, Pavilion, Lillooet, and neighboring areas. Lower St'at'imcets is spoken around Mount Currie and neighboring areas. An additional subdialect called Skookumchuck is spoken within the Lower St'at'imcets dialect area, but there is no information available in van Eijk (1981, 1997) (which are the main references for this article). A common usage used by the bands of the Lower Lillooet River below Lillooet Lake is Ucwalmicwts.

The "Clao7alcw" (Raven's Nest) language nest program at Mount Currie, home of the Lil’wat, is conducted in the Lil’wat language and was the focus of Onowa McIvor's Master's thesis.[5]

As of 2014, "the Coastal Corridor Consortium— an entity made up of board members from First Nations and educational partners to improve aboriginal access to and performance in postsecondary education and training— ... [has] developed a Lil’wat-language program."[6]



St'at'imcets has 44 consonants:

Analysis of van Eijk (1997)
Bilabial Dental Postalv.
Velar Post-
central lateral retracted
plain retracted plain labial plain labial
Stop plain p t t͡ʃ t͡ʂ k q
glottalized t͡sʼ t͡ɬʼ kʷʼ q͡χʼ q͡χʷʼ ʔ
Fricative ɬ ʃ ʂ x χ χʷ
Nasal plain m n
glottalized ˀm ˀn
Approximant plain z l j ɰ ɰʷ ʕ ʕʷ h
glottalized ˀl ˀḻ ˀj ɰʼ ɰʷʼ ʕʼ ʕʷʼ
  • Obstruents consist of the stops, affricates, and fricatives. There are 22 obstruents.
  • Sonorants consist of the nasals and approximants. There are 22 sonorants.
  • Glottalized stops are pronounced as ejective consonants. Glottalized sonorants are pronounced with creaky voice: /ˀn/ = [n̰].
  • The glottalized consonants of St'at'imcets contrast not only with plain consonants, but also with sequences of plain consonant + glottal stop, or glottalized consonant + glottal stop, in either order. This holds for both the obstruents and the sonorants: [ɰʷ][ɰʷʼ][ɰʔʷ][ɰʷʔ][ʔɰʷʼ][ɰʷʼʔ] and [k][kʼ][ʔk][kʔ][ʔkʼ][kʼʔ].
  • The dental approximants /z, zʼ/ are pronounced alternatively as interdental fricatives [ð, ð̰] or as dental fricatives [z̪, z̪̰], depending on the dialect of St'at'imcets.
  • There are four pairs of retracted and nonretracted consonants (which alternate morphophonemically). Retraction on consonants is essentially velarization, although additionally, nonretracted /t͡ʃ/ is phonetically laminal [t͡ʃ̻] whereas retracted /t͡ʃ̠/ is apical [t͡ʂ̺]. (Note also that St'at'imcets has retracted-nonretracted vowel pairs.)
    • /t͡ʃ/ - /t͡ʃ̠/
    • /ʃ/ - /ʃ̠/
    • /l/ - /ḻ/
    • /lʼ/ - /ḻʼ/
  • Among the post-velar consonants, the obstruents /q, qʷ, q͡χʼ, q͡χʷʼ, χ, χʷ/ are all post-velar (pre-uvular) [k̠, k̠ʷ, k̠͡x̠ʼ, k̠͡x̠ʷʼ, x̠, x̠ʷ] whereas the approximants [ʕ, ʕʷ, ʕʼ, ʕʷʼ] are either pharyngeal or true uvulars.


St'at'imcets has 8 vowels:

Front Central Back
retracted non-
retracted non-
High e   [e]   [ɛ] o   [o]   [ɔ]
Mid ə   [ə] ə̠   [ʌ]
Low a   [ɛ]   [a]
  • The phonetic realization of the phonemes are indicated in brackets to the right.
  • All retracted vowels are indicated by a line under the vowel. These retracted vowels alternate morphophonemically. (Note that St'at'imcets also has retracted consonants.)
  • The non-retracted vowel /a/ ranges from [ɛ~æ]. Because retracted /e̠/ and non-retracted /a/ can both pronounced [ɛ], there is often phonetic overlap.

Phonological processes

Post-velar Harmony (retraction):

  • Within roots, there is a restriction that all consonant and vowel retracted-nonretracted pairs must be of the same type. That is, a root may not contain both a retracted and a nonretracted vowel or consonant. This is a type of Retracted Tongue Root harmony (also called pharyngeal harmony) involving both vowels and consonants that is an areal feature of this region of North America, shared by other Interior Salishan and non-Salishan languages (for example see Chilcotin vowel flattening).
  • In addition to the root harmony restriction, some suffixes harmonize with the root to which they are attached. For instance, the inchoative suffix /-ɣʷélʼx/ -wil’c:
ama "good" /ʔáma/ + /-ɣʷélʼx/ /ʔamaɣʷélʼx/ [ʔɛmɛɣʷél̰x] amawíl’c  "to get better"
qvḻ "bad" /qʌḻ/ + /-ɣʷélʼx/ /qʌḻɣʷé̠ḻʼx/ [qaɫɣʷɛ́ɫ̰x] qvḻwíiḻʼc  "to get spoiled"


There are two orthographies,[7] one based on Americanist Phonetic Notation that was developed by the Mount Currie School and used by the Lillooet Council, and a modification by Bouchard that is used by the The Upper St̓át̓imc Language, Culture and Education Society.[8] The latter orthography is unusual in that /tɬʼ/ is written .

Phoneme Orthography Phoneme Orthography
/e/ i /ɛ/ ii
/o/ u /ɔ/ o
/ə/ ǝe /ʌ/ ǝ̣v
/ɛ/ a /a/ ao
/p/ p /m/ m
/pʼ/ p’ /ˀm/ m’
/t/ t /n/ n
/tɬʼ/ ƛ’ /ˀn/ n’
/tʃ/ cts /ɬ/ ɬlh
/tʃˠ/ ṯs̱ /z/ z
/tsʼ/ c’ts̓ /zʼ/ z’
/k/ k /ɣ/ ɣr
/kʷ/ kw /ɣʷ/ w
/kʼ/ k’ /ɣʼ/ ɣ’
/kʷʼ/ k’ʷk̓w /ɣʷʼ/ w’
/q/ q /ʕ/ ʕg
/qʷ/ qw /ʕʷ/ ʕʷgw
/qχʼ/ q’ /ʕʼ/ ʕ’
/qχʷʼ/ q’ʷq̓w /ʕʷʼ/ ʕ’ʷg̓w
/ʔ/ ʔ7 /h/ h
/ʃ/ s /j/ y
/ʃ̠/ /ˀj/ y’
/x/ xc /l/ l
/xʷ/ cw /ḻ/
/χ/ x /ˀl/ l’l’
/χʷ/ x̌ʷxw /ˀḻ/ ḷ’ḻ’


St'at'imcets has two main types of words:

  1. full words
    1. variable words
    2. invariable words
  2. clitics
    1. proclitics
    2. enclitics

The variable word type may be affected by many morphological processes, such as prefixation, suffixation, infixation, reduplication, and glottalization.

St’át’imcets, like the other Salishan languages, exhibits predicate/argument flexibility. All full words are able to occur in the predicate (including words with typically 'nouny' meanings such as nk’yap 'coyote', which in the predicate essentially means 'to be a coyote') and any full word is able to appear in an argument, even those that seem "verby", such as t’ak 'go along', which as a noun, is equivalent the noun phrase 'one that goes along'.[9]

Sentence T’ak tink’yápa.
Morphemes t’akti-nk’yap-a
Gloss go.alongDET-coyote-DET
Parts PredicateSubject
Translation The/a coyote goes along.
Sentence Nk’yáp tit’aka.
Morphemes nk’yapti-t’ak-a
Gloss coyoteDET-go.along-DET
Parts PredicateSubject
Translation The one going along is a coyote.


St’át’imcets, as is typical of the Salishan family, has several types of reduplication (and triplication) that have a range of functions such as expressing plural, diminutive, aspect, etc.

    Initial reduplication:
    kl’ácw 'muskrat' kl’ekl’ácw 'muskrats' Plural
    stálhlec 'standing up' státalhlec 'to keep standing up' Continuative (has s- prefix, stem: -tálhlec)
    sráp 'tree' srepráp 'trees' Collective/Plural (stem: -rap)
    snúk’wa7 'friend' snek’wnúk’wa7 'friends' Collective/Plural (stem: -núk’wa7)
    Final reduplication/triplication:
    p’líxw 'boil over' p’líxwexw 'boiling over' Ongoing Action
    p’líxw 'boil over' p’lixwixwíxw 'to keep boiling over' Continuative/Intensive
    lhésp 'rash' lhéslhsep 'rash all over' Collective/Plural (stem: lhes-) (the e before -p is epenthetic)

A more complicated type of reduplication is the internal reduplication used to express the diminutive. In this case the consonant before a stressed vowel is reduplicated after the stressed vowel and usually the vowel then changes to e (IPA: [ə]). Examples are below:

    Internal reduplication:
    naxwít 'snake' naxwéxwt 'worm' (naxwé-xw-t)
    sqáxa7 'dog' sqéqxa7 'pup' (sqé-q-xa7)
    sqláw’ 'beaver' sqlélew’ 'little beaver' (sqlé-l-ew’) (the extra e here is an epenthetic vowel)

More than one reduplicative process can occur in a given word:

  Diminutive Plural+Diminutive
    sqáxa7 'dog' sqéqxa7 'pup' sqexqéqxa7 'pups'
    s-qáxa7   s-qé-q-xa7   s-qex-qé-q-xa7  

St’át’imcets has several other variants of the above types. Reduplication is further complicated by consonant glottalization (see van Eijk (1997) for details).

Mood and modality

The subjunctive mood appears in nine distinct environments, with a range of semantic effects, including:

  • weakening an imperative to a polite request,
  • turning a question into an uncertainty statement,
  • creating an ignorance free relative.

The St’át’imcets subjunctive also differs from Indo-European subjunctives in that it is not selected by attitude verbs.

St’át’imcets has a complex system of subject and object agreement. There are different subject agreement paradigms for transitive vs. intransitive predicates. For intransitive predicates, there are three distinct subject paradigms, one of which is glossed as 'subjunctive' by van Eijk (1997) and Davis (2006)

Sample text

The following is a portion of a story in van Eijk (1981:87) told by Rosie Joseph of Mount Currie.


Nilh aylh lts7a sMáma ti húz̓a qweqwl’el’tmínan. N̓as ku7 ámlec áku7 tsípunsa. Nilh t’u7 st’áksas ti xláka7sa. Tsicw áku7, nilh t’u7 ses wa7, kwánas et7ú i sqáwtsa. Wa7 ku7 t’u7 áti7 xílem, t’ak ku7 knáti7 ti pú7y̓acwa. Nilh ku7 t’u7 skwánas, lip̓in̓ás ku7. Nilh ku7 t’u7 aylh stsuts: "Wa7 nalh aylh láti7 kapv́ta!" Nilh ku7 t’u7 aylh sklhaka7mínas ku7 láti7 ti sqáwtsa cwilhá k̓a, nao7q̓ spawts ti kwanensása...

English translation:

This time it is Máma I am going to talk about. She went that way to get some food from her roothouse. So she took along her bucket. She got there, and she stayed around, taking potatoes. She was doing that, and then a mouse ran by there. So she grabbed it, she squeezed it. So she said: "You get all squashed now!" So she opened her hand and she let go of what turned out to be a potato, it was a rotten potato that she had caught....


  1. Lillooet at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. "Census Profile, 2016 Census". Statcan. Statistics Canada. 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Lillooet". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. BCGNIS listing "Perrets Indian Reserve" - one of seven references in BCGNIS to "Ucwalmícwts"
  5. McIvor, Onowa. Language Nest Programs in BC. Early childhood immersion programs in two First Nations Communities. Practical questions answered and guidelines offered (PDF). Retrieved 2013-06-02.
  6. Wood, Stephanie (2014-01-22). "Despite limited resources, indigenous-language programs persevere in B.C." Georgia Straight, Vancouver's News & Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2014-02-27.
  7. Cable, Seth. Lexical Categories in the Salish and Wakashan Languages (PDF). Retrieved 2013-11-20.


  • Frank, Beverley, Rose Whitley, and Jan van Eijk. Nqwaluttenlhkalha English to Statimcets Dictionary. Volume One. 2002. ISBN 1-896719-18-X
  • Joseph, Marie. (1979). Cuystwí malh Ucwalmícwts: Ucwalmícwts curriculum for beginners. Mount Currie, B.C.: Ts’zil Publishing House. ISBN 0-920938-00-0.
  • Larochell, Martina; van Eijk, Jan P.; & Williams, Lorna. (1981). Cuystwí malh Ucwalmícwts: Lillooet legends and stories. Mount Currie, B.C.: Ts’zil Publishing House. ISBN 0-920938-03-5.
  • Lillooet Tribal Council. (1993). Introducing St'at'imcets (Fraser River Dialect): A primer. Lillooet, British Columbia: Lillooet Tribal Council.
  • Matthewson, Lisa, and Beverley Frank. When I was small = I wan kwikws : a grammatical analysis of St'át'imc oral narratives. First nations languages. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2005. ISBN 0-7748-1090-4
  • 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. (2003 updated version).
  • van Eijk, Jan P. (1981). Cuystwí malh Ucwalmícwts: Teach yourself Lillooet: Ucwalmícwts curriculum for advanced learners. Mount Currie, B.C.: Ts’zil Publishing House. ISBN 0-920938-02-7.
  • van Eijk, Jan P. (1985). The Lillooet language: Phonology, morphology, syntax. Amsterdam: Universiteit van Amsterdam.
  • van Eijk, Jan P. (1988). Lillooet forms for 'pretending' and 'acting like'. International Journal of Linguistics, 54, 106-110.
  • van Eijk, Jan P. (1990). Intransitivity, transitivity and control in Lillooet Salish. In H. Pinkster & I. Grenee (Eds.), Unity in diversity: Papers presented to Simon C. Dik on his 50th birthday (pp. 47–64). Dordrecht, Holland: Foris.
  • van Eijk, Jan P. (1993). CVC reduplication and infixation in Lillooet. In A. Mattina & T. Montler (Eds.), American Indian linguistics and ethnography in honor of Laurence C. Thompson (pp. 317–326). University of Montana occasional papers in linguistics (No. 10). Missoula: University of Montana.
  • van Eijk, Jan P. (1997). The Lillooet language: Phonology, morphology, syntax. Vancouver: UBC Press. ISBN 0-7748-0625-7. (Revised version of van Eijk 1985).
  • Williams, Lorna; van Eijk, Jan P.; & Turner, Gordon. (1979). Cuystwí malh Ucwalmícwts: Ucwalmícwts curriculum for intermediates. Mount Currie, B.C.: Ts’zil Publishing House. ISBN 0-920938-01-9.
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