Nisga'a language

Nisga’a (also Nass, Nisgha, Nisg̱a’a, Nishka, Niska, Nishga, Nisqa’a) is a Tsimshianic language of the Nisga'a people of northwestern British Columbia. Nisga'a people, however, dislike the term Tshimshianic as they feel that it gives precedence to Coast Tsimshian. Nisga’a is very closely related to Gitxsan. Indeed, many linguists regard Nisga’a and Gitksan as dialects of a single Nass–Gitksan language. The two are generally treated as distinct languages out of deference to the political separation of the two groups.

Nisg̱a’a, nisqáʔamq
Native toCanada
RegionNorthwest British Columbia (Nisg̱a’a Nation)
Ethnicity5,495 Nisga'a
Native speakers
470 (2016 census)[1]
1,500 L2 speakers[2]
  • Nass–Gitksan
    • Nisga’a
Nisg̱a’a Script (NAPA)
Language codes
ISO 639-3ncg

History and usage

Anglican missionary James Benjamin McCullagh conducted much early linguistic work in Nisga’a, preparing translations of parts of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer published in 1890, as well as a Nisga’a primer for students published in 1897. These were published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK). These items included some portions of Scripture.

Like almost all other First Nations languages of British Columbia, Nisga’a is an endangered language. As of the 2016 census, there are only 500 native speakers out of a total ethnic population of around 5,500.[4]

Revitalization efforts

In January 2012, a Nisga’a app for iPhone and iPad was released for free.[5] Recently, the app was made available for use on Android.[6] The Nisga'a app is a bilingual dictionary and phrase collection archived at the First Voices data base, resources include audio recordings, images and videos.[7]

Since 1990, the First Peoples' Heritage Language and Culture Council has been providing support to revitalize First Peoples' language, arts and cultures. A total of $20 million has been distributed to support various projects, including revitalization of Nisga'a language.[8] In 2003, First Voices website, an online language archive was created to support language documentation, language teaching, and revitalization.[9] The Nisga'a First Voices is publicly accessible. Information on the website is managed by the Wilp Wilx̱o'oskwhl Nisg̱a'a Institute. Resources include alphabets, online dictionary, phrasebook, songs, stories, and interactive online games with sounds, pictures and videos. A total of 4842 words and 1244 phrases has been archived on the Nisga'a Community Portal at First Voices.[6]

In 1993, the Wilp Wilx̱o'oskwhl Nisg̱a'a Institute (WWNI) was established to provide post-secondary education for Nisga'a community and promote language and culture revitalization. It is the Nisga'a university-college located in the Nass Valley in Gitwinksihlkw on the northwest coast of British Columbia. The WWNI is a community driven, non-profit organization that is affiliated with the University of Northern British Columbia, Northwest Community College, and Royal Roads University. It is the only place where students can earn accreditation and certification of its courses and programs in Nisga'a Studies.[10]


The phonology in Nisga'a is presented as follows[11]:


Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
central lateral plain rounded
Stop voiceless ptkqʔ
ejective kʼʷ
Affricate voiceless ts
ejective tsʼ tɬʼ
Nasal plain mn
glottalized ˀm ˀn
Fricative s ɬx χ h
Approximant plain ljw
glottalized ˀl ˀj ˀw


Five vowels are represented, both oral and long as [i, e, a, o, u] and [iː, eː, aː, oː, uː].

See also


  1. Nisga’a at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. "Nisga'a". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-03-30.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Nisga'a". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Statistics Canada: 2006 Census Archived 2013-10-16 at the Wayback Machine
  5. "FirstVoices Apps". FirstVoices. Retrieved 2012-10-04.
  6. "FirstVoices: Nisga'a Community Portal". Retrieved 2012-10-04.
  7. "Nisga'a on the App Store". App Store. Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  8. "First Peoples' Cultural Council | About us". Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  9. "FirstVoices". Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  10. "About « Welcome to WWNI – Nisga'a House of Wisdom". Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  11. Tarpent, Marie-Lucie (1989). A Grammar of the Nisgha Language.

Further reading

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