How To Read The Squamish Language

How To Read The Squamish Language

Sḵwx̱wú7mesh was historically an oral language without a formal writing system. Various writing systems have been developed over the years including a shorthand writing system used by Bishop Durieu in 1880s, a North American Phonetic Alphabet-based writing system used by Aert H. Kuipers, and most recently the typewriter based writing system developed by linguist Randy Bouchard with Sḵwx̱wú7mesh speaker Louie Miranda. The most recently developed system was adopted as the official writing system by the Squamish Nation in 1990 and is used by most contemporary language speakers.

The vowels in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh are:

aas in English “fat”, “bat”

eas in English “sill”, “bill” (when between palatal sounds l, lh, x, y, s, ts, ts’, k, k’, ḵ, ḵ’) or as in English “pull” or “bull” (when between labialized sounds m, w, kw, kw’, ḵw, ḵw’, xw, xw).

iis used to represent two sounds. One as in English “antique”, “beet”, “eel”, and…

ias in English “jail”, “sail”

uas in English “no”, “go”, “crow”

Most vowels can be followed by [y] or [w] in the same syllable:

awas in English “cow”

ayrare in English, some have it in “sang”

ewas in Canadian English “about”

eyas in English “bait”

iwas in English “peewee” minus the last “ee”

iyas in English “beet”

uwas in English “ah well” minus the last “ell”


as in English “toy”

These could include glottalized versions with w̓ or y̓. This is to indicate there’s a hard stop at the end of those vowels (ex. /ayy/ versus /ay7/).

All words with multiple vowels will indicate stress on at least one vowel (like á or é or í or ú). The stress marks are needed to tell which part of the word is said louder and slightly longer. Without this, a speaker will have a foreign accent or say the wrong word.  Stress does not change the pronunciation of a vowel.

The only consonants which are pronounced like those in English are:

pas in English “pill” and “spin”

tas in English “tick” and “stand”

chas in English “church”

tsas in English “rats”

kas in English “king” and “skill”

kwas in English “inkwell” and “queen”

shas in English “shine”

sas in English “sill”

has in English “hat”

mas in English “man” and “bottom”


as in English “no” and “new”

las in English “land” and “camels”


as in English “yes” and “say”

was in English “wood” and “how”

This leaves eighteen sounds, most of which do not occur in English:

ḵmade by raising the very back of the tongue to touch the soft palate

ḵwmade just like the ḵ but with rounded lips

glottalized m which means the constant is pronounced with a harder emphasis. Imagine there being a glottal stop “7” on the consonant.

glottalized n which means the constant is pronounced with a harder emphasis. Imagine there being a glottal stop “7” on the consonant.

glottalized l which means the constant is pronounced with a harder emphasis. Imagine there being a glottal stop “7” on the consonant.

There are ten consonants written with an apostrophe: ch’, k’, kw’, p’, ḵ’, ḵw’, t’, ts’, tl’. These are popped or glottalized consonants.

7glottal stop. It is found in a few words in English like, “mutton” or “button”, or Cockney English “bottle”, or beginning each “uh” in “uh-uh” (the sound meaning “no”), or the sound beginning “earns” in “Mary earns” when pronounced differently from “Mary yearns.”

lhmade by putting your tongue in position to say an “l” but then blowing air (like an “h”) around the sides of the tongue. This sound may be heard in English after “k” sound in a few words like “clean” (klhin) or “clear” or “climb.”

There are three blown x̱ sounds. These sounds are made by raising the tongue to narrow the passage of air till you hear the friction of the air:

xwmade with the tongue raised a little further back, by the middle off the hard palate (roof of the mouth), but it also requires rounded lips. It sounds a lot like wh in some words in English but with more friction on the roof of the mouth.

xmade still further back, in fact with the back of the tongue raised close to the soft palate (where the ḵ is made). German has this sound in “ach” for example, and Scottish has it in “loch” meaning “lake.”

xwmade in the same back place as x but is also made with round lips. It is like a blown qw while x is like a blown q.


“Key to the Stó:lō Writing System for Halq’eméylem”, in Keith Thor Carlson (ed.), You Are Asked to Witness: The Stó:lō in Canada’s Pacific Coast History (Chilliwack, BC: Stó:lō Heritage Trust, 1997), v–vi.

“How To Write The Squamish Language” by Louie Miranda, Squamish Nation

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