Language of the Month: Twulshootseed

Due to the various government mandates, and several cancelled travel plans, I have taken time this summer to explore our great nation, and its even greater outdoors. From the Shenandoah Valley to the Great Smoky Mountains, there is plenty of beauty to explore without even needing a passport.

One of my many adventures has been driving the entirety of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. The evergreen trees, endless water, and snow-capped mountains that you can see from an actual rainforest are some of the sites to behold. But in between Olympic National Park you will find many tribal lands, occupied by natives who work day in and day out to preserve their heritage and inform others on a not-always studied part of our history.

One of these tribes, the Puyallup, has laid claim to the land around the Puget Sound for thousands of years, and their language, Twulshootseed, provides insight not only into the tribe but the area in which the tribe flourished.

The name Twulshootsheed is not actually the name of the language amongst many of the tribes in the area. It is actually a term coined by Thom Hess that is now the most-accepted in linguistic communities. It is also known sometimes simply as “Indian,” and also as Puget Salish, giving credit to its linguistic roots of Central Salish, an indigenous language whose influence, although beginning in the area that is now Washington State, expands as far as the Coeur D’Alene tribe in Idaho.

The language’s main feature is, what elders describe as “words from the land,” according to the Puyallup tribe. This is portrayed linguistically by how words relate with each other; for example, the word for rain is also used as the word for the sound rain makes, and the word for the Puget Sound is described as salt water.

Although Twulshootsheed is not spoken widely, it was not even counted in the 2010 US Census.  It remains an important part of Puyallup tribal heritage and gives us insight to their connection to their home and how they view the world. Although the number of speakers is small, the language is taught at the Muckleshoot Tribal College, and is also now being taught online by the Puyallup Tribe, including introductory and conversation classes. The Puyallup tribe are thinking ahead in the 21st century to help maintain the language and culture of their ancestors. 

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