Witsuwit'en Grammar: Phonetics, Grammar, Morphology.


839 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7748-1382-2
DDC 497'.2





Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan A. Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and
ethnohistorian in British Columbia.


Most books on Aboriginal grammar are large tomes. This grammar book by Sharon Hargus is no exception. This is not surprising given the scope of her subject matter, which includes phonetics, phonology, and morphology (but not syntax). There is also a separate section on historical phonology as it relates to the Proto Athapaskan language. Hargus undertook her linguistic research between 1988 and 2005 when she worked with native speakers of the Witsuwit’en dialect. All royalties from this book are going to the Kyah Wiget Education society.


Often called Babine, a derogatory term, Witsuwit’en is part of the Athapaskan language family and it is spoken in central British Columbia in several communities including Hagwilget (New Hazelton), Moricetown, Smithers, Telkwa, and Houston and places mostly along the Bulkley River, Morice River, and inland lakes. As with many native languages, Witsuwit’en is declining. Within the last 20 years, there has been an 80 percent decline in numbers of speakers.


For non-linguists there are interesting sections on loan words (nouns) which the Witsuwit’en obtained primarily from Gitksan (with whom the Witsuwit’en share a lexicon), Chinook, French, and English. The borrowings from the Gitksan, for example, primarily involve words relating to social organization and feasts and include words such as mask, transactions for feasts, secret societies, totem pole, and the name for the rear wall of the feast hall. Chinook provided the Witsuwit’en with names for chief (tyee), cat (puss), and buffalo (moos). The French, who were a dominant missionary influence in the region, show the influence of Christianity on the Witsuwit’en by the inclusion of loan words such as penance, All Soul’s day, mass, devil, priest, rosary, and sin. English contributed nouns such as baking powder, gold, rice, car, stove, and Asian person. The borrowing of these loan words from French, English, Gitksan, and Chinook sources offer fascinating areas of further research to assess the impact of contact on the Witsuwit’en.


Witsuwit’en Grammar is an important contribution for linguists, those working with the Witsuwit’en and other related language programs, and students and scholars of the Witsuwit’en.


Hargus, Sharon., “Witsuwit'en Grammar: Phonetics, Grammar, Morphology.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28099.