The Haisla language is spoken by the descendants of the Gitamaat and Kitlope bands from the Kitimat area of the northern coast of British Columbia. Haisla is one of the Wakashan tongues, related closely to Kwak’wala (previously called Kwakiutl) and Heiltsuk (Bellabella) and more distantly to the Nuuchahnulth (Nootka), Nitinat and Makah. The Wakashan Language Family is one of the six language families of the northern Northwest Coast cultural area.
Haisla names and words are written in a phonetic alphabet developed to allow the sounds of the Haisla language to be distinguished. Several different scientifically accurate alphabets have been used for writing Haisla. We use the following transcription system, based on a Haisla alphabet devised by Emmon Bach. In writing Haisla words, we use the following symbols:
- p’, t’, t’l, c’, k’, k’w, q’, and q’w are ejective or glottalized, i.e. are pronounced with an audible click or snap. Glottalized resonant consonants (‘m, ‘n, ‘l, ‘w and ‘y) are preceded by a glottal stop. The glottal stop is written as an apostrophe [ ‘ ] and pronounced as the catch in “Oh-oh!”.
- g, gw, q, qw, q’, q’w, x, and xw are articulated at the uvular position and pronounced at the back of the throat.
- Velar sounds, k, x and g are palatalized and pronounced ky, xy and gy when followed by vowels other than i.
- There is also a set of labialized (rounded) velar and uvular consonants: kw, gw, xw, qw, gw and xw, which are pronounced with the lips rounded and followed by a w-type off glide (as the sound at the beginning of the English word ‘who’).
- c = ts; lh = voiceless laterial fricative, called “barred L” (a whispered L); x = voiceless velar fricative (the friction sound of German ‘ich’ or Scottish ‘loch’). Other consonants are pronounced much as they are in English.
- The Haisla vowels are a (as in British ‘father’), e (is actually schwa, the centralized vowel pronounced as the u in ‘but’), i (as in ‘Pepsi’), u (as in ‘rule’) and o (as in ‘oh’). Note that some Haisla texts write the o-sound as ‘au’.