Nurturing the revival of a nearly-lost language

Author and artist Emma Noyes. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
Author and artist Emma Noyes.

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mma Noyes' first idea for BABY SPEAKS SALISH was a podcast, in which the young mother would share maybe five new words she learned each week. But a lack of technical know-how and the hectic household that comes with small children waylaid those plans.

Lucky for us, because in turning her idea into a new book, Noyes is able to explore ideas and history in a way much more compelling than would have been possible in a five-minute clip. 

Baby Speaks Salish: A Language Manual Inspired by One Family's Effort to Raise a Salish Speaker is a delightful journey for a reader whether or not they are interested in actually learning Salish alongside Noyes. Published by Spokane imprint Scablands Books and supported by a Spokane Arts grant, the project blends vocabulary lessons, enchanting illustrations from Noyes, and sections that address the potency of learning a language that the author's family had largely abandoned as a means of survival. 

"In our communities, language was physically beaten out of children," Noyes told me in a conversation about her book. "Children were removed from their families and placed in boarding schools, or attended day schools where they were shamed. They were fed a steady diet of shame around their language and their identity as Native people. And we see those detrimental effects today in both educational outcomes and health outcomes in Native communities."

The book has sections based around subjects like colors, family members, meals, seasons and clothes, and delightful illustrations alongside words and phrases like "did you pee?" and "ice cream." The Salish she uses is the Colville-Okanagan dialect, and Noyes includes the American phonetic alphabet notes she used herself while she learned the words.

Baby Speaks Salish is a beautifully rendered practical guide to words important for parent-child interactions, but it's also an interesting lens into community, a parent-child relationship and the trauma associated with language. And if you buy a copy, $2 of every sale goes to the Salish School of Spokane, a local nonprofit school working to keep Salish alive. 

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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...