I learned a new word this week: hay ch qa’ – thank you, in the Hul’qumi’num language of many Coast Salish peoples of the Pacific Northwest. A server at Vancouver’s Salmon ‘n Bannock Bistro, featuring indigenous foods, was happy to try and teach me.
Despite my Swiss-cheese memory and tongue of clay, I am trying to learn a few essential words in the languages of the people I encounter daily. Hello. Please. Thank you.
It’s not so simple in Vancouver, where Canada’s official French and English are but two of 100+ languages spoken. Worse, it’s impossible to visually match people with languages. Discretion is critical; there is always a risk of giving offence – or at least a foot-in-mouth bungle. I amused a new Cantonese-speaking acquaintance this summer by confusing her name with my misinterpretation of the word for “thank you,” xièxiè.
Recently, on the street and at events throughout Canada, first languages are spoken more and more often – a thrilling example of the long-overdue resurgence of First Nations. In Edmonton last week, a Cree artist taught me the pronunciation of ayhay (thank you) – “hai hai” to my ears.
Even as multiculturalism became a reality in Canada, First Nations tongues languished – until recently. Living here, it seems the least I can do is learn some basics. Join me?
Indigenous languages—Glossaries, dictionaries and writing resources, Government of Canada
Hul’q’umi’num’ to English Dictionary, British Columbia School District 79