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Sm’algya̱x Structures - Introduction


Purpose of the Mini-Modules

This series of mini-modules is intended to assist learners who are trying to become fluent in Sm’algya̱x and to contribute to the effort to revitalize the language.  Like all languages, Sm’algya̱x is much more than a list of words.  You have more useful language skills if you know a few hundred words and can put them together and be understood than if you know all the words in the dictionary, but can't put two of them together to make a statement or ask a question.  The information in these mini-modules can help learn how to do these things. The information in here is adapted from Module 12, Visible Grammar: Ts'msyen Sm'algya̱x Grammar Resources, Twenty User-Friendly Modules on Key Ts'msyen Sm'algya̱x Structures. All of the examples and sound files are from that resource.


Every language has several layers of structure that guide the choices made in speech, and facilitate comprehension of even the most subtle meanings.  Conversations, stories and speeches are made up of different types of sentences; sentences are made of words of different categories put together in particular patterns; words are composed of smaller meaning units; and each meaningful word part is a combination of sounds that are distinctive in a particular language.


The structures of Sm’algya̱x are complex and elegant, and for fluent speakers they are like familiar landmarks that guide them as they convey information, express emotional nuances, and share the beauty of their language and their land.


For people who are struggling to acquire Sm’algya̱x as adults however, its complex and unfamiliar structures can seem more like landslides than landmarks. Imagine the feeling of being on a slippery slope with nothing to hang onto… in the dark!  Learning about language structures can help to shed a bit of light in that dark and disconcerting place, and give learners a boost in experiencing the structures of Sm'algyax as useful landmarks instead of barriers on the path.


Challenges for Learners of Sm’algya̱x

Learning Sm’algya̱x is a big challenge, partly because Sm’algya̱x is very different from English.  Here are some of the most notable differences:


The sounds and sound patterns are different:

  • Sm’algya̱x has many more distinctive sounds than English

  • some sounds are pronounced way in the back of the mouth

  • there are some "hard" ejective consonant sounds

  • there is a different pattern of long and short vowels


The categories of word parts and words is different, and these are combined and used in different ways:

  • the order of words in sentences is different from the word order of English sentences, which is Subject-Verb-Object; Sm’algya̱x sentences use the order Verb-Subject-Object)

  • the 'time words' are organized quite differently than the English past/present/future "time-line" tense system of English, and are separate words rather than endings on the verb

  • the parts of a Sm'algya̱x sentence are "glued together" by a number of different connectives, which are endings on words (waaba 'yuuta gwii - that man's house; nabiips Dzon - John's uncle; amap'asat Tammy – Tammy is pretty…).  These connectives signal what type of word will follow

  • Sm'algyax sentences show the relationship between who carries out an action (the subject) and who receives the action (the object) through a variety of nouns, pronouns and connectives, as well as word order


The "templates" for sentences can vary depending on

  • whether the verb of the sentence is intransitive (The boy is walking) or transitive (The boy fed the dog);

  • whether the subject and object of the sentence are common nouns (the man, a boy), proper nouns (John, Mary) or pronouns (I, we, you, he, she, it, they);

  • which time words and other sentence starters are used, so that the choice of which connective or which series of pronouns is used in a sentence depends on whether the action is going on right now, is about to start, or is already completed.


Despite the complexities of its structures, it is very important for learners that Sm'algyax has all these layers of structure, because that means that there are patterns that can be mastered, one after another, to build strength and competence in speakers with emerging fluency.  Given the complexity of the patterns, it is extremely valuable to be able to draw on discussions of the structures to organize learning.


What is a Grammar?

The grammar of a language – the description of its patterns and structures - is simply a formal statement of what it is that fluent speakers know.  Understanding language patterns is really important for learners and teachers, and for the community that wants to maintain and revitalize the language.  Linguists have developed a set of categories and a vocabulary to talk about the structures and patterns of human languages, and these can be very useful, but they are sometimes difficult to understand.  In these modules we have tried to limit the use of technical terms, but where necessary we have used the linguistic terms to identify grammatical concepts.  This is intended to introduce these terms to learners and to ensure that those who wish to do so can consult more technical grammars.


The Visible Grammar modules have been useful in helping learners understand how Sm'algya̱x works, but that series is lengthy, expensive, and rather difficult to access. It is our hope that this series of mini-modules will be somewhat easier to use for Ts'msyen people in their efforts to keep their language alive.


The information included in this book is the intellectual property of the Ts’msyen people and is their cultural legacy. The content is not to be reproduced without permission of the Ts’msyen Sm’algya̱x Language Authority. The authors hereby affirm that the Ts'msyen people, as represented by the Ts’msyen communities and their hereditary Chiefs and Matriarchs, have inherent cultural rights and ownership of all cultural information on the Ts'msyen contained in this series, and further claim first rights to any intellectual property arising from the cultural knowledge as derived from Ts'msyen elders and other Ts'msyen cultural specialists.


©Ts'msyen Sm’algya̱x Language Authority, 2008/2020


This project has been completed under the auspices of the Ts'msyen Sm'algyax Authority, supported by grants from the First Peoples' Heritage, Culture and Language Council, the Aboriginal Language Initiative,  a three year grant to Margaret Anderson from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (#410-2003-0237), and our participation in a 7-year Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (PI Marianne Ignace). Additional support has been provided by the Aboriginal Education Council and Aboriginal Education Department, School District 52.


This first set of mini-modules includes separate discussions of each type of intransitive sentence. Intransitive sentences are those like "The man is eating." that include a subject (here, "the man," who is the doer of the action, or experiencer of the state expressed by the verb (here, "is eating"), but no object (receiver of the action). In addition to the set of mini-modules, there is a separate set of definitions of all technical terms and a glossary of all the Sm'algya̱x words used in the examples. In addition to the practice activities in the mini-modules themselves, the examples from each pattern have been used to create flashcards at the website so that learners can use the flashcards to memorize the examples, test their knowledge and to play a matching game. A link in each mini-module connects to the corresponding set of flashcards.

Intransitive sentences with Common Nouns

Cute Dog

Nah xst'og̱a haas.



The dog slept.

Weather and Tides

Screenshot 2021-11-27 143937.jpg

is tired.

Intransitive sentences with Proper Nouns

Sunaałit Garfield.

is tired.


Sunaałit Garfield.

is tired.

Dependent sentences with Absolutive Pronouns

Sunaałit Garfield.

is tired.


Yagwa gyebnt

It is coming up for air

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