Halq’eméylem: Giving new life to a disappearing language

A translation contest being held at Seabird Island hopes to encourage more people in Chilliwack and beyond to speak Halq'eméylem.

An endangered local language is getting new life breathed into it.

Halq’eméylem, one of Chilliwack’s first languages, is dangerously close to becoming extinct. There are approximately 10 people, currently, speaking Halq’eméylem fluently in the Fraser Valley.

A local contest is hoping to change that.

Seabird Island, along with Abbotsford school district, is hosting the inaugural Halq’eméylem translation contest on April 24.

Nine teams, eight participants each, will be trying their tongues at Halq’eméylem.

That’s 72 total participants.

It’s a start, said Dianna Kay, language curriculum developer at Seabird Island Community School.

“The biggest issue we have right now is that not enough people are speaking our language,” said Kay. “And the risk of not speaking it is if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

“We want to give our language breath, bring new energy to it, give it validity in today’s culture.”

The contest will have three divisions ranging in word difficulty with both youth and adults teams.

Teams were given a list of 50 words to study including kwá:y, th’a:le, and s’élíyá meaning blue jay, heart, dream.

They’ll be judged on fluency and pronunciation.

If they show hesitation, or have more of an English tongue to their pronunciation, points will be docked.

The contest is more a celebration of language than a competition.

“If they learn 50 words this year, then next year they’ll have another 50 words, and in three years, they’ll have 150 words,” said Kay.

“The more conversation, the more dialog around Halq’eméylem, the more ability we’ll have in saving it.”

The contest is being held in the community school gymnasium at Seabird Island from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Registration is closed.

kbartel@theprogress.com

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