Northwest Pacific Plateau
Geographic location: British Columbia (Canada), Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana (USA)
Number of Languages: 54
Number of Genetic Units: 12
Genetic Index: .222 (high)
Endangerment Index: 1.56 (extreme)
Research Index: low to moderate
Threat Level: severe

Note: High number of extinct genetic units. With nine extinct units found across only twelve languages, the genetic index would have been .313—a very high number.

map of the NPP hotspot


The Northwest Pacific Coast and Western Plateau is one of the most endangered hotspots. Every language in the American part of the hotspot is endangered or moribund. As you go farther north and east, the languages are more robust, but throughout British Columbia indigenous languages spoken near urban centers are threatened because speakers of indigenous languages are likely to shift to speaking English.

We will be working in this area with First Voices, a Canadian language revitalization group. This means that we can focus on the many languages in the United States that are nearly extinct. One extremely endangered language of the Northwest Coast is Siletz Dee-ni. This language spoken on the Siletz reservation in Oregon. The reservation, created in 1855, held members of 27 different bands, speaking many different languages. In order to communicate across languages, people on the Siletz reservation spoke Chinook Jargon, a pidgin based on the Chinook language. Between the use of Chinook Jargon and the increased presence of English, the number of speakers of the indigenous languages dwindled.

Languages and genetic units in this hotspot:

  1. Athabaskan
  2. Chemakuan
  3. Chinookan
  4. Germanic
  5. Haida
  6. Karuk
  7. Kutenai
  8. Sahaptian
  9. Salish
  10. Tlingit
  11. Tsimshianic
  12. Wakashan
  13. Note: High number of extinct Genetic Units. With these 10 extinct genetic units found across only 12 languages the Genetic Index would have been .375.

  1. Babine (Athabaskan)
  2. Bella Coola (Salish)
  3. Carrier (Athabaskan)
  4. Carrier, South (Athabaskan)
  5. Chilcotin (Athabaskan)
  6. Chinuk Wawa (Pidgin)
  7. Coeur d'Alene (Salish)
  8. Columbia-Wenatchi (Salish)
  9. Comox (Salish)
  10. Comox, Island (Salish)
  11. English (Germanic)
  12. Gitxsan (Tsimshianic)
  13. Haida, North (Haida)
  14. Haida, South (Haida)
  15. Haisla (Wakashan)
  16. Karuk (Karuk)
  17. Kaska (Athabaskan)
  18. Klallam (Salish)
  19. Kwakiutl (Wakashan)
  20. Halkomelem (Salish)
  21. Heiltsuk (Wakashan)
  22. Kiksht (Chinookan)
  23. Kutenai (Isolate)
  24. Lilloet (Salish)
  25. Lushootseed (Salish)
  26. Nez Perce (Sahaptian)
  27. Nisga'a (Athabaskan)
  28. Nootka (Wakashan)
  29. Okanagan-Colville (Salish)
  30. Quileute (Chemakuan)
  31. Sarsi (Athabaskan)
  32. Sekani (Athabaskan)
  33. Sechelt (Salish)
  34. Shuswap (Salish)
  35. Siletz Dee-ni (Athabaskan)
  36. Skagit (Salish)
  37. Sliammon (Salish)
  38. Snohomish (Athabaskan)
  39. South Puget Sound (Salish)
  40. Spokane-Flathead-Kalispel (Salish)
  41. Squamish (Salish)
  42. Straits (Salish)
  43. Tagish (Athabaskan)
  44. Tahltan (Athabaskan)
  45. Tenino (Sahaptian)
  46. Thompson (Salish)
  47. Tlingit (Isolate)
  48. Tolowa-Chetco (Athabaskan)
  49. Tsimshian (Tsimshianic)
  50. Tututni (Athabaskan)
  51. Umatilla (Sahaptian)
  52. Walla Walla (Sahaptian)
  53. Wasco-Wishram (Chinookan)
  54. Yakima (Sahaptian)

Extinct Genetic Units:

  • Alsea-Yakonan
  • Cayuse
  • Coosan (2 languages)
  • Kalapuyan (3 languages)
  • Klamath-Modoc
  • Molala
  • Shasta
  • Siuslaw
  • Takelma

Click here to download list of languages

Endangered languages include:

  • Kutenai (< 10 speakers, isolate, spoken in Canada and U.S.)
  • Quileute (< 10 speakers, Chemakuan, spoken in U.S.)
  • Squamish (< 20 speakers, Salish, spoken in Canada)
  • Yakima (< 10 speakers, Sahaptian, spoken in U.S.)

Revitalization efforts include:

Some features of languages include:

  • exploded consonant systems
  • extreme polysynthetic (word sentences) to mildly agglutinative verb structure
  • complex multilingual language and register (style/variety) use


  • Sgantadzih means 'he gives me an object like blueberries' in Carrier (1,500, British Columbia) while sgantaldo means 'he gives me a fluffy object' and sgatikal means 'he gives me an object like tea in a cup.'


NPP Siletz

Greg Anderson interviews Siletz speaker Bud Lane

Salmon classification

The Musqueam Halkomelem group on the left matches up precisely with the scientific genus Oncorhyncus (center). The English groups 'trout' and 'salmon' (right) break the genus up into two groups.


Anderson, Gregory D. 1999. Reduplicated numerals in Salish. International Journal of American Linguistics 65:407-448.

Barker, Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman. 1963. Klamath Texts. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Drucker, Philip. 1965. Cultures of the North Pacific Coast. Scranton, Pennsylvania: Cahlder Publishing Company.

Kentta, Robert. History of the Siletz Tribe. Online at

Thomason, Sarah. 2001. Language Contact: an Introduction. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.