The ‘Ksan historical village and museum, located in Gitxsan Territory. (Photo: MARISCA BAKKER)

Gitxsan phrase book seeks to improve medical experience for Hazelton

How do you conserve an endangered language?

Gitxsan phrase book seeks to improve medical experience for Hazelton

How do you conserve an endangered language?

The second volume of a phrase book written in the endangered Gitxsanimaax — spoken by the Gitxsan First Nation — is in its final stages.

The resource draws upon regional knowledge from local elders and seeks to improve the medical experience for Gitxsanimaax speakers living in Hazelton and the surrounding area.

Angie Combs put together the original book in 2017.

She said the idea was born, like many are, out of an question: how could Hazelton make its healthcare experience more accessible for the local Indigenous population?

Enter Combs, armed with a plan.

“It started with a few people interested in learning the language … I thought I’d start doing it,” she said.

Soon much of Combs’ spare time was spent meeting with elders and knowledge holders within the area, compiling a list of relevant phrases for health workers and working to create what would become the first draft of the book, finished in 2017.

READ MORE: Gitxsan hereditary chiefs announce support for Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

It was no easy task as Gitxsanimaax itself is an ‘endangered’ language, with around only 1000 native speakers left.

But now, two years later, Combs is almost finished the second edition.

She said her hope is that the book gives English speakers the resources they need to communicate with native Gitxsanimaax speakers.

That could be as small as knowing the Gitxsanimaax phrase for ‘how are you’ (Hindahl wila win?) or being able to ask someone, on a scale of one to 10, how much pain they are in (Gwihl ha’niigoodin ji gasgohl litsxw siipxwit lun?)

The book also lists the Gitxsanimaax terms for various parts of the body and a number of common symptoms to aid in communication between patient and clinician.

Of the two common Gitxsanimaax dialects (Eastern and Western), the book is written in the latter.

Combs said more than anything the resource was created to teach people who don’t speak Gitxsanimaax some basic phrases and help them communicate with native speakers.

“Usually they can understand English but using Gitxsanimaax it just, I don’t know, it feels good,” she said.

Phrases are spelt out and also written phonetically to help non-speakers gain a base knowledge of the language.

Combs says that a similar resource is in development for the Witset area that focuses on Witsuwitʼen, a language spoken by the Wetʼsuwetʼen.

READ MORE: View a PDF of the first phrase book here

She adds that compiling the phrase book was a challenge, but it was one she was glad to tackle.

“I enjoyed it. Hard work, but it was good.”

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