Marking 20 years
of bold journalism,
reader supported.
Events, contests and other initiatives by The Tyee and select partners.

Hanging On to Haida: Indian Linguist Shares Tools to Save a Language

SFU course in field linguistics helps Haida words live on.

Christopher Cheung 6 May

Christopher Cheung is editorial assistant at The Tyee.

Learning a language can be hard, but it's even harder when there's almost no one left to learn it from. That was the challenge for Simon Fraser University visiting professor Anvita Abbi. She decided to teach a course on Haida, which she had no experience with before -- and almost no one to learn it from.

"When I came here, I realized there are hardly any [Haida] speakers left, except maybe two or three," she said.

Abbi came to SFU as a visiting scholar for the school's partnership with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. She's an expert on endangered languages in her home of India.

When asked to teach a course at SFU, she insisted on it being a field course. As someone with experience preserving languages, she took up the challenge of teaching students how to preserve Haida, one of B.C.'s endangered Indigenous languages.

Abbi knew it would be crucial to have a native Haida speaker around. The director of SFU's First Nations Language Centre, Marianne Ignace, found Haida elder Lawrence Bell, who assisted Abbi with the course.

Bell grew up with the language as a child and knows he's one of the last native Haida speakers in the world. However, he admits that even he has gaps in his knowledge. "All the fluent speakers are all gone!" he said.

It's a challenging reality of learning an endangered tongue. But as Abbi says, it means that everyone in her class is a young student once again.

Check out the full story at SFU's website here.  [Tyee]

This article is part of a Tyee Presents initiative. Tyee Presents is the special sponsored content section within The Tyee where we highlight contests, events and other initiatives that are either put on by us or by our select partners. The Tyee does not and cannot vouch for or endorse products advertised on The Tyee. We choose our partners carefully and consciously, to fit with The Tyee’s reputation as B.C.’s Home for News, Culture and Solutions. Learn more about Tyee Presents here.

  • Share:

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion.
*Please note The Tyee is not a forum for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, denying its existence or minimizing its risk to public health.


  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others
  • Personally attack authors or contributors
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context


The Barometer

Are You Concerned about AI?

Take this week's poll