Friday, October 18, 2013

Chief Seattle

Q: Can you tell me what's the proper way to spell Chief Seattle's name? Some places say Seattle but others say Si'ahl.

A: There's no single correct way to spell Chief Seattle's name. His native language (Puget Sound Salish, also known as Lushootseed) was never a written language, so there is no traditional way to write Salish words-- in Chief Seattle's time, there was not even a Salish alphabet or writing system at all. English speakers just wrote them down however they happened to hear them, resulting in very inconsistent spellings. Seattle is also spelled Si'ahl, Si'aɫ, Sealth, and many other ways. It's pronounced similar to see-alth... the final consonant sound is a lateral fricative sound like the "ll" in the Welsh name "Llewellyn."

In the Duwamish tribe, where Seattle ruled as chief, the correct way to spell Chief Seattle's name in the modern orthography is Si'ahl. But in many other Lushootseed-speaking tribes, the standard spelling of the same name is Si'aɫ.

Hope that's helpful, have a good day!

Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
Lushootseed language
Salishan tribes
Native American names

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