Journal of Language Research

Journal of Language Research

Journal of Language Research

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Whispered Words in Bella Coola: Fact vs Fiction

1Independent researcher


A few assertions made by Gloria Mellesmoen (2021) in an Optimality Theory-based article on obstruent clustering in Bella Coola (Nuχalk) are disputed. At issue are: (i) failure to cite all-stop and all-fricative words; (ii) exclusion of stops as potential nuclei and ambiguous views on the status of affricates; (iii) absence of a procedure to determine nuclearity of fricatives in certain environments. It is also shown that (iv) obstruent clustering is an areal trait shared with Rivers Inlet (Oowekyala). Agreeing with Newman (1947), I maintain that Bella Coola is non-syllabic.

Author Contributions
Received 26 Feb 2024; Accepted 03 May 2024; Published 16 May 2024;

Academic Editor: Hossein Salarian, University of Tehran, Iran

Checked for plagiarism: Yes

Review by: Single-blind

Copyright ©  2024 Hank Nater

Creative Commons License     This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Competing interests

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Hank Nater (2024) Whispered Words in Bella Coola: Fact vs Fiction. Journal of Language Research - 1(2):1-12.

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DOI 10.14302/issn.2998-4122.jlr-24-4992


The oldest written record of the Bella Coola (Nuχalk) language was created in late July 1793, when Alexander Mackenzie logged twenty-two native words 19 while exploring the Bella Coola valley 14. Mackenzie was, of course, familiar with /χ/ in most instances, but he had a difficult time with other obstruents and consonant clusters, inserting vowels where none actually existed (in “syllables” underlined by me), e.g. <Zimilk> = sk ‘fish’, <Kietis> = χic ‘axe’, <Clougus> = qluq’s ‘eye’, <Dichts> = t’χts ‘(it is a) stone’ (Nater, 2020, p. 187). Over a century later, Franz Boas, who had earlier cited <t’χt> = t’χt ‘stone’ and <χ́ q > = łkʷ ‘big’ 4, submitted a paper on voiceless words. But “common sense” still prevailed:

This language was the subject of a paper by Boas half a century ago, which is said to have been rejected by the editor of a German philologic journal on the grounds that, as “everyone knows,” it is impossible to have words without vowels.


Post-Boas, Bella Coola obstruent clusters and all-obstruent words continued to challenge scholars: 20, 7, 1, 2, 6, to name a few. A more recent approach is adopted by 15, who adheres to a “Good Enough Nucleus Hypothesis” (hereafter GENH) while deliberating nuclear potential for Bella Coola fricatives:

Every word has at least one syllable, and in words with a single syllable, anything equal or greater in sonority to a fricative may be in the nuclear position.


However, in regards to syllabication, this statement does no justice to voiceless words that contain, or consist of, two or more consecutive fricatives. Also, the mandate that stops cannot be nuclear 15 conflicts with the presence of numerous all-stop words and roots, and violates the rule whereby “everyword has at least one syllable”.

In this paper, then, I aim to prove that it is not always feasible to bring unusual linguistic traits in line with currently acceptable theories on alleged linguistic universals. First, the Bella Coola phoneme inventory (and a phantom schwa) are dealt with, and two-member voiceless clusters are identified and categorized. Next, I present lists of voiceless stems and roots, and point out the basic flaws of GENH. I then show that presence of long obstruent clusters is shared with Oowekyala (although these languages differ substantially on the phonotactic level). I conclude that Bella Coola is essentially non-syllabic. Topics are treated sectionally in the following order: (2) phonemes and phonotactics; (3) supporting data; (4) area and diachrony; (5) conclusions.

Phonemes and phonotactics

The phonemes of Bella Coola are as shown in Table 1 below. Per centum distribution of phonemes across the entire morpheme inventory 16 is indicated in parentheses. Note, in particular, the high numbers for /s, ł, i, u, a/ vs the very low frequency of /h/, and the prevalence of fricatives and sonorants over stops (plosives). Aspiration of /p/ and /t/, and affrication of all back plain stops, in non-prevocalic environments are treated in Nater (1984, p. 4). Note that /p’, t’, q’, etc./ = /p̓, t̓, q̓, etc./; /kʷ’, qʷ’/ = /k̓ʷ, q̓ʷ/; #’R = #ʔR (where # = continuant or morpheme boundary, R = sonorant); /ł/ = /ɬ/; /χ/ = /x̌/; /χʷ/ = /x̌ʷ/.

Table 1. Bella Coola phoneme inventory
      o b s t r u e n t s o n o r a n t
      p l o s i v e fricative consonantal vocalic
      plain ejective
  f r o n t labial /p/ (2.68) /p’/ (0.56)   /m/ (3.18) /m̩/ (1.81)
  dental /t/ (4.75) /t’/ (1.04)   /n/ (3.99) /n̩/ (0.92)
  alveolar /c/ (3.01) /c’/ (1.78) /s/ (8.13)
  lateral   /ƛ’/ (0.95) /ł/ (4.75) /l/ (3.97) /l̩/ (0.85)
  b a c k palatal /k/ (2.39) /k’/ (1.48) /x/ (1.65) /y/ (2.45) /i/ (8.12)
  uvular /q/ (1.61) /q’/ (1.38) /χ/ (2.58)    
  velar rounded /kʷ/ (1.67) /kʷ’/ (0.86) /xʷ/ (1.17) /w/ (1.86) /u/ (6.49)
  uvular rounded /qʷ/ (1.24) /qʷ’/ (1.02) /χʷ/ (1.44)
  l a r y n g a l /’/ ʔ (4.20)   /h/ ɦ (0.16) /a/ (15.84)

Mellesmoen’s addition of /ə/ (p. 228) is baseless, because schwa is not phonemically distinctive: it appears (1) predictably in sonorant clusters and XN̩X, (2) marginally in PNV, and (3) never in SNV 16. Thus, we note that /ə/ is in the boxed PNV portion of </pk̓əmk̓əmi/ ‘mosquito (dim)’> not just quite reduced (p. 233, fn. 7), but unsurprisingly absent: one hears (…c’ʔ͡me̝) (not *(…c’ɪ̆me̝)), where glottal release coincides with onset (lip closure) of (m). Figure 1

Figure 1.Spectrogram of pk’m̩k’mi phc’ɪmc’ʔ͡me̝ ‘small mosquito’ (FirstVoices, Audiotonic)
 Spectrogram of pk’m̩k’mi phc’ɪmc’ʔ͡me̝ ‘small mosquito’ (FirstVoices, Audiotonic)

In order to give the reader an idea of the settings in which voiceless clusters exist, I list two-member clusters in charts based on 16. Coding and patterns are: (a) cells that would have accommodated avoided clusters are greyed out; (b) unpredictable absence is marked as ____; (c) exceptional (hypothetically avoided) sequences are boxed; (d) clusters found only in words containing one or more vocalic sonorants are preceded by an asterisk; Table 2

(e) {homorganic front stops} and {plain front stop + ejective front stop} clusters are avoided:

Table 2. Front+front voiceless clusters
  –p –p’ –t –t’ –c –c’ –s –ƛ’ –ł
p–     pt   *pc   ps  
p’–     *p’t   p’c   p’s   p’ł
t– tp       tc   *ts  
t’– *t’p       t’c   t’s   ____
c– cp   ct       cs  
c’– c’p   *c’t       c’s   c’ł
s– *sp sp’ st *st’ sc sc’ *ss sƛ’
ƛ’– ƛ’p   *ƛ’t   ____   *ƛ’s   ƛ’ł
ł– łp łp’ łt łt’ *łc łc’ ____ ____ łł

(f) {plain back stop, /x/, /χʷ/ + ejective front stop} clusters, except {/q/ + ejective front stop} and boxed clusters, are avoided: Table 3

Table 3. Back+front voiceless clusters
  –p –p’ –t –t’ –c –c’ –s –ƛ’ –ł
k– kp   kt   *kc   ks *kƛ’
k’– *k’p   *k’t   k’c   k’s   k’ł
x– xp   *xt   *xc *xc’ xs  
q– qp *qp’ *qt qt’ qc qc’ *qs qƛ’
q’– q’p   *q’t   *q’c   q’s   q’ł
χ– χp χp’ χt *χt’ χc *χc’ χs χƛ’ χł
kʷp   *kʷt   *kʷc kʷc’ kʷs kʷƛ’ kʷł
’– kʷ’p   *kʷ’t   ____   kʷ’s   kʷ’ł
xʷp xʷp’ *xʷt xʷt’ xʷc xʷc’ *xʷs xʷƛ’ *xʷł
____   qʷt   *qʷc   qʷs   qʷł
’– qʷ’p   ____   ____   qʷ’s   qʷ’ł
χʷ ____   χʷt   *χʷc   χʷs   χʷł

(g) {/p’/ + back obstruent} clusters except /p’x/ and /p’χʷ/ are avoided: Table 4

Table 4. Front+back voiceless clusters
  –k –k’ –x –q –q’ –χ χʷ
p– *pk *pk’ px *pq *pq’ *pχ *pkʷ ____ *pxʷ ____ pqʷ’ ____
p’–     p’x                 p’χʷ
t– *tk tk’ tx *tq tq’ tkʷ tkʷ’ txʷ tqʷ tqʷ’ *tχʷ
t’– *t’k   ____ t’q   t’χ t’kʷ   t’xʷ *t’qʷ   *t’χʷ
c– *ck ck’ *cx cq cq’ ckʷ *ckʷ’ cxʷ cqʷ ____ *cχʷ
c’– c’k   *c’x c’q   c’χ *c’kʷ   *c’xʷ *c’qʷ   c’χʷ
s– sk sk’ sx sq sq’ skʷ skʷ’ sxʷ sqʷ sqʷ’ *sχʷ
ƛ’– *ƛ’k   ____ ƛ’q   ƛ’χ ƛ’kʷ   ƛ’xʷ ____   *ƛ’χʷ
ł– *łk łk’ łc łq łq’ łχ łkʷ łkʷ’ łxʷ *łqʷ łqʷ’ łχʷ

(h) back+back obstruent clusters except xkʷ, χkʷ, kʷ’qʷ are homorganic, while {/xʷ/, /χʷ/ + back obstruent} and {/x/ + back obstruent except /kʷ’/} clusters are avoided: Table 5

Table 5. Back+back voiceless clusters
  –x –q –q’ –χ χʷ
k– kx                
k’– k’x                
x–           *xkʷ’      
q–       *qχ          
q’–       q’χ          
χ–   *χq *χq’ *χχ *χkʷ     *χqʷ *χχʷ
’–             kʷ’xʷ *kʷ’qʷ  
’–                 qʷ’χʷ

Supporting data

Data presented in 3.1-3 appear in a practical orthography in Nater (1990), where ts = /c/, ts’ = /c’/, lh = /ł/, tl = /ƛ’/, c = /x/, cw = /xʷ/, x = /χ/, xw = /χʷ/, 7 = /’/. Throughout 3.1-3, tr. = transitive verb.

Words and roots containing stops only

The data displayed further below contradict Mellesmoen’s claim that there is only one all-stop root, viz √tp ‘spotted’ (which she, relying on 2021 FirstVoices data rather than 17, cites as a free form). Mellesmoen briefly ponders affricates as potential nuclei (p. 230), but then imposes a restriction: “For a narrower scope …”. Regardless, she does not abide by this restriction, having already decided that tp is the one and only all-stop word (Table 1 and comments thereafter). It is Mellesmoen’s foregone conclusion that affricates (which she does not consider stops) are indeed potential nuclei, as implied by “Have a Fricative or an Affricate” in her Table 1. I quote:

Table 1. Count of obstruent-only words on FirstVoices
Do Not Meet Criteria   1455
Meet the Criteria Have a Fricative or an Affricate 45
  Only Stops 1
  Other 5

From a total of 1506 words on FirstVoices, there were only a total of 51 words that fit the definition of an obstruent-only word. The break down is shown in Table 1.

(…) This leaves a single obstruent-only word that is comprised only of stops (tp ‘spotted’). (…) While virtually every word in Bella Coola has at least one (+continuant) segment, and fricatives [sic] may be naturally paired with fricatives, rather than stops, this involves larger questions pertaining to the nature of affricates that are beyond the scope of the present paper. For a narrower scope and due to a small number of obstruent-only words without fricatives, this paper focuses on fricatives as potential nuclei and leaves the investigation of affricates for future study. […] The distributional patterns described in Section 2.2 show that Bella Coola allows fricatives, but not stops, in a nuclear position.


1P = any stop but /c/, N = front sonorant, S = /c/ or fricative, V = vocalic R, X = obstruent or word boundary.

Below, entries that contain none of the affricates /c/, /c’/, /ƛ’/ are rendered in boldface.

(1) ckʷ ‘heavy’ (2) cp (tr.) ‘wipe’
(3) cq (tr.) ‘pierce’ (4) cq’ (tr.) ‘grab, pull, tear’
(5) cqʷ (tr.) ‘start on something’ (6) c’k (tr.) ‘fix, prepare’
(7) c’kt ‘arrive’ (8) c’p ‘stuck, blocked’
(9) kp ‘each, all, every’ (10) k’c (tr.) ‘chop, cut with axe’
(11) kʷƛ’ (tr.) ‘put in place’ (12) kʷ’p ‘straight, right’
(13) kʷ’pt ‘become waterlogged’ (14) ƛ’kʷ (tr.) ‘gather (tiny objects)’
(15) √ƛ’q ‘protrude’ (16) p’c (tr.) ‘hold underwater’
(17) qc (tr.) ‘pass on, transmit’ (18) qƛ’ ‘trip, stumble’
(19) √q’p ‘dull’ (20) qʷt ‘crooked’
(21) qʷ’p ‘bare, empty’ (22a) √tp (tr.) ‘spread, stretch’
(22b) √tp ‘spotted’ (23) tk’ ‘sticky’
(24) tkʷ ‘dirty’ (25) tkʷ’ (tr.) ‘dig up’
(26) tq’ ‘arrive by boat, land’ (27) tqʷ’ (tr.) ‘remove fur from hide’
(28) t’c (tr.) ‘knock, strike, shatter’ (29) t’kʷ ‘bleed’
(30) t’q (tr.) ‘spread on surface’  

2Found in kƛ’i ‘short’, ’ Ayxc’mqa ‘a woman’s name’, skʷc ’ ‘wrinkled’, kʷƛ ’ (tr.) ‘put in place’.

Words and roots containing stop(s) and fricative(s)

It is the large inventory of voiceless Bella Coola words and roots containing at least one stop and one fricative that seems to have inspired GENH in the first place. However, making a GENH-based decision on syllabicity is problematic where two consecutive fricatives appear within a word, as marked in boldface below.

(31) cł (tr.) ‘pull, pluck’ (32) cxʷ ‘dark’
(33) cχ (tr.) ‘drip on’ (34) c’ł (tr.) ‘cover, shelter’
(35) c’s ‘loud’ (36) √c’χ ‘true’
(37) c’χʷ ‘white’ (38) kł (tr./itr.) ‘fall, drop’
(39) kłx ‘awake’ (40) ks (tr.) ‘pull’
(41) kx (tr.) ‘draw a line on something’ (42) k’łt (tr.) ‘brace, support’
(43) k’x (tr./itr.) ‘see, look at’ (44) kʷł (tr.) ‘crack, split’
(45) kʷs ‘rough’ (46) kʷst ‘body surface’
(47) kʷxʷ (tr.) ‘fit, match’ (48) kʷ’ł (tr.) ‘pour out, fill with water’
(49) kʷ’s ‘engaged, be dating’ (50) ƛ’ł ‘dry’
(51) √ƛ’χ ‘rattle, crackle, sparkle’ (52) łc’ (tr.) ‘hold or press down’
(53) łk’ (tr.) ‘pull off’ (54) łkʷ (tr.) ‘pass one’s hand through sth.’
(55) łkʷ’ ‘big’ (56) łp (tr.) ‘fill up’
(57) łq ‘wet’ (58) łq’ (tr.) ‘slap’
(59a) łqʷ’ (tr.) dig up, uproot’ (59b) łqʷ’ ‘fade’
(59c) √łqʷ’ ‘sob’ (60) √łt’ (tr.) ‘pry off, pull with hook’
(61) łχʷt ‘go through a passage’ (62) płt ‘thick’
(63) ps (tr.) 'shape. mold' (64) psx (tr.) ‘train, educate’
(65) px (tr.) ‘squeeze water out of string’ (66) p’łt ‘warm’
(67) p’s (tr.) ‘bend’ (68) p’x ‘crabapple’
(69) p’χʷłt ‘bunchberries’ (70) qł (tr.) ‘cause pain to’
(71) q’łkʷ (tr.) ‘fix up’ (72) q’łp ‘balsam fir’
(73) q’pst (tr.) ‘taste, sample’ (74) q’s ‘tight, intense’
(75a) q’χ ‘rank, rancid’ (75b) q’χ (tr.) ‘carve’
(76) √qʷsk (tr.) ‘wind string on spool’ (77) qʷ’ł ‘laugh’
(78) √qʷ’s ‘leak, ooze’ (79) qʷ’χʷ (tr.) ‘move’
(80) sc’ ‘disperse, scatter’ (81) sc’q ‘animal fat’
(82) scł ‘frost’ (83) sk’ (tr.) ‘scrape, rake, comb’
(84) sk’st ‘charcoal’ (85) sk’x ‘black’
(86) skʷ’ (tr.) ‘undo, untie’ (87) skʷc’ ‘wrinkled’
(88) skʷp (tr.) ‘wet, moisten’ (89) sƛ’kʷ ‘wart’
(90) słq’ ‘dried barbecued salmon’ (91) sp’ (tr.) ‘hit with a stick’
(92) sq’ (tr.) ‘cut, tear’ (93) sq’sk ‘saskatoon berry’
(94) sqc’ ‘sand, gravel’ (95) sqʷ’ ‘fly, jump’
(96) sqʷł ‘fishbone’ (97) stqʷ ‘mud’
(98) stxʷc’ ‘cottonwood buds’ (99) √sxʷƛ’ ‘inadequate’
(100) sχc ‘berry sprouts’ (101) sχp (tr.) ‘tie up’
(102) tł ‘strong’ (103) tx (tr.) ‘cut with a blade’
(104) tχ (tr.) ‘carve’ (105) t’s ‘salty’
(106) t’xʷ (tr.) ‘brush, sweep’ (107) t’χt ‘stone, rock’
(108) xp = px (109) xʷc (tr.) ‘discharge, remove, unpart’
(110) xʷp (tr.) ‘untangle, try to free’ (111) xʷp’ (tr.) ‘unhook’
(112) xʷt’ ‘collapse’ (113) χt ‘brittle’
(114) √χƛ’ ‘incomplete’ (115) √χp’ (tr.) ‘permeate, penetrate’

The boldfaced entries beg the question of how Mellesmoen would decide which fricative(s) is/are nuclear, e.g.:

● Should psx (tr.) ‘train, educate’ be parsed as /ps̩x/ or /psx̩/?

Words and roots containing fricatives only

Below I list words and roots that consist entirely of fricatives. Note recurrence of front+back and back+front sequences.

(116) łxʷ (tr.) ‘spur, incite’ (117) √łχ ‘negative, opposed’
(118) √łχʷ ‘energetic, enthused’ (119) sx ‘bad’
(120) sxłł ‘afterbirth’ (121) sxʷ (tr.) ‘burn, set on fire’
(122) sχ (tr.) ‘scrape, plane’ (123) √xs ‘all, whole, entire’
(124) χs ‘fat, fatty’ (125) √χł ‘lack, be deprived of’
(126) √χʷł (tr.) ‘surpass, exceed’ (127) χʷs (tr.) ‘oil, grease’

Again, Mellesmoen does not show us a procedure for determining nuclearity, and one might ask, for instance:

3The two exceptions are p’x crabapple ’ and p’χʷłt ‘bunchberry’. p’x has no known etymology, while p’χʷłt (dissimilated */ p’χʷ-łp /?) may be a blend of older * p’uqʷ (ay) ‘a shrub’ (Kuipers, 2002, p. 81) and Kwakwala p̓qʷ ‘to be flat on’ (Lincoln & Rath, 1980, p. 69) and/or Heiltsuk √ p̓h̓x̌ʷ ‘to change colours (in the fall)’ (Lincoln & Rath, 1980, p. 70).

4Rows and colums that accomodate non-existent clusters only are excluded in Table 5. xkʷ ’, χkʷ , kʷ’qʷ are unique clusters found in resp. s’ixkʷ’xʷ bushtail rat’, ’ awanaaχkʷ ‘raft’ and Kʷ’qʷla ‘Clayton Falls’. Of these, s’ixkʷ’xʷ is likely based on Proto-Salish * k’ʷaxʷ ‘rat, mouse’ (Kuipers, 2002, p. 51), while the other two surely have North Wakashan origins: Haisla hawanàqi̓akʷ ‘loaded on top (said of the canoes covered with boards)’ (Lincoln & Rath, 1986, p. 121), resp. Heiltsuk √ k̓ʷh̓qʷ ‘?’ (in k̓ʷík̓ʷáqʷx̌ƛawa ‘lichen’ (Lincoln & Rath, 1980, p. 292).

● Should sxłł ‘afterbirth’ be parsed as /s̩xłł/, /sx̩łł/, /sxł̩ł̩/ /, or /s̩xł̩ł̩/?

Area and diachrony

Long obstruent clusters and voiceless words also exist in two North Wakashan subdialects that are geographically close to Bella Coola (Figure 2): Heiltsuk (Bella Bella, Wáglísla) and Oowekyala (Rivers Inlet). Some Heiltsuk voiceless clusters and words 10 are:

(128) txtxní ‘owl’ (129) ttxstú ‘bulging eyes’

(130) txʷsx̌ƛáqà ‘to jump over’ (131) tpkʷ ‘flashlight’

(132)  qqs ‘eye’ (133) ƛxx̌s ‘cross-piece of a canoe’

While Heiltsuk is tonal, Oowekyala, like Bella Coola, lacks distinctive stress or tone 12. However, Oowekyala differs considerably from Bella Coola on the phonemic-phonotactic level. In re long-standing contact, 4 states that South Bentinck and Rivers Inlet were connected via a frequently used overland route, as reiterated by 8: Figure 2

Figure 2.Bella Coola and North Wakashan 12
 Bella Coola and North Wakashan 12

(…) the Oowekeeno at the top of Owikeno Lake had regular contact with the Nuxalk of South Bentick Arm, and intermarriage between the two tribes was not infrequent (McIlwaith 1948). (…) The extremely rare consonant clustering property for which Nuxalk is notorious 16, 1 is also found in Oowekyala (…)


Some voiceless words are copies of Oowekyala roots that are themselves voiceless: Table 6

Table 6. Voiceless words copied from Oowekyala 12
List # Bella Coola Oowekyala
28 t’c (tr.) ‘knock, strike’ √t̓s ‘to hit with a stone’
40 ks (tr.) ‘pull’ √ks ‘to push or motion away with the arm’
44 kʷł (tr.) ‘crack, split’ √kʷł ‘to collapse, become separated, disintegrate’
67 p’s (tr.) ‘bend’ √p̓s ‘dented, to bend, to flatten’
73 q’pst (tr.) ‘taste’ (*/q’p-st/) √p̓q ‘to taste’
78 √qʷ’s ‘leak, ooze’ √q̓ʷs ‘to drizzle’
97 stqʷ ‘mud’ √tqʷ ‘covered with dirt, dust, soil’

Other voiceless words derive from **C1VC2 (> *C1V̥C2 > C1C2). In Table 7, Salish data are from 11 Kwakwala data from Lincoln and Rath (1980), Lillooet data from 21, Sechelt data from 3, Upper Chehalis data from 9, areal data (Salish + Tsimshianic (+ North Wakashan)) from 18. Kw = Kwakwala, Li = Lillooet, NW = North Wakashan, PS = proto-Salish, PCS = proto-Central Salish, PIS = proto-Interior Salish, Se = Sechelt, Ts = Tsimshianic, UCh = Upper Chehalis.

Table 7. Salish and areal origins
List # Entry Etymology or cognate(s)
(1) ckʷ ‘heavy’ PS *cəkʷ ‘to pull (out), drag’
(3) cq (tr.) ‘pierce’ PS *ciq ‘to dig, stab’
(8) c’p ‘stuck, blocked’ PCS *c’ap ‘to derange, interrupt’
(12) kʷ’p ‘straight, right’ PS *k’ʷəp ‘straight’
(14) ƛ’kʷ (tr.) ‘gather (tiny objects)’ UCh √ƛ’ək’ʷ ‘to pick (up), peck’
(15) √ƛ’q ‘protrude’ PS *ƛ’aq ‘to protrude’
(22b) √tp ‘spotted’ Via *tu̥p < Kw √tup ‘speck, dot’
(26) tq’ ‘arrive by boat, land’ PS *t’aq’ ‘to cross over’
(30) t’q (tr.) ‘spread on surface’ Ts t’aq ‘flatten’, PIS *t’əq ‘put down, pile’,
    NW √t̓aq ‘spread’
(34) c’ł (tr.) ‘cover, shelter’ PS *c’il ~ *c’al ‘shade, shadow, shelter etc.’
(35) c’s ‘loud’ PS *c’ə̣s ‘to rattle, hit’
(37) c’χʷ ‘white’ Se <ts’exw> /c’əx̌ʷ/ ‘get clean/washed’
(38) kł (tr./itr.) ‘fall, drop’ PS *kəł ‘to be detached, come off/apart’
(48) kʷ’ł (tr.) ‘pour out, fill with water’ PCS *k’ʷəl ‘to spill’
(53) łk’ (tr.) ‘pull off’ PS *łik’ ‘to cut, sever’
(55) łkʷ’ ‘big’ Se <lhakw’> /łak’ʷ/ ‘swell, get swollen’
(59a) łqʷ’ (tr.) ‘dig up, uproot’ UCh √łəq’ʷ ‘break, pull apart’
(60) √łt’ (tr.) ‘pry off, pull with hook’ PS *łət’ ‘to catch fish with hook and line’
(61) łχʷt ‘go through a passage’ PS *łəx̌ʷ ‘to pass through a hole’
(62) płt ‘thick’ PS *pəł ‘thick’
(72) q’łp ‘balsam fir’ PIS *c’q’-ałp ‘fir’
(74) q’s ‘tight, intense’ PS *q’əs ‘to be of (too) long duration’
(75a) q’χ ‘rank, rancid’ PIS *q’ix̌ ‘strong, hard, tight, etc.’
(91) sp’ (tr.) ‘hit with a stick’ PS *səp’ ‘to hit, club, whip’
(92) sq’ (tr.) ‘cut, tear’ Ts saq’ ‘split’, PS *səq’ ‘split’
(95) sqʷ’ ‘fly, jump’ PS *saq’ʷ ‘to fly, jump’
(106) t’xʷ (tr.) ‘brush, sweep’ PCS *t’əxʷ ‘id.’ and Ts t’axʷ ‘id.’
(119) sx ‘bad’ Li √səx, √sax ‘to degenerate’
(122) sχ (tr.) ‘scrape, plane’ PS *sax̌ ‘to scrape’
(127) χʷs (tr.) ‘oil, grease’ PCS *x̌ʷəs ‘to oil, grease’

5North Wakashan has aspirated stops in addition to plain (often phonetically voiced) and ejective ones, as well as /λ/ and /ƛ/. See Howe (2000, pp. 9-15) for “degenerate” syllables and schwa epenthesis in Oowekyala.


The main purpose of this paper has been to prove that GENH is not “good enough” for Bella Coola, and that this language is fundamentally non-syllabic. I concur with 20: Table 8

Table 8. Counter-GENH words and roots
List # Entry Structure List # Entry Structure List # Entry Structure
9 kp TT 12 kʷ’p TT 13 kʷ’pt TTT
19 √q’p TT 20 qʷt TT 21 qʷ’p TT
22 √tp TT 23 tk’ TT 24 tkʷ TT
25 tkʷ’ TT 26 tq’ TT 27 tqʷ’ TT
29 t’kʷ TT 30 t’q TT      
39 kłx TFF 61 łχʷt FFT 64 psx TFF
69 p’χʷłt TFFT 90 słq’ FFT 99 √sxʷƛ’ FFT
100 sχc FFT 101 sχp FFT      
116 łxʷ FF 117 √łχ FF 118 √łχʷ FF
119 sx FF 120 sxłł FFFF 121 sxʷ FF
122 FF 123 √xs FF 124 χs FF
125 √χł FF 126 √χʷł FF 127 χʷs FF

6Distance from South Bentinck Arm ( Talyu ) to Rivers Inlet is around 48 km.

7√p̓q → √ q’p may be due to avoidance of */ p’q / (see Table 4) and/or an association with √ q’p ‘dull’.

8Kw √tup also underlies Bella Coola √tup ‘foam, bubbles, specks’ and tutup ‘trout’.

There are no syllables in Bella Coola, and no phonemically significant phenomena of stress or pitch associated with syllables or words. Within a sequence of phonemes one can, of course, hear acoustic pulsations and even differences in the relative degrees of pulsation. Such phonetic syllables result partly from the acoustic nature of the phonemes themselves. Because of their fortis articulation, ejective stops and affricatives are pronounced with stronger pulsations than their non-ejective types. Vowels and syllabic continuants, because of their duration and voicing, stand out acoustically above all other phonemes in a sequence.


Still today, this statement is more convincing – as concerns phonetic detail and succinctness – than the theoretical hype of GENH and other hypotheses 1.

Below, I cite words and roots that are not GENH-compatible (T = stop, F = fricative). I list only those TT… and TF/FT… clusters that appear in boldface in sections 3.1-2.

For a phonotactically divergent language such as Bella Coola, terms like “mora”, “nucleus” and “syllable” are not meaningful. Predictable presence/vacillation/absence of schwa (vocalic peak) in sonorants is a phonetic issue (allophony) rather than a phonemic one (phonotactics). As well, it is difficult to determine “nuclearity” of fricatives in FF(F(F)) clusters (see sections 3.2-3).

On the other hand, one may argue that, in order for GENH to gain credibility, Mellesmoen could consider including stops as being potentially nuclear. Phonetic features seem to support this idea: while fricatives are only quasi-sonorant (with duration, but without voicing), fortis stops like /q’/, /k’/, /ƛ’/ have more acoustic strength than fricatives in terms of amplitude and slight affrication and/or delayed glottal release in non-prevocalic settings. This is illustrated in Figure 3-Figure 4 below.

Figure 3.Spectrogram of q’pst q’ʔ͡psth ‘taste (tr.)’ (FirstVoices, Audiotonic)
 Spectrogram of q’pst q’ʔ͡psth ‘taste (tr.)’ (FirstVoices, Audiotonic)

Figure 4.Spectrogram of √sxʷƛ’ sxʷt͡ɬ’ ‘inadequate’ (FirstVoices, Audiotonic)
 Spectrogram of √sxʷƛ’ sxʷt͡ɬ’ ‘inadequate’ (FirstVoices, Audiotonic)

9See Cook (1994) for a lack of consensus on the term “mora”.

10Recall that / m : m̩/ = /n : n̩/ = /l : l̩/ = /y : i / = /w : u/ = /h : a/ (or, with schwa, /m : əm / = /n : ən / = /l : əl / = /y : əy / = /w : əw / = /h : əh /).

However, by including amplitude, allophonic affrication, and delayed glottal release of stops as additional measures of syllabicity, we would complicate rules on sonority-related hierarchies even further (cf. the bulleted issues in 3.2-3).


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