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First Words: Trish Rosborough speaks Kwak'wala

In this episode of First Words, Trish Rosborough teaches you several words in Kwak'wala - and the layers of meaning behind them. For example, a'tłi means forest, but depending where you live, it can also mean something else.
Trish Rosborough is a professor at the University of Victoria, who started her journey to learn Kwak'wala in her 40s. (Provided by Trish Rosborough)

First Words is a weekly podcast focused on Indigenous languages. Each week, we welcome a new guest into the hosting chair to teach us three words in their language. 


In this episode of First Words, Trish Rosborough teaches you several words in Kwak'wala - and the layers of meaning behind them. For example, a't?i means forest, but depending where you live, it can also mean something else. 8:07

Trish Rosborough is an associate professor at the University of Victoria in the department of Indigenous education. Growing up she always wanted to learn her family's language, Kwak'wala, but unfortunately, English was what was typically spoken in her home.

"As a child I would go and spend time with my grandparents and they would say, 'this year we're only going to speak Kwak'wala,'" said Rosborough.

"But because the human desire to communicate is so strong … we would default to English really quickly."

Rosborough's journey to learn her language started when she was in her 40s. 

"I see our language as important to our identity … how I see the world and how I understand the world is through my language," said Rosborough.

When Rosbourough was beginning to learn Kwak'wala, she recalls going to see her uncle Pete to learn how to pronounce, a'tłi, which means forest.

"Uncle Pete was kind of quiet and I was a little worried that I had said it wrong, and then he says to me, 'well you know, a'tłi, it can be used to mean the forest but you have to think about where our homes are,'" said Rosborough.

"Our homes were always on the beach, always facing the water, a'tłi [can also mean] behind us."

"That story to me tells me that speaking Kwak'wala is not just about having translations of things I want to say in English … but that I can understand the Kwakwaka'wakw way of seeing the world, that we come from a world where the homes face the water and ... the forest is behind us."

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