Expert in preserving Spokane Salish language dies at 93

April 20, 2020 GMT

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Members of the Spokane Tribe of Indians are mourning the death of an elder who played a key role in preserving the tribe’s Salish dialect and teaching the language to younger generations.

Pauline Flett died of natural causes in a hospital on April 13. Relatives said she was 93.

The Spokesman-Review reports that Flett’s death leaves only one or two tribal elders who are completely fluent in the Spokane Salish dialect, which Flett worked tirelessly to document over the course of five decades.


Flett grew up in a Salish-speaking household on the Spokane Indian Reservation and didn’t learn English until she began attending school.

Guided by a professional linguist in the 1970s, Flett was among the first to use a written alphabet to transcribe words and legends that had survived for centuries only through oral storytelling.

She co-wrote the first Spokane-English dictionary and multiple updated editions, and taught the language at Eastern Washington University, which granted her an honorary master’s degree in 1992.