Marion Harry (1937–2019)

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of Mrs. Marion Harry of the Homalco First Nation. She was a fluent speaker of the Homalco language, a.k.a. Sliammon/Homalco/Klahoose dialect of the northernmost Coast Salish language. (The language has been referred to as Sliammon, Mainland (dialect) of Comox, or ʔayʔaǰuθəm.) She passed away on September 7, 2019, at the age of 82.

She taught her ancestral language at local schools in Powell River and Campbell River, B.C., Canada, and also taught many linguists and students of linguistics for decades. I have had the privilege of learning from her and working with her to document this language since the mid-1990s.

It is well-known that the sounds of Salishan languages can be formidable; for example, a series of glottalized obstruents and resonants, velar vs. uvular, a series of laterals (l, l’, ɬ, ƛ, ƛ’), etc. Marion’s pronunciation was quite clear, which was very helpful. In addition, through working with me, she learned to write the language with phonetic symbols. Her senses were keen. I could then just ask her whether there is a glottal stop before, say, ƛʼ, or whether it is a k or q. I trust that the members of SSILA can appreciate how incredibly helpful this was.

She was very fluent in the language, and this was somewhat surprising even to some of the elderly speakers in her community, given that she went to residential school for a few years, where the use of her ancestral language was strictly forbidden. Her sense of the grammar of her language was remarkable. She could suggest alternative constructions for one expression, or point out “similar but different” forms, providing hints for further investigation. It was by following such intuition of hers that we found out that stress (or possibly pitch) is distinctive in this language, a feature that had never been pointed out in previous studies.

She was known among her community members, relatives, friends, colleagues, and students for her “angel-like” personality. She was quite simply the sweetest person I ever met. Yet, she was strong, overcoming a series of illness and injuries. She was passionate about teaching her language, tireless in her effort, and relentless in striving for accuracy. Just one month before her passing, I was working with her, checking data from my very early years of research. I apologized for asking about glottal stops and glottalization, etc. etc. hundreds of times even after all these years. She replied, “But this is the only way to get it right, is it not? Then we got to do it.” She was very soft spoken and gentle, but beneath her smile was a characteristic of a scholar. She was a linguist’s “dream consultant.” We have lost a gem.

Her contribution to linguistics cannot be overstated, and she must be recognized and acknowledged for her generosity and effort in sharing her precious knowledge with us.

Honoré Watanabe, ILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

Updated: September 29, 2019 — 6:28 pm