February 12, 2012

New Zealander invents Tlingit encyclopedia

New Tlingit encyclopedia baffling to scholars, speakers

By Robert WoolseyA new encyclopedia of the Tlingit language has teachers in Sitka scratching their heads. The massive work by New Zealand scholar Sally-Ann Lambert is extraordinarily detailed, and the product of years of effort.

The problem is: The language in the book is not recognizable by contemporary scholars, or Native Tlingit speakers.

In a world as small as that of Tlingit scholarship, the appearance of Sally-Ann Lambert’s “Hlingit Word Encyclopedia: The Origin of Copper” came as quite a surprise.

So did the appearance of Sally-Ann Lambert, who traveled to Sitka in mid-January to launch the book.

No one had heard of her: Not the Alaska State Museum, the Sealaska Heritage Institute, or the very active group of Tlingit language teachers in the Sitka Native Education Program.
And:Lambert was born in New Zealand, but grew up in Samoa, where she developed an aptitude for language. Lambert turned her attention to Tlingit when she acquired a copy of a book by the late 19th/early 20th century ethnographer J. R. Swanton.

“I think often I’m led spiritually, and I don’t make my decisions with the full knowledge of the situation. Basically the book was given to me with Tlingit Myths & Texts by John Swanton, and Tlingit language is fortunate to have that resource.”

Swanton is indeed a classic, early ethnography of Tlingit, and a good starting point for the study of Tlingit culture, from a western perspective. “The Origin of Copper” is one of the stories he recorded, and Lambert uses it as a basis to parse the grammar and culture of the Tlingit.

This probably wasn’t the best strategy.

At the Sitka Native Education Program…

Roby–Swanton couldn’t hear many of the sounds of Tlingit, so he didn’t write it. So she didn’t speak them. Swanton didn’t put tone marks in his writing, so she doesn’t know where the tone marks go.
Comment:  Moron alert! New Zealander writes Tlingit-language encyclopedia without talking to Tlingit-language speakers. They say it's gibberish.

Hey, I wanna write a Tlingit dictionary too! Can I?

Some of my Scrabble letter combinations resemble Tlingit words. That plus the voice in my head is enough to qualify me.

I changed my mind. Now I'm working on a Mongolian/Basque/Zulu dictionary. A hawk appeared to me in my dreams and said I should combine the languages.

Get the picture? For more on Native languages, see my Pictographs blog.


dmarks said...

I am reminded of Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha".

In which the poet 'ran out' of Ojibwe named for animals/etc, so he made some up for the poem.

'Ran out' meaning he was too lazy, I think, to find out what the words should have been.

Jaine said...

oh dear
how embarrassing - what on earth was she thinking (or not thinking as the case may be)