By Robert Woolsey
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.
“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.
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.