By Scott Walker
“It’s important for the ones who have passed on, and it’s important for the ones who are not here yet.”
Indeed, the new Klallam Dictionary—celebrated at the gathering of Klallam people from Elwha, Jamestown and Port Gamble—holds the future of the language. And it holds a lot of history.
Elders, educators and Tribal Council members from Becher Bay, Elwha, Jamestown and Port Gamble worked with University of North Texas professor Timothy Montler for a quarter of a century on this dictionary, which has more than 9,000 entries, a grammatical sketch, numerous indexes, and a wealth of cultural information. The dictionary is among the largest books published by the University of Washington Press.
A three-decade effort to preserve a native language has resulted in the first-ever dictionary of the language, which previously was only spoken.
By Lynda V. Mapes
The Klallam people’s first dictionary for what was always an unwritten language was built syllable-by-syllable, from tapes and spoken words transcribed into a phonetic alphabet.
The work was a race against time: About 100 people spoke Klallam as their first language when he first began learning Klallam in 1978, said Timothy Montler, a University of North Texas linguistics professor, and author of the dictionary. By the time the dictionary was published by the University of Washington Press last September, only two were left.
One of them, Lower Elwha Klallam elder Adeline Smith, 94, was recently working with Montler during one of his twice-a-year visits to the tribe’s reservation, helping to transcribe Klallam stories into written words. Over many years she contributed 12,000 words to the dictionary, by Montler’s count. Some 38 elders in all helped him compile the entries.