Lou Claxton, Timothy Montler, and Belinda Claxton stand with the new SENĆOŦEN dictionary beside a poster of the W̱SÁNEĆ Moons, a calendar of the seasons. (Hugo Wong/News Staff)

VIDEO: New Indigenous dictionary compiled to save language in B.C.

New SENĆOŦEN dictionary has over 1,500 pages and 12,000 words

Since time immemorial, the SENĆOŦEN language has carried the stories and values of the W̱SÁNEĆ people. Now, for the first time, a 1,500-page dictionary containing over 12,000 words will ensure the language lives on.

Timothy Montler, a linguist and Distinguished Research Professor University of North Texas, has worked for 40 years with SENĆOŦEN speakers to record and define the language. The effort to create a SENĆOŦEN dictionary began in 2012, after Montler worked with elders, educators and tribal councils to create a Klallam dictionary.

Though there have been online resources like FirstVoices that feature recordings and definitions, Belinda Claxton said the process was more personal because Montler worked “hand-in-hand” with the community for so long.

“He actually got sentences from the elders. It doesn’t have just words, it’s got teachings and values.”

The front of the dictionary features the names and photos of the 26 SENĆOŦEN-speaking elders that contributed to the dictionary.

Montler compiled recordings made by himself, Claxton, and others, and built a database of words and definitions, as well as information about grammar. Each entry has an example sentence to accompany it, as well as pronunciations using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

The words are recorded in the SENĆOŦEN alphabet, created by Dave Elliott Sr. in 1978, who turned an oral language into a written one by overstriking the 26 English letters on a standard typewriter with hyphens, slashes, underscores, and accents so no expensive, specialized equipment was required.

“Once it’s here, it’s like it’s saved,” said Lou Claxton, Belinda’s brother. “A lot of words I forgot myself. And my mother spoke nothing but SENĆOŦEN to me when I was a kid,” adding that when he was a child, he said to his mother, “I’d rather learn English.”

“Now some of the language that we might have forgotten, it’s down here [in this book],” said Lou.

RELATED: For Stelly’s Indigenous students, a Celebration Week is just the start

Lou and Belinda’s’ mother Elsie was the last monolingual speaker of SENĆOŦEN, but she could comprehend English fairly well. Before she died in 2000 at the age of around 93, she contributed to many recordings of SENĆOŦEN words and phrases.

“It wasn’t very long ago when everybody on this whole Peninsula, and on the Gulf Islands, spoke only SENĆOŦEN…before the big invasion of English speakers came in,” said Montler.

However, many children lost their language at residential schools, where their language was forbidden.

Montler said the language contains “stories for all the places, every little spring and bay and inlet.” SȾÁ¸EU¸TW̱ , or Tsawout, means “higher up,” said Lou.

ȽEL¸TOS, or James Island, means “splashed in the face,” said Montler, who also said the island was home to a rare breed of white deer.

“For the longest time, nobody had any evidence of our language on paper like it is now. The teachers can hardly wait to get their hands on that,” said Lou.

Every word has been extensively checked for accuracy, with their definitions and example sentences attributed to the elders who told Montler.

Belinda hopes the language will be taught more in public schools, but it will be first used at the tribal school.

“At one time or another, we thought the fire was going to go out. But it survived, our language survived, and I’m so happy,” said Belinda.



reporter@peninsulanewsreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

District of Kent yet to set date for cannabis consultation

Open house, questionnaires coming before council makes decision on marijuana sales

Fraser River First Nations say they aren’t getting their share of sockeye

Shortage is a result of decisions made by DFO, not a shortage of sockeye, complaint says

More funding for Harrison tourism projects on the horizon

Village could see increased funding by 2020

Chilliwack celebrates Oktoberfest with Jens Lindemann and the Bergmann Duo

Jens Lindemann is one of Canada’s top trumpet soloists

Most cows saved during massive fire on Agassiz farm thanks to fast work of farmers, neighbours

Agassiz Fire Department responded to late night call Wednesday

VIDEO: More cameras, police coming after Marissa Shen killed in Burnaby park

B.C. privacy watchdog worries that the cameras are a ‘slow creep’ to a surveillance state

Arborist killed by fallen tree at Maple Ridge Golf Course

Was working near the 9th tee box of the golf course.

Rattie scores 3 as Oilers blank Canucks 6-0

Vancouver slips to 1-5 in exhibition play

Veterans Affairs ordered to take second look before supporting vets’ relatives

Liberal government ordered officials to adopt a more critical eye

Dead B.C. motorcyclist was member of group that raced down mountain road

Some group members record their rides on Strathcona Parkway and post times to page

Indigenous athletes in spotlight at BC Sports Hall of Fame

New gallery to feature Carey Price, Kaila Mussel and Richard Peter

B.C. couple who went missing on flight from Edmonton named by family

Family released a statement Wednesday saying they’re still intent on finding the two-seater plane

Abbotsford raccoon dies from injuries suffered in a trap

Wildlife protection group offering $1,000 reward for information about incident

VIDEO: A close look at what you were breathing during the B.C. wildfire season

Electron microscope images show soot and tar particles generated by worst B.C. fire season

Most Read