A page of the SENĆOŦEN dictionary contains example sentences and definitions. (Hugo Wong/News Staff)

VIDEO: New Indigenous dictionary for SENĆOŦEN released after years of work

New 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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Unemployment surpasses historic high in Greater Victoria, tourism hit hard

Hospitality and tourism sectors hurting as pandemic continues

Victoria tattoo shops respond to sex assault allegations against male artists

Carne Tattoo and Painted Lotus Studios respond to allegations

Victoria seeks court order to enforce sheltering rules in Beacon Hill Park

People being asked to move out of environmentally sensitive areas of park

Mayor not in favour of low barrier housing at Oak Bay Lodge

Process is already in place to determine future of Oak Bay Lodge

Police watchdog reviewing Victoria police-involved crash

VicPD officer collided with another car in downtown intersection

VIDEO: Langford cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of July 7

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Would you get a vaccine for COVID-19 when it is available?

With the number of positive COVID-19 tests skyrocketing across much of the… Continue reading

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Vancouver Island business ad unintentionally features OK gesture linked to white supremacy

Innocuous ‘OK’ gesture in cleaning franchise advertisement gets flak on social media for ‘supposedly’ promoting white supremacy

Comox Valley RCMP looking for missing woman

Ami Guthrie was last seen in Courtenay in early July

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

National Kitten Day aka the ‘purrfect’ day to foster a new friend

July 10 marks National Kitten Day, a special day to celebrate all things kittens

Most Read