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Klallam Dictionary Helps Effort to Save Endangered Native Language

A new Klallam Dictionary will help preserve the endangered Native American language for future generations of speakers.
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Released just before Thanksgiving, the Klallam Dictionary (University of Washington Press, 2012) has more than 9,000 entries, a pronunciation guide and a history of how the dictionary was produced.

That history begins in 1978 with Timothy Montler, a University of North Texas linguist who has been documenting spoken Klallam since then.

“When he first came, there were around 100 [Lower Elwha] people who spoke Klallam as their first language,” Port Angeles High School Klallam language teacher Jamie Valadez told Peninsula Daily News. “Now there are two.”

Klallam is offered at Port Angeles High School in Port Angeles, Washington as one of four languages students can take to meet graduation requirements.

Montler compiled the book with the help of those two fluent speakers—Bea Charles and Adeline Smith. According to the dictionary’s list of contributors, Smith was the largest contributor, with 12,000 individual words or sentences attributed to her.

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Peninsula Daily News reported that Montler also worked with elders from the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S'Klallam, Port Gamble Klallam and the Scia’new First Nation of Vancouver Island to create an alphabet.

Valadez told the newspaper that some of her former students are now using the dictionary to teach their children, raising a new generation of Klallam speakers.

“The tribe was very close to losing our language,” Brenda Francis-Thomas, spokeswoman for the Lower Elwha Klallam told the Peninsula Daily News. “There was a time when we had no written language at all.”

To improve the dictionary’s reach, the tribe has purchased 1,000 copies and distributed them to its members at a Christmas gathering held Thursday, December 13.

A book signing will be held in January in Port Angeles for Montler, but a date has not been finalized.