Navajo dictionary at UNM


GALLUP, N.M. - The late Alyse Neundorf, a University of New Mexico - Gallup
associate professor of Navajo who died in January 2004, wanted to preserve
her heritage and language. To that end, she taught the "Dine' Bisaad"
language to children, college students and adults.

Neindorf obtained her Ph.D. in linguistics at UNM in 1987. Her dissertation
was titled "Bilingualism: A bridge to power for interpreters and readers in
the Navajo tribal council." Neundorf joined the faculty of UNM-Gallup in
1996. She was born in Lukachukai, Ariz., and was a member of the Two
Joining Rivers Clan and a former Miss Navajo.

Navajo is a creative language, in which metaphor, simile and
personification are used regularly and multiple versions of one-word
function to mean the same thing. This duplicity is likely the result of
Navajo contact with other cultures: for instance, the Spanish.

"Languages grow with the people," Neundorf wrote. "If the people do not
make new terms, the language becomes less able to deal with new situations,
and sometimes borrowed terms take over instead."

To Neundorf, Navajo was a "good, healthy language" that should be used to
describe anything and everything in the world within human understanding.
Borrowed words, she believed, should be kept to a minimum and the
descriptive nature of Navajo preserved.

In her posthumously published "A Navajo/English Bilingual Dictionary"
(University of New Mexico Press), Neundorf offers 1,500 noun entries and
300 verbs and adjectives to add to readers' knowledge of Navajo and to
children learning to read and write in bilingual classrooms. Words selected
are terms used in and around school settings.

"Most of our knowledge depends on our ability to internalize and understand
our world through language," Neundorf believed. "I hope with the aid of
this dictionary, the Navajo students will verbally describe and discover
the world in which they live, so they will be able to transfer this
knowledge to any situation they may encounter."

A joint endeavor between Neundorf, the Ramah Navajo School Board, Inc. and
the University of New Mexico Press, "A Navajo/English Bilingual Dictionary"
is divided into two main parts for each letter of the Navajo alphabet and
features words for place names, numbers, body movements and parts, and
kinship. Illustrations for commonly used words and an index in English are

This dictionary will help Dine' speakers and beginners try some new words.
Neundorf, after consulting Navajo language scholars and tribal elders,
added new words to the dictionary that explain a new concept or were
developed to accommodate Navajo contact with other cultures and
modernization. In this way, Neundorf's life legacy to nurture the Navajo
language persists.