Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Publishes Language Dictionary

Mon Apr 21, 2008 12:28pm EDT

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SANTA YNEZ, Calif., April 21 /PRNewswire/ -- The Santa Ynez Band of
Chumash Indians unveiled its newly-published language dictionary, "The
Samala-English Dictionary -- A Guide to the Samala Language of the Ineseno
Chumash People," at a dictionary launch party Friday evening at the tribe's
Chumash Casino Resort.
    "The dictionary launch party last week marked a special occasion for our
tribe and one in which we will be talking about for decades to come," said
Vincent Armenta, Tribal Chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.
"Our tribe's dream to publish a dictionary of our language came true.  It
represents just the beginning of our journey to revitalize our language."
    In 2003 Chairman Armenta directed his staff to research the steps required
to begin resurrecting the tribe's native language.  Since the last known
Samala speaker passed away in the 1960s, learning the language from tribal
elders was not an option for the tribe.  Instead, research led the tribe to
Richard Applegate, Ph.D.
    While a graduate student at UC Berkeley in the 1960s, Applegate spent
countless hours in the basement of Dwinelle Hall at UC Berkeley combing
through boxes of documents from John Peabody Harrington, a linguist and
ethnologist who specialized in the native people of California.
    "I would take one of Harrington's manuscript pages and read something like
'skut a hacu' [he sees the dog] with no idea at first which part of the phrase
meant what," said Applegate.  "Little by little it began to make sense, like
filling in the squares of a giant crossword puzzle.  I became absorbed in the
    When the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians contacted Applegate in 2003 to
take the first step of what would eventually be a full-fledged language
program, he was pleased to once again become immersed in a language that had
become near and dear to his heart.
    The tribe began with Samala language classes for children and adults and
from there decided to expand the program to include a language dictionary.
The tribe's Education Committee took the concept before the general membership
and received overwhelming support for moving forward on creating a
comprehensive, encyclopedia-type dictionary.
    "Without exception, tribal members were very excited to begin the process
of publishing our language dictionary," said Sarah Moses, Chair of the tribe's
Education Committee.  "In fact, one of the comments from a tribal member about
the concept of a dictionary was, 'it's about time.'"
    Applegate's 1972 Ph.D. dissertation on Samala grammar was full of
linguistic terms like "morpheme boundary" and "nominalization" so it wasn't a
user-friendly way to learn the language. It was also organized around the root
of the word and you had to know the root of a word before looking it up.
    Transforming the academic version of the dictionary into a user-friendly
format took significant editing on Applegate's part.  In addition, the art
direction from designer Ted Frank required a careful balance of creativity and
sensitivity to the tribe's desire to use photographs that featured tribal
members and illustrations that were specific to the words in the dictionary.
    All told, there are 600+ pages and 4,000 entries in the Samala dictionary
and more than half of those entries are illustrated with a photograph or
    "It was a multi-year project that was painstakingly created by a team of
people," said Chairman Armenta.  "For starters, there was collaboration among
various committees, including the Business Committee, Education Committee and
Elders Governing Board.  In addition, various departments worked together
including the Education Department and Public Relations.  Art director Ted
Frank and Dr. Applegate spent a lot of time coordinating and discussing the
specifics of publishing such a massive project.  And, of course, the tribal
membership championed the entire process and waited patiently for the end
    Armenta said that the wait was worth it.
    "Our language and culture refused to die and now it will live forever
through our dictionary," said Chairman Armenta.
    Located on the Santa Ynez Reservation in Santa Ynez, California, the Santa
Ynez Band of Chumash Indians own and operate the Chumash Casino Resort, the
Royal Scandinavian Inn and McCormix gas station.
SOURCE  Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians

Frances Snyder, +1-805-325-1187,, for The Santa Ynez
Band Of Chumash Indians
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