Thursday, February 9, 2012

Linguist, lunatic, or moonbat supreme?

My mind is truly boggled by the story (found via a link at Rev. Paul's place) of a New Zealand 'linguist' (?) who's written and self-published an encyclopedia of the Tlingit language . . . having never traveled to Alaska, or even met or spoken with any Tlingit natives! Needless to say, her book's utterly useless. Station KCAW in Sitka, Alaska reports:

The problem is: The language in the book is not recognizable by contemporary scholars, or Native Tlingit speakers.

In a world as small as that of Tlingit scholarship, the appearance of Sally-Ann Lambert’s “Hlingit Word Encyclopedia: The Origin of Copper” came as quite a surprise.

So did the appearance of Sally-Ann Lambert, who traveled to Sitka in mid-January to launch the book.

No one had heard of her: Not the Alaska State Museum, the Sealaska Heritage Institute, or the very active group of Tlingit language teachers in the Sitka Native Education Program.

Nancy Douglas is the Cultural Program Director at the Sitka School District.

“For those of us that have been studying Tlingit for forty-plus years and working with elders, I think it was surprising not to have heard of her or her work. We’re a pretty tight-knit community when it comes to language-learning, and open to sharing our points of view with everybody and networking with those of us that are language teachers and language learners. So, I guess it was surprise that drew me in to going to the book launch.”

The Hlingit Word Encyclopedia is the second of nine volumes planned by Lambert. Her first work, a dictionary of Maori, was published a few years ago.

Lambert was born in New Zealand, but grew up in Samoa, where she developed an aptitude for language. Lambert turned her attention to Tlingit when she acquired a copy of a book by the late 19th/early 20th century ethnographer J. R. Swanton.

“I think often I’m led spiritually, and I don’t make my decisions with the full knowledge of the situation. Basically the book was given to me with Tlingit Myths & Texts by John Swanton, and Tlingit language is fortunate to have that resource.”

Swanton is indeed a classic, early ethnography of Tlingit, and a good starting point for the study of Tlingit culture, from a western perspective. “The Origin of Copper” is one of the stories he recorded, and Lambert uses it as a basis to parse the grammar and culture of the Tlingit.

This probably wasn’t the best strategy.

There's more at the link.

I think the 'money quote' from the article is: "I think often I’m led spiritually, and I don’t make my decisions with the full knowledge of the situation". Yep . . . but led by which spirit? Juracán, perhaps? That would fit in with her statement, elsewhere in the article, that she was "she was pulled to Tlingit by its 'polarity' with the great cultures of South America". The Caribbean god of chaos and disorder seems a perfectly appropriate spiritual leader for that!



Anonymous said...

Many years ago I was out in the bush hunting Canada. One of the guys in camp semi hippie wife told me she was writing a Cree to English dictionary and that it was going to be the first ever published.

The problem was she had pissed off the Crees in camp so much that they would give the vilest possible phrase for every English word she asked for.

I hope it never saw the light of day.


Rev. Paul said...

You'd think the fact that the Tlingit elders didn't recognize whatever language she had written might have been a clue.

But then if she'd had any sense to begin with, it wouldn't have happened.

Radagast said...

As the Tinglit come from the land of ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow, I would pick Loki as her academic and spiritual guide.
Or she could just be another twit from the realm of academia.
*wanders off humming the Immigrant Song"