Lutsel K’e Chipewyan dictionary celebrates local dialect

Lutsel K’e Chipewyan dictionary celebrates local dialect
Brent Kaulback, assistant superintendent of the South Slave Divisional Education Council, is facilitating the creation of a Chipewyan dictionary for the community of Lutsel K’e.Photo: Sheryl Olvera.

The traditional dialect of Lutsel K’e Chipewyan will be immortalized in a written and audio dictionary likely by the end of the summer, thanks to the combined efforts of the community and the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC).

“It will be really reflective of the dialect of the Lutsel K’e Dene,” Brent Kaulback, assistant superintendent of SSDEC and lead on the project, told The Journal.

“We recognize the fact that Aboriginal languages are changing somewhat,” he said. “The words in the collection are a reflection of the original, old form of the language – what people would call the pure form of the language.”

Using the Fort Resolution dictionary as a template, the Lutsel K’e volume will include 1,200 additional words that elders in the community have deemed important, resulting in a massive text of nearly 400 pages of words and illustrations designed specifically for the community of Lutsel K’e.

Like the first Chipewyan dictionary, the work will include an audio CD, as well as an online audio resource to hear the words pronounced by a fluent speaker from anywhere in the world.

Elders and community groups contributed their word suggestions last fall, passing on the translation and scribing work to two local, well-respected translators and writers, Dennis Drygeese and Bertha Catholique.

Kaulback said he will meet with the group of elders again next month to finalize the word list and hopes that by the end of the summer, the book will be ready for publication – just in time for back-to-school.

This time, he said, the work will be a lot easier, since the template from the Fort Res dictionary already exists. Still, he said, the book will be purposely unique to the community.

“We’ll modify it to give it a unique look for Lutsel K’e, in their dialect,” he said. “The cover will be different, but the layout will be similar. We’ll be trying to use pictures from Lutsel K’e as much as possible: of kids, the geography, the area.

“It’s a community dictionary, so we want the community to really identify with the book. If they do, it becomes a more useful resource and tool, something they can be really proud of,” he added.

The Lutsel K’e dictionary is the third in a series of Aboriginal language textbooks to emerge from the South Slave in recent years, with the first being a South Slavey dictionary made in partnership with K’atl’odeeche First Nation elders in Hay River, followed by the first-ever comprehensive Chipewyan dictionary launched last fall in Fort Res.

The SSDEC has also been responsible for hundreds of other Aboriginal language books, also published in Cree.

Kaulback, who has been developing classroom resources for Aboriginal language instructors with the school division since 2005, said he has more ideas for the future that would further bolster the promotion of Aboriginal languages in the region and beyond.

His “dream project,” he said, is an etymological dictionary explaining the roots from which words are derived.

“More often than not, when you sit down and talk with elders about word lists, they’ll talk about what that word means – the literal translation of it,” Kaulback said. “For people to really understand the language, it’s not just knowing what the word is but the essence behind the word as well. Elders have that – it’s just a matter of trying to collect that.”

Though no such project is currently in the works, Kaulback said it could only improve the dire situation of Aboriginal languages in the Northwest Territories.

“The more we provide in terms of dictionaries and elders’ stories, the more we stimulate an interest in the language and a greater chance the language has to thrive,” he said.

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