Reviewed by Peter Freeouf, Chiang Mai University
This is a large dictionary of the Sahaptin Native American language, a member of the Sahaptian family, which also includes the closely related Nez Perce. The Sahaptian family is often included in a larger grouping, Plateau Penutian, that is itself a branch of the proposed wider Penutian stock. Various dialects of Sahaptin were still spoken by several hundred native speakers in the 1980s in Oregon and Washington. That number has greatly declined and Sahaptin is now a seriously endangered language. Fortunately, efforts are under way to preserve the language for future generations. This dictionary represents a major effort in that work. The two authors include a native-speaker linguist, Virginia Beavert, and another linguist, Sharon Hargus.
Another scholar of Sahaptin, Bruce Rigsby, contributed two articles to the introductory material, dealing with the origins and histories of the names Sahaptin (xviii–xxi) and Yakima/Yakama (xxii–xxxiv) in English. In another introductory essay, ‘Design, organization and history of Ichishkíin Sínwit’ (xxxv–lxi), Sharon Hargus describes in detail how to use the dictionary, particularly its main Sahaptin-English section (1–331). A clear explanation with diagrams is here provided on how to read each entry, as well as a fair amount of morphosyntactic information organized in paradigm charts and illustrative examples. The linguistic terms used are clearly explained for non-linguists, and more technical linguistic details are given in footnotes. This essay not only shows how to use the dictionary but helps make up for the lack of a more detailed grammatical summary.
The orthography is a slightly modified version of the standard writing system developed by Bruce Rigsby and Alex Saluskin that has been widely used since its introduction in the 1970s. A convenient orthographic chart (xii–xiii) gives a Sahaptin example word, an International Phonetic Alphabet equivalent, and (where possible) the closest English sound for each Sahaptin letter. Because the writing system employs digraphs and diacritics to represent the relatively large number of Sahaptin sounds, the Sahaptin alphabet is reproduced in alphabetic order as a footer throughout the Sahaptin-English section and the ‘Sahaptin root index’ (469–92).
Every entry in the Sahaptin-English section begins with a Sahaptin item printed in slightly larger bold type, followed by grammatical information and an English translation of the headword. Additionally, most entries contain one or two example sentences, each with an English translation; Sahaptin lexical items, phrases, and sentences are generally printed in bold typeface. The dictionary also includes a shorter English-Sahaptin section (333–467) useful to those looking for the Sahaptin equivalents of English word and expressions.
There are numerous color photographs of individuals in Sahaptin dress, cultural objects, animals, plants, and other natural phenomena with their names in Sahaptin, English translations, and short descriptions, as well as interesting black-and-white photographs from early in the previous century. The dictionary is printed on heavy paper and is designed for long use. In short, this is a beautifully designed and elegantly printed volume that serves as a fitting record of and tribute to an irreplaceable part of the cultural heritage of North America.