Kalapuya Dictionaries, Language Studies aim to Revive, Preserve Ancestral Language

“North American languages are dying and disappearing tremendously,” said linguist Jedd Schrock in an interview with Underscore earlier this month. “A lot of them are already gone and we don’t have much of a record for them. Kalpauyan is a rare instance where there are no speakers but we have this enormous corpus of existing Kalapuyan records.” 

Esther Stutzman, her two daughters and granddaughter, Aiyanna Brown, all Kalapuyan descendants and enrolled members of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, are on a mission to revive the lost language of their ancestors with the help of several bulky Kalapuya dictionaries. According to the article, these dictionaries are the product of a decade-long passion project by the late Paul Stephen McCartney, Sr., whose fascination with the Kalapuya language compelled him to devote his post-high school teaching years to compiling and organizing it. 

Each four-volume set contains more than 3,000 pages and weighs 20 pounds, with two books of English-Kalapuya translations and two of Kalapuya-English translations. McCartney, who passed away last year at 81, wasn’t a trained linguist but loved language and thought Kalapuya was “beautiful,” according to Aiyanna Brown, a Kalapuyan descendent. 

Learning to Speak a Silenced Language 

“When Paul contacted us and asked if we wanted our language back, of course we said yes,” said Brown. “We didn’t even know that was possible.” Regarding McCartney’s dedication to the project, Brown explained that he wanted to “keep the language alive.” 

“This is probably the biggest group of Kalapuya speakers in the world,” Stutzman said during a semi-regular language study, which she launched at her Yoncalla home in western Oregon after the dictionaries were published in December. “And we speak the language at a preschool level.” 

Read more: The Corvallis Advocate

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