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Sealaska Heritage Institute Releases Landmark Dictionaries, Phrasebook, for Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian

May 25, 2010


irst-Ever Alaskan Haida Phrasebook Also Released

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has published a new series of learners’ dictionaries for the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian languages and the first-ever Alaskan Haida phrasebook.

The dictionaries are the product of years of documentation with assistance from Elders fluent in Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. The phrasebook was written by Dr. Erma Lawrence, one of the few remaining fluent speakers of Alaskan Haida.

“We’ve been working on language restoration for nearly 10 to 12 years, and I would say for a greater part of this we’ve been working on these dictionaries. So, they’re pretty broad in scope, and to have three of them released all at the same time I think is fairly significant,” said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“We know it’s going to have a lot of use, not only in the classroom but by people who are just interested in learning a little bit more about our culture.”

All of the dictionaries include sections translating Native words to English and English words to the Native languages.

The Dictionary of Alaskan Haida is the most comprehensive dictionary for the Alaskan dialect of Haida, with over 5500 entries. It contains several thousand example sentences gathered from the last remaining fluent speakers in Alaska.

The Dictionary of Tlingit is the first to include nouns and verbs and all the minor word categories such as adjectives, adverbs, and interjections in a single resource. The vast majority of the verb forms have never before been documented or published. It also includes example sentences for most of the entries, which illustrates the words in a context. 


The Dictionary of Shm’algyack (Tsimshian) includes the majority of the common vocabulary and will be invaluable to beginning and intermediate students of the language. Sentence examples with sound will guide the user along the path of a deeper understanding of how our ancestors thought and their use of words.

The Tlingit dictionary was compiled by linguist Keri Edwards with assistance from Anita Lafferty, John Marks, June Pegues, Helen Sarabia, Bessie Cooley, David Katzeek, and Fred White. The Haida dictionary was compiled by linguist Dr. Jordan Lachler with assistance from Dr. Erma Lawrence, Claude Morrison, the late Woodrow Morrison and the late Anna Peele. The Tsimshian Shm’algyack dictionary was compiled by Donna May and Tony Roberts, who worked with the late Ira Booth, Lillian Buchert, Frances Duncan, Bernard Guthrie, Solomon Guthrie, Russell Hayward, Harold Hudson, and Charles Ryan, all of whom initiated the project.  Mel and Ruth Booth, John Dalton, Doris Reece, and Conrad Ryan, Sr. contributed their knowledge to complete the project.

Complementary searchable, online dictionaries with audio of words and phrases are also being developed and will be made publicly available in the future.

The Alaskan Haida Phrasebook was written by Dr. Erma Lawrence and edited by Dr. Jordan Lachler, a Haida linguist. The book was compiled over a four-year period as part of SHI's ongoing Haida language project. The more than 4,000 sentences in this book cover some of the most common topics of Haida conversation, such as food, family, weather, health, traveling, fishing, working, music, and many others. It is the most comprehensive phrasebook to date for any Alaskan Native language, and will be a great aid to new learners.

The dictionaries were funded through a grant from the Administration for Native Americans, and the phrasebook was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and support from Sealaska Corporation.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a regional nonprofit serving the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of Southeast Alaska. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures.

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