05 December 2010

the Ojibwe word for glottal stop

…is gibichitaagobii’igan.

People who are trying to keep Ojibwe alive are presently operating some total immersion schools for young children in Wisconsin and Minnesota. They sometimes find it difficult to teach math, science, and American politics in the Ojibwe language due to a lack of specialized vocabulary. Therefore some activists arranged for a meeting of fluent speakers from various communities to get together and invent/document the needed terminology.

The terms they agreed upon are documented in Ojibwe Vocabulary Project working session of July 6-8, 2009. (Downloadable.)

The introduction contains this interesting thought: “In addition to the education challenges for instruction of Ojibwe, many fluent speakers complain that when speaking about the language or certain subjects that the conversation slips into English because of vocabulary challenges. A language lives when it can be used for everything in life, not just certain parts of life.”

How many times have language designers wrestled with the conflict between having a limited size vocabulary for ease of learning and an infinitely expansible vocabulary for coping with the modern world? The native speakers of creole languages like Bislama and Papiamentu debate this quandary too. Does it make more sense to switch into whatever locally popular language has the necessary vocabulary when discussing technical matters, or can ways be found to invent the need terms internally? The organizers of this Ojibwe vocabulary workshop believe that having an insufficient vocabulary for modern terms can lessen a language’s chances of survival.

Here are some of the Ojibwe terms documented in the aforementioned publication:

gimiwanaanakwad to be a rain cloud
naasaabiigamon to be parallel
waasamoo-manidoobiiwaabik electromagnet
memeshkwajitoong dachingagindaasowin commutative property of multiplication
waa-pimibatood candidate
gashkichigewin socioeconomic background
maawandoochigewinini tax collector

There is also a list of terms for bodily functions that the puerile side of your personality will find amusing.

1 comment:

Dedalvs said...

Something similar happened in Hawai'i, but for a different reason. In Hawai'i, there still are a good amount of native speakers (in places, at least), but English loanwords had started to creep in everywhere—especially with technological vocabulary. As a result, a committee came together to create new words from Hawaiian roots for most modern devices: "internet", "telephone", "cell phone", "website", etc. The new vocab has been published in all the modern dictionaries, but I'm not sure if it's actually caught on...