10 days, 10,000 words, one book

Language preservation groups pool resources to create Crow language dictionary
Thursday, July 19, 2018
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Photo courtesy of Crow Language Consortium

Felice Bigday marks down the results of rapid word collection efforts on Monday. By this coming Friday, tribal language preservation groups intend to use recordings by local residents to transcribe a Crow language dictionary.

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Photo by Gary Rood

From the left: Elizabeth Pretty On Top, Theresa Sends Part Home and Loretta Three Irons record Crow words Tuesday at Little Big Horn College.

The Crow Language Consortium, The Language Conservancy and Little Big Horn College have come together to create a new Crow language dictionary. Local residents involved include Roanne Hill, Dr. Janine Pease, Tim McCleary and Fr. Randy Graczyk – all members of the Consortium.

The Language Conservancy program already has worked with another tribe, the Acoma Pueblo, in New Mexico. With this tribe, they transcribed more than 10,000 words and placed them into a dictionary that showcased the tribe’s Acoma-Keres language. On the Crow Reservation, the Conservancy hopes to have the same amount of success.

“People get really fired up when we do these rapid word collections,” said Mitch Teplitsky, the organization’s communications director. “It’s a fairly new methodology for collecting words… developed by another organization called the Institute for Linguistics.”

Numerous elders from across the Crow Reservation also have been involved in the dictionary-creation process for an extended period of time. These people helped form the Crow Summer Institute – who teaches community members their language – and also put together textbooks to help people learn Crow.

“The average age of the Crow speakers is increasing and the number of Crow speakers has been decreasing,” said Wilhelm K. Meya, executive director of the Language Conservancy. “Few young people are now speaking Crow, so it’s important to give them the tools and resources needed to be successful in the teaching and learning of the Crow language.”

In order to make the dictionary, they need fluent Crow speakers to record audio for them and to translate each word they come across. Meya hopes to get through 1,000 words a day over the course of the 10-day program. Even with orientation on Monday, they went through 721 words and Meya believes they are on track to finish their work.

An estimated 27 speakers arrived to help, with ages ranging from 40 to 86. Most of the people participating were fluent Crow speakers or at least had a good grasp of the language.

As of press time, the program has split its current members into groups to translate words from English to Crow. The groups are divided by gender, as there are a portion of words that are gender-specific. Groups of words are divided into different semantic domains, or categories – anatomy, building structures and more. Over the next two weeks, Meya wants to get through as many of these domains as possible.

“It’s like we’re relearning to talk Crow,” one participant commented.

The program is being facilitated both at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency and St. Charles in Pryor.

For more information or to reserve a spot email davidh@languageconserancy.com or call (719) 523-3424.