“North American languages are dying and disappearing tremendously,” linguist Jedd Schrock said in a interview with Underline earlier this month. “A lot of them have already left and we don’t really have a record for them. Kalpauyan is a rare case where there are no speakers, but we have this huge body of existing Kalapuyan recordings.
Esther Stutzman, her two daughters and her granddaughter, Aiyanna Brown, all Kalapuyan descendants and registered members of the confederate tribes of the Siletz Indians, are on a mission to revive the lost language of their ancestors using several voluminous 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 compile and organize it.
Each four-volume set contains over 3,000 pages and weighs 20 pounds, with two books of English-Kalapuya translations and two of Kalapuya-English translations. McCartney, who died last year at 81, was not a trained linguist but loved the language and thought Kalapuya was “beautiful”, according to Aiyanna Brown, a descendant of Kalapuya.
Learn to speak a silent language
“When Paul contacted us and asked if we wanted our tongue back, of course we said yes,” Brown said. “We didn’t even know it was possible.” Regarding McCartney’s dedication to the project, Brown explained that he wanted to “keep the language alive”.
“This is probably the largest group of Kalapuya speakers in the world,” Stutzman said during a semi-regular language study, which she started at her home in Yoncalla, western Oregon. , after the dictionaries were published in December. “And we speak the language at the preschool level.”
Dictionaries as resources
Schrock and fellow linguist Henry Zenk, Ph.D. in anthropology and is a leading authority on Oregon’s native languages, note that McCartney’s dictionaries are not grounded in core language practices, making them largely unviable as academic resources.
However, they say the extended glossary-like word lists serve as an accessible gateway into the language for non-academics. That assessment is echoed by David Lewis, an enrolled member of the Confederated Grand Ronde Tribes and a professor in the Department of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies at Oregon State University, who advised McCartney early in his efforts.
The usefulness of publications outside of academic circles is evident in the informal speaking sessions at Esther Stutzman.
“Language is a heritage thing,” Schrock said. “If it hasn’t been said for a long time, it takes a lot of courage to try to say it again.”
He added, “The people who can bring Kalapuya back are the Kalapuyan people. So it’s great that Esther and her family are doing this.
The Dictionary Project
McCartney had access to a wealth of written records and some audio recordings of ethnographic interviews with John Hudson, a Santiam Kalapuyan who died in 1954. Hudson has often been referred to as the last “L1” Kalapuya speaker, meaning he has grew up in a home where the language was spoken first. But Zenk says at least one other L1 speaker outlived Hudson — and was likely the last speaker: Stutzman’s great-aunt Laura Blacketer Albertson, née Fearn. According to Stutzman, Albertson died in 1971.
Hudson’s audio files from the 1930s through the 1950s are the only historical sources of spoken Kalapuya, except for recordings of Kalapuya songs from 1914-1915. According to Zenk and Schrock, additional audio recordings may be housed at the Library of Congress, although researchers have yet to locate them.
When McCartney dug into the corpus for his project, he contacted Stutzman and Lewis, the OSU anthropologist and ethnohistorian, for advice. Stutzman remained active throughout the process and enlisted her granddaughter, Brown, who started a GoFundMe page last year to raise money for the printing of dictionaries, just as McCartney’s health was failing.
On his deathbed and unable to speak, McCartney delivered a message to Stutzman inquiring about publication prospects. Stutzman assured him that the dictionaries would be printed. McCartney died two days later.
Thanks to $10,000 raised through GoFundMe, the first set of 100 dictionaries were printed in December. A second set of 50 sets was funded by an additional $3,000 raised. As long as there is demand and funding, Brown says the prints will continue. These early sets were delivered to OSU, the University of Oregon, and Portland State University, as well as K-12 institutions and others.
The Stutzmans point out that oral storytelling is an integral part of Kalapuyan culture. Esther, 79, is a respected storyteller and hopes to acquire enough language skills to convey these stories, or at least parts of them, to Kalapuya. Brown, 22, is proud to help facilitate deeper cultural understanding within her generation and for future generations, including her own children one day. She called her role in the project “empowering.”
“Our main hope for dictionaries is to share our language,” Brown said. “As long as we spread our language and our culture and more people see and understand them, they are less likely to disappear.”
She continued, “Language connects people to their heritage, and it’s another way for us to reconnect to our homelands and our ancestors.”
Brown acknowledges that dictionaries are a “starting point,” but not an all-in-one resource for fluency. Stutzman, who is also descended from Western Oregon Coo the peoplehopes more participants will join the language studies, saying, “We really want to start this project and get a lot more people involved.”
The Kalapuya people
According to Lewis, who has a Ph.D. in anthropology, the Kalapuya people have lived in western Oregon for nearly 15,000 years, once occupying more than a million acres in the Willamette and Umpqua valleys. Zenk said the Kalapuyans were mentioned in Lewis and Clark’s journals, although the Corps of Discovery never encountered them. The first documented Euro-American contact came through fur traders in 1811, according to Zenk.
The best-preserved Kalapuya dialects, according to Zenk and Schrock, are the northern Tualatin and central dialects of Mary’s River and Santiam, spoken by John Hudson. The linguistic lineage of the Stutzmans goes back to Yoncalla, the southernmost tribe for which only word lists and patchy phrase documentation exist, largely derived from field notes of anthropologist Melville Jacobs’ interviews with Albertson, the Esther’s great-aunt, in the late 1920s. McCartney’s dictionaries distinguish between different dialects, which are distinct but similar.
Lewis, who is the great-great-grandson of John Hudson, recounts about 20,000 Kalapuyans historically lived in no less than 19 tribes and tribal bands divided linguistically by regions of the Willamette Valley: North, Central, and South. By 1850, that number had fallen to around 1,000, a catastrophic decline fueled by white settlers introducing new diseases. The Kalapuyans were among several western Oregon tribes to sign treaties with the U.S. government between 1848 and 1855.
Over the years, Lewis said people have sometimes expressed surprise that the Kalapuyans are still around and that modern Native Americans exist.
“I say, ‘Well, I’m here,'” Lewis said. “I feel like the Kalapuyans have been ignored for a very long time. We’ve been wiped from the history books. It’s almost like the story starts with the settlers, the white people in the area. But we start to see more interest.The dictionary is a springboard to help bring more interest and attention to the language itself and to the culture.
By Stacey Newman Weldon