Thursday, 1 September 2016

Indigenous languages, and non-Latin orthographies (Day 8)

Have I mentioned that I am in a 12 story building which is the library at KSU? I am based on the third floor in the Reinberger Library and have taken the steps from Day 1. At home I always walk up the seven floors in one of the buildings at Waikato when I arrive, just to keep a bit of heart fitness, you understand. I am also a keen tramper (hiker), and doing the stairs each day means it’s not quite such a shock when I go trampingJ. Well, on the third day I came into work, I suddenly realised I could do the stairs here too, not at that stage realising it was 12 floors! So here I am perspiring, knowing that my 7 floors when I return home is going to be a doddle. I might have to do it twice….or maybe not.

Well, I have now officially finished the 215 Spanish-English picturebooks. I still need to come back and fill some gaps, as I mentioned earlier, but I am moving on to the books which have other languages first. Just because I can (as one of my friends likes to say- you know who you are).

I had a little taster yesterday afternoon when I analysed the six indigenous language bilingual picturebooks. The languages include Cherokee, Cree, Navajo, and Inuit. Yes, there are only six books in this category which probably reflects the status of indigenous languages, or maybe not. I am not sure what the criteria for the books collected in the Marantz collection were. I need to find out more about that.

The most interesting thing about these books is that Cherokee, Navajo and Inuit use non-Latin alphabets. Harking back to my previous entry about how books distinguish between the Spanish and English texts, of course this is not a problem when the orthographies are patently visually dissimilar.

My favourite book is called Sequoyah (by James Rumford, Houghton Mifflin publishers, 2004), about a Cherokee man who invented the orthography for the Cherokee language. His name might be familiar to you with a different spelling: sequoia, the name used for the giant redwood trees. The book explains these trees were named for Sequoya, the man who invented the Cherokee alphabet. Sequoya began working on his idea for a writing system in 1809, and presented the syllabary of 84 symbols (each symbol stands for a syllable rather than a single sound, a bit like Japanese hiragana) to the Cherokee Nation in 1821. To see what the syllabary looks like, here is a link

Groundwood Books is a Canadian publishing house I have come across while looking at some of the Spanish-English  dual language picturebooks. It also produces books in First Nation languages and Inuktituk, such as the beautiful little book called Alego (written and illustrated by Ningeokuluk Teevee, 2009) about a little girl going clam digging on the sea shore with her grandmother. It shows Alego (the little girl’s name) discovering many different creatures at the beach and then going home for clam soup with her grandparent. The illustrations are in coloured pencil, and give you a sense of the community and environment that the pair live in. Colour is used gently to match the gentle tone of the text. It would be a delight to share with a child.   In this book the Inuktituk text is given first, and in my humble opinion, this is as it should be. Minority languages, especially indigenous one, should always come first. If you’d like to see the Inuktituk alphabet, also a syllabary, developed from the Cree orthography, look here

Now, I am moving on to books with Asian languages and English.  I’ll be interested to see what happens with orthographies which are not written left to right as is the case in English.

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