Klallam language gets boost in writing with grammar book
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Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
Young tribal members offer a welcome song.
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Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles, left, and Klallam language teacher Jamie Valadez celebrate the release of the Klallam Grammar textbook Thursday at Port Angeles’ Elwha Klallam Heritage Center.

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — The language of the Klallam people took another deep breath last week.

A 392-page hardcover tome, humbly titled Klallam Grammar, was cause for celebration at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center as tribal elder — and Port Angeles High School language teacher — Jamie Valadez was recognized alongside Timothy Montler, the nationally known linguist who wrote the book.

“It's fun,” Montler said when asked what motivated him to devote decades to both Klallam Grammar and its predecessor, the Klallam Dictionary.

Montler estimated that book, published in late 2012, contains 12,000 Klallam words.

Klallam collaborators

Over the years, Montler collaborated with the late Ed Sampson, Tom Charles, Adeline Smith and other Lower Elwha Klallam tribal members on the dictionary and the grammar text.

“The elders I work with are really cool people,” said the linguist, a professor at the University of North Texas.

Valadez, for her part, has been using the dictionary and drafts of the grammar book for years in her Klallam language and culture courses at Port Angeles High.

Since 1999, she said, some 500 students have learned to speak Klallam.

“Jamie has been really determined” to ensure that this is a living language, Montler said.

“She's been able to get along with changing school boards. She does it gently but determinedly.”

Copies distributed

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Council purchased 300 copies of Klallam Grammar and provided them to tribal members and their households, noted Wendy Sampson, a grant manager and teacher in the tribe's Klallam Language Program.

Meanwhile, Klallam tongue twisters, videos, sound files, games and a downloadable keyboard with the Klallam alphabet are among the materials available on Montler's website, www.cas.unt.edu/~montler.

He and the Klallam people embarked on the dictionary project in 1978.

Back then, he was a graduate student, and there were about 100 native Klallam speakers — but children were learning the language, he said.

On Thursday night at the Elwha center, Montler signed copies of Klallam Grammar, the Klallam drum and dance group performed its Welcome Song and Whale Song, and tribal leaders admired the book.

The volume is available for $60 at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center, 401 E. First St., and via the University of Washington Press website, www.washington.edu/uwpress.

Annual visitor

Montler comes to Port Angeles about once a year, said Wendy Sampson, for an intense week of work with tribal staffers, transcribing elder stories from Klallam to English and helping with various projects.

“This week, we worked on stories and recorded models that align with the grammar book, which are available to download online,” she said.

“We will also be gathering our Klallam Language Teacher Certification Board — Tim, Jamie Valadez and I — to certify new language teachers and recertify teachers. They all go through the process every three years.”

With its translations and exercises, Klallam Grammar works for both linguists and lay people, Marianne Mithun, author of The Languages of Native North America, writes on the UW website.

The book, she noted, is “an absolutely extraordinary work in every way.”

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Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 31. 2015 12:44AM
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