Ojibwe Dictionary Online Project

Don Osborn dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Sun Sep 16 03:14:41 UTC 2007

Hello all, 


I was working on a reply to Kevin's message this morning and now that I'm
coming back to it note other replies from Mia, Joseph, MJ, and Haley. I will
finish what I started and insert other comments. I will say up front though
that I am *really* surprised at the suggestion that standardization is an
impediment to language use (if I am understanding Mia and MJ correctly).


As a disclaimer, I'm writing as a non-linguist with more of a background on
Africa - nevertheless there are some interesting parallels and some
questions in common.


The way Kevin describes the situation of Ojibwe crossing boundaries is
*exactly* what is faced for so many languages in Africa. The borders are not
at issue, but how to harmonize if not to unify orthographies has been a
subject of ongoing discussion for some years, with some significant steps


There are a lot of benefits to having a single system or compatible systems
of writing a language werever it is spoken, beginning with being able to
share and adapt anything written or printed, and including these days
developing web content for use by a larger readership. Maybe a key
difference here is the needs of language revitalization in the case of
Ojibwe vs. providing an active and geographically spread speaker community
of a language with a common system for writing. Nevertheless, somethng like
an online dictionary (esp. if a "living" dictionary approach that would
allow input from diverse people) for any language in any condition would
benefit from a unified orthography.


I think Kevin is correct that standardization is a political process in that
some entities with some authority need to arrive at some common decisions,
but I'm not sure I'd agree that lack of a single government for all the
speakers of a languageis a deal-stopper. It might be that some sort of
cross-border (non-governmental) organization could play a role in
coordinating discussion of standardization (but I know of no precedent
elsewhere though.)


On the topic of  linguists' role or not in issues related to
standardization: In the case of Africa (at least the areas I'm most familiar
with - West), linguists have been part of the process. It's hard to see how
much could have been achieved without them. 


That said, the process has not been perfect. There was a suggestion for
instance that some of the prescriptions concerning standardized
orthographies have needlessly diverged from established practice. There is a
risk that specialists will overthink the rules of orthography to the point
of repeated refinements that defeat the purpose of having a standard that
people can learn, get used to and use (in Mali for instance there have been
some changes of orthography of Bambara over the years; is this the kind of
thing MJ refers to in Peru?). But this is not the same as saying that
standardization itself is a problem.


(I'm coming at this from another field (internatinal development) so I may
be both off on all this and bringing up issues tangential to the purpose of
the list, but while on the topic of linguists and areas they do or don't
have roles in, I'd liketo suggest that in my field I note what I think is an
unfortunate lack of applied linuists and sociolinguists. International
development a quarter century ago began to bring social scientists more into
discussion of programs and projects, to complement technical experts and
economists with their perspectives. Linguists never were invited nor did
they seek to crash the party - the result, I argue, has been neglect of
language dimensions of development interventions in multilingual contexts,
with implications for who participates, whose knowledge counts, etc.  That's
a different area of concern in a different region, but I bring it up to
suggest that maybe linguists, or some linguists, should be involved in
discussions of unified writing systems for languages like Ojibwe.)


I apologize if I'm overstepping my bounds here, but hope some of this is of
interest and look forward to reading more.




Don Osborn






From: Indigenous Languages and Technology [mailto:ILAT at LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU]
On Behalf Of Kevin Brousseau
Sent: Saturday, September 15, 2007 10:03 AM
Subject: Re: [ILAT] Ojibwe Dictionary Online Project


One of the problems with a unified Anishnabe writting system is that the
language crosses a few provincial boundaries and state boudaries.
Researchers tend to focus on the language of one community or of a selected
area...which is fine and important in itself but the the research is rarely
done in the vision of a unified anishnabe language. 

Also, there isn t one anishnabe govt that represents all anishnabe people.
The most important thing in my opinion is starting a discussion  between all
anishnabe communities in order to agree on a writing system, which does not
necessarily have to be based on the roman alphabet or syllabics (which of
course everyone has an opinion about and might cause more divisions in the

This idea of a unified writting system is outside of the concern of
linguists in my opinion - it is a political issue. Anishnabe people
themselves need to take the initiative to form a united front (at least in
terms of language first). Identifying who is and speaks Anishnabe is the
prerequisite to acually forming political ties in the future. 

A linguist would not insist, for example, that a group should call itself
Anishnabe instead of their English labels (which of course are based on
native words), such as Ojibwe, Chippewa, saultaux, Algonquin, Oji-Cree,
etc... A unified writting system to a unified language - to a unified

This is what should be done before a major project begins and people say it
is too late to change things, but this is just my opinion. 

Joseph Lavalley <graphfix at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

Dear Mr. D. Osborn,

Glad you have some contacts in regards to dictionary project. Perhaps a
exchange of knowledge with them will provide me with a firmer ground to base
this Ojbiwe Dictionary project on. So far it seems so. Look forward to
speaking or having meaningful dialogue with someone who participated in it
structure and creation.

With great thanks, Chi-Miigwetch

Joseph Brian Lavalley - Mishomis dezhenkaz, Nme dodem


Date: Fri, 14 Sep 2007 10:18:08 -0400
From: dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Subject: Re: [ILAT] Ojibwe Dictionary Online Project

Dear Joseph,


I can't speak to the issues of the Ojibwe language, but on the broader topic
of online "living" dictionaries will mention - in case it is of interest to
you and others on ILAT - that there is some interesting work ongoing and
being discussed for several African languages. 


* The ""Kamusi" online living Swahili dictionary has been evolving for
several years and, though currently at a moment of transition, is poised to
continue its development.

* Other dictionaries being developed by Kasahorow for Akan (Ghana) and Ewe

* A larger project proposal is under discssion to facilitate among other
things, pairing of various African languages


Most of the languages concerned in the current efforts and discussions have
millions of speakers and sometimes considerable, if difficult to access,
published resources. So the context is somewhat different than what I
understand one would be dealinng with for a Native American language like
Ojibwe. Nevertheless, perhaps there could be some useful sharing of tools
and experience.


I'll cc Dr. Martin Benjamin (Kamusi) and Paa Kwesi Imbeah (kasahorow) for
their info.


All the best.


Don Osborn






From: Indigenous Languages and Technology [mailto:ILAT at LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU]
On Behalf Of Joseph Lavalley
Sent: Thursday, September 13, 2007 11:20 PM
Subject: [ILAT] Ojibwe Dictionary Online Project


To all interested colleagues,

Currently engaged in a online Ojibwe dictionary project and have been going
it alone for the last year and a half. Seeking interested persons who are
currently working on the Ojibwe language (Anishnawbemowin) and those who
have dictionary building experience.

So far using a 1975 reprint of a 1874 Ojibwe language dictionary listed as a
grammarian in a Bibliography of Algonquian Language as primary source to
create this hand typed (keyboarded) digitized dictionary into a website. The
dictionary is the one compiled by Wilson. The reprint was done by the
Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada. The typeface
is approx. 6pt Times. I am currently work in Arial 12pt in Word. Would like
to do a cross comparison of other dictionaries extant from either English
and French texts past and present to do a complete analysis and
comprehensive re-working of Orthography, Phonetic soundings using voice
snippets from local oral speakers to establish universal Phonology and

To be honest and truthful to the fullest extent, I have no university
standing at this time, although I am currently applying to university to
become a Linguist. It is my hope that those that care about the educational
responsibilities to the children and people of the Anishnawbe will come
forth and help me in the vision of a unified Ojibwe oral, written and
symbolic system.

With a dream to fulfill in ones' lifetime, there is much to be done,


Joseph Brian Lavalley - Mishomis dezhnikaz, Nme dodem.

PS. Also, interested in making contact with John D. Nichols leading Algic
Family Language Specialist.



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