Ancient Chumash tongue revived
Ancient Chumash tongue revived
By Julian J. Ramos/Staff writer
A bound volume of ink and paper is keeping a language alive.
With the unveiling of Samala-English Dictionary - A Guide to the Samala
Language of the Ineseño Chumash People, the language of the Santa Ynez
Band of Chumash Indians has been awakened from half a century of dormancy.
To celebrate the completion of the five-year dictionary project, the tribe
held a launch party Friday at the Chumash Casino Resort's Samala Showroom
for 430 invited guests that included State Superintendent of Public
Instruction Jack O'Connell.
The party also featured a performance by the tribe's Samala Singers and
Dancers, and a spiritual blessing given by tribal elder and spiritual
leader Adelina Alva-Padilla.
Tribal spokeswoman Frances Snyder said Samala - one of seven Chumash
languages - had been dormant for 50 to 60 years, so the dictionary
represents a milestone.
It's a cultural achievement for our tribe, she said.
The encyclopedia-style dictionary of a native language is a first, she
said, and she hopes it will inspire other tribes to create something
The tribe's language program initiative, which includes the dictionary and
a group of five Samala apprentices, began in 2003 as a directive of Tribal
Chairman Vincent Armenta.
In his remarks Friday, Armenta said the dictionary brings language back to
our tribe ... It's something we'll have for the rest of our lives.
Samala is not only the name of the Santa Ynez Chumash's language; it is
also what they originally called themselves.
Tribal Education Committee Chairwoman Sarah Moses said her parents never
spoke Samala, and her grandparents spoke just a word or two. We wanted to
bring our language back into existence, Moses said.
Tribal Business Committee member Kenneth Kahn, the event's master of
ceremonies, said, All roads of our language led to Dr. Applegate.
Richard Applegate, a student of the Samala language for more than 30 years,
spent hundreds of hours putting together the 600-page dictionary with more
than 4,000 words and 10,000 entries. The unabridged dictionary includes
everyday phrases in the introduction.
He has also been teaching the apprentices for the past two years and now
they are teaching others the language. His introduction was followed by a
Applegate described Samala as a giant crossword puzzle. He said Samala is
more analytical than English, with more than 100 prefixes, for example,
to make words clearer.
It's tough to organize a dictionary with a language that works that way,
The various Chumash languages are related but far apart, and it would have
been difficult to understand each other, Applegate said.
The last fluent Samala speaker died in the 1960s.
Maria Solares, who died in 1923 at the age of 81, is the important person
in putting the Samala language together on paper and recordings, Moses
added. Solares, she said, was the last of the older generation's fluent
From 1912 to 1919, John P. Harrington, a linguist of California's native
languages, recorded Solares' voice on wax cylinders and took thousands of
hand-written transcripts of songs and stories.
Applegate said he is three-quarters of the way through translating 2,300
pages of Harrington's notes.
The dictionary will be available to purchase at the Haku gift shop in the
casino beginning May 1, and copies will be donated to local libraries.
There will also be a smaller, 500-word version for children.
Julian J. Ramos can be reached at 688-5522, Ext. 6008, or
April 20, 2008