Literacy On the Thames
- Mercy Doxtator (Author) and Karin Michelson (Author)
Oneida-English/English-Oneida Dictionary. University of Toronto Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Blair Rudes
Several years ago the Government of Ontario embarked on an ambitious program to support the development of dictionaries and grammars of the aboriginal languages spoken in the province. The Oneida-English/English-Oneida Dictionary is the most recent product of that program. It is the first comprehensive dictionary of Oneida, a Northern Iroquoian language, as spoken on the Oneida-of-the-Thames reserve near London.
The dictionary is a collaborative effort between a linguist who has worked among the Oneidas for nearly a quarter of a century, Karin Michelson, and a native speaker of Oneida from the Oneida-on-the-Thames community, Mercy Doxtator, who taught the language to her people for eighteen years. The dictionary consists of a preface, introduction, guide to using the Oneida- English section, the Oneida-English-section, a guide to the English-Oneida section, the English-Oneida section, and four thematic appendices. The core of the dictionary is the 818-page Oneida-English section. According to the blurb, “the Oneida-English portion includes some 6,000 entries.” A count of the number of Oneida words on a sample of 100 pages of the Oneida-English section produced an average of 18 words per page, suggesting a total of around 15,000 words in the Oneida-English section.
The database is not only large, it is also quite impressive in its breadth of coverage of Oneida vocabulary. This breadth is hinted at by the word lists in the thematic appendices at the end of the dictionary, which cover vocabulary from 50 cultural domains ranging from animals, plants, weather, numbers, colors and shapes to kinship, body parts, perception, speech, cooking, clothing, and recreations.
The authors have done an excellent job of providing accurate translation between Oneida and English. The quality of their translations is particularly evident in the glosses for Oneida morphemes and words, many of which have connotations not readily apparent in the “usual” English translations or undergo shifts in translation when certain inflectional elements are present. The authors elucidate further the meaning of Oneida words by providing example sentences from texts.
For individuals interested in the intricacies of Oneida word-formation, Michelson and Doxtator provide an overview of the basic structure of Oneida words followed by a more detailed discussion of the many elaborations upon the basic structure. Relationships among words are effectively mapped through cross-reference among dictionary entries.
The authors have ingeniously designed the English-Oneida section to function simultaneously as both a dictionary and a thesaurus. The thesaurus function is achieved through a system of generic and specific entry headings. For example, five entries begin with the generic heading “live”: “live; be alive,” “live, go on living,” “live on,” “live; reside; be plentiful,” and “live; reside; drift around.” Each of these four entries is cross-listed to a different Oneida base in the Oneida-English section of the dictionary. In addition, there are separate entries in the English-Oneida section for “alive, be,” “reside,” “plentiful, be,” and “drift around” that refer the reader back to the “live” entries.
The Oneida-English/English-Oneida Dictionary is an important contribution to Iroquoian lexicography that will be of enduring value to speakers and learners of the Oneida language, the Oneida people, linguists, social scientists and the general public.
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MLA: Rudes, Blair. Literacy On the Thames. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #182 (Autumn 2004), Black Writing in Canada. (pg. 158 - 159)
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