About the Project

The Tanacross Learner's Dictionary is intended as a reference for anyone wanting to learn the spoken Tanacross language. The subject matter and the level of complexity are varied enough to make the dictionary a useful resource for a wide range of users, from people who know nothing of the language to people already know some words and phrases or have heard the language being spoken by their parents or grandparents. The dictionary consists of about 2000 English entry words with nearly 4500 Tanacross words and example sentences and clickable links to about 3800 separate audio recordings of the Tanacross words and sentences.

The Tanacross Learner's Dictionary is a community-based project. The vocabulary in the dictionary is considered to be acceptable by most speakers. Nonetheless, some words are pronounced differently by various speakers and there is often more than one way to say something. Some of these differences are included in the dictionary, but vocabulary in the dictionary should not be considered to be the only correct way to say something. The vocabulary in the dictionary has been approved by Elders working closely with the project. Elders wanted to emphasize vocabulary of many traditional activities. Therefore, there is extensive vocabulary given for activities such as fishing, camping and skin preparation, and many example sentences also refer to traditional activities.

Background and Sources

This dictionary has a long history. Through the efforts of people such as nancy McRoy, Ron Scollon, Alice Brean, and James Kari a number of wordlists and dictionary manuscripts were complied at the Alaska Native Language Center between 1973 and 1991. Dictionary work began again in 1997 as part of field work by Gary Holton, but this effort was focused on a scientific, stem-based dictionary. After Irene Arnold began teaching Tanacross language classes through the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2000, it was recognized that students needed a more accessible vocabulary reference, preferably one accompanied by audio recordings. One of those students, Rick Thoman, perservered to make the present Learners' dictionary come into reality.

After an exhaustive survey of existing Alaska Athabascan "Junior" dictionaries, Thoman compiled a preliminary English wordlist, which was entered into a Shoebox database. Thoman then devoted several years to compiling Tanacross translations, recording Tanacross forms, and researching dictionary presentation formats. This work resulted in Thoman's 2004 University of Alaska Fairbanks M.A. thesis.

Many sources have been consulted for this dictionary, but the vocabulary remains grounded in and inspired by the language classes taught by Irene Arnold. This classroom vocabulary has been supplemented by archival data and consultations with other Tanacross speakers. More than a dozen language workshops have been held in the Tanacross area since 1998, including three focused on the Tanacross Learner's Dictionary. Individual speakers have worked long hours with the editors on this and related projects. As with any dictionary project, it is difficult to know when to stop compiling and revising. There are many more Tanacross words and phrases to be recorded. The vocubulary found in this preliminary version of the Tanacross Learners' Dictionary is by no means exhaustive, but it is hoped that it will be useful to language learners.

NSF Funding for this project was provided in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF-OPP 0136113). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the compilers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Banner artwork by Gary John. Used with permission.