Introduction

 

The Cahto (also spelled “Kato”) language is a California Athabaskan language of the Eel River group in northern Mendocino county, California. This is the first attempt to compile a bilingual dictionary for Cahto, and will be only the second dictionary for any California Athabaskan language, the first being Golla’s Hupa Language Dictionary. Currently the dictionary is comprised of about 4,000 Cahto headwords, extracted from nearly 10,000 forms documented by scholars between the 1850’s and the 2000’s, but most prolifically in the first decades of the 20th century by Pliny Earle Goddard, J. P. Harrington, Edward Sapir, C. Hart Merriam, Edward Curtis, and others. Much editing, including some merging (and occasional splitting) of related headwords, linking of text examples and general clean-up, and editing of front-matter, remains before the dictionary is ready for publication. The author has now secured funding, thanks to the NEH (see Acknowledgements), to support one year of full-time work that is required to finish the first edition and have it ready for distribution/launching/publication. But it is useful even in its current state and is made available here as a resource for the Cahto people, in particular, as well as Athabaskanist scholars and others who might be interested.

Each dictionary entry is, from Webonary’s blog perspective, a blog post, with a Comments section. I very much encourage comments regarding the entries. The more community feedback, the better the dictionary will eventually be for the Community! Comments mostly end up deleted whenever I update the dictionary, as the process involves deleting all entry posts, then importing new ones from the dictionary database. But I will have read, saved, and when possible made appropriate follow-up and/or editing, before deletion. Please let me know in your comment if you would allow me to credit you by name in the Acknowledgements section, and with your comment if it’s of a nature that I want to include it explicitly. House-cleaning sorts of suggestions (such as generalizing a gloss that currently reflects the example form) are already being implemented. Thank you in advance, for Comments!

Please note that a comprehensive dictionary attempts to be a clear window, without censoring filters, on the available information on a language and culture. This can run into some opposition on at least four fronts: 1) not wanting to see or be reminded of awful things done in the past, 2) it is very difficult (or impossible) to present the beliefs and practices of a culture not one’s own without opening oneself up to competing accusations of romanticization, wannabe-ism, dismissal or patronization, 3) some of the past sources do not always have the most pluralistic and respectful attitudes and sometimes vocabulary, 4) Cahto culture and religion have changed drastically several times over the past two+ centuries and what is sacred and possibly not to be discussed has changed accordingly.

Most of traditional Cahto culture was in the common human range of beautiful, interesting, neutral, or, at worst, not too bad, and the Cahto tended not to seek conflict and warfare. But there are occasional things that fall in the equally common human range of awful to many readers. The comprehensive dictionary cannot leave these out (though, obviously, a learners’ dictionary easily could unless needed for students’ work with texts including such things). The author herself is an agnostic and attempts to present beliefs in a neutral way, finding them all interesting for themselves, which attitude can probably be viewed as inherently patronizing by those who wish to. As my wife Abbie said on reading this, “What this means is that human stuff is messy: be offended at your own risk.”

With regard to vocabulary and pluralism, I have quoted older sources without editing, except for the one occurrence of the N*-word which I suspect was said matter-of-factly, without animosity, in the context. Regarding the fourth point, the main consultants who discussed sacred and traditionally secret matters with researchers worked repeatedly with different researchers, knowing that they were documenting their language and culture to future generations and a broad, open audience. As leaders within the Tribe, and in Bill Ray’s case not just a Captain but a Doctor, it is presumed that they knew what they were doing, had the authority to do so, and felt that the need of ensuring that future generations could know their traditions outranked the need for secrecy. It would be difficult, and counterproductive to return things to secrecy for the comprehensive dictionary. But it is reasonable to leave secret matters out of non-comprehensive materials like language lessons and a learners’ dictionary, and I welcome feedback on materials that might best be simplified or avoided in such materials.

Sally Anderson, compiler/editor