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History of the Project

This lexicon of Naskapi words with their English and French translations is the result of a long-term project that, since 1979, has had two primary aims: first, to establish an acceptable standard for writing Naskapi words in syllabics; and second, to create the first official trilingual (Naskapi, English and French) lexicon of the Naskapi language.

Although reading and writing in syllabics have been practised by the Naskapi for nearly a century, the Naskapi themselves have been provided with formal education only since the early 1970s, beginning at Knob Lake School in Schefferville. It was not until the later 1970s that a Naskapi language class was established at the elementary school level. Eventually, Agnes Mckenzie, the Naskapi language teacher, began to produce word lists to use as part of her reading and writing curriculum. In 1980, Marguerite MacKenzie, a linguist associated with Memorial University of Newfoundland (St. John's), began to supervise the project, and Elijah Einish and Donald Peastitute were hired to collect and write down words. Agnes McKenzie's word lists were collected and added to these. Agnes also provided the Naskapi equivalents for many words from the Eastern James Bay Cree lexicon, which was just being compiled at that time.

Lana Martens, a linguist associated with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), was working in Schefferville during this time. She agreed to assist with the further compilation of the lexicon. This involved the transcribing and filing of each word on a 3" x 5" slip of paper, and keeping the files in order as words were added. These slips were proofread, corrected and copied, and then sent to Memorial University, where commenced the equally long and tedious process of keyboarding them into a mainframe computer for storage, sorting and retrieval.

  Photograph of Chief Philip Einish
  Chief Philip Einish

In early 1985, a preliminary computer printout of the lexicon was sent to Schefferville from St. John's for proofreading. Marguerite MacKenzie returned to Schefferville in the spring of 1986 to complete proofreading the printout with Donald Peastitute, Thomas Sandy and Philip Einish. At that time, many corrections and additions were made, and the corresponding changes were later made to the computer files at the University. A provisional syllabic font was developed at the University, and a computer program was utilized both to sort the words for printing and to transliterate the roman spellings into the syllabic font. One hundred copies of the preliminary version of the Naskapi Lexicon were printed at Memorial University in January of 1989.

This preliminary version was distributed to each home in the new Naskapi village of Kawawachikamach, near Schefferville, for consideration and comments. Marguerite MacKenzie continued to revise the collection of words, and in 1991 the entire database was transferred to a personal computer system using dBase IV. An interface was designed by Paul and Dave Cowan in St. John's for sorting and access to other related language lexicons for comparison.

Marguerite MacKenzie returned to Schefferville in 1992 to collect comments and new words from representatives of the community. Meanwhile, Bill Jancewicz, another linguist associated with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, had moved to Schefferville in 1988 in order to continue the research begun by Miss Martens. He was invited to assist with the editing, checking and transcribing of words. A committee of Naskapi persons worked with the linguists to finalize a number of spelling decisions. In December of 1992, Bill Jancewicz travelled to Memorial University to assist Marguerite MacKenzie. There, after entering new words and corrections into the computer files, they produced a pre-publication edition of the entire lexicon in syllabics, roman spelling and English, sorted according to the spelling of the Naskapi words. A second pre-publication edition of the nouns and particles sorted according to topic was also prepared. At that time a new syllabic font was being developed and tested by the editors, using a combination of Summer Institute of Linguistics and commercial publishing software. Six copies of each of these pre-publication editions were printed at Memorial for checking in Schefferville.

In the winter and spring of 1993, Bill Jancewicz with Philip Einish and Thomas Sandy checked through the words in the pre-publication editions. The Board of Directors of the Naskapi Development Corporation decided that every word in the lexicon should be carefully checked for accuracy by a competent reader of Naskapi syllabics. Joseph Guanish, considered by many to be an authority on written Naskapi, was chosen for this task. Over the course of several weeks, Joseph Guanish worked with Bill Jancewicz, carefully checking every word in the lexicon at least once, and all the nouns and particles at least twice. In the course of this checking procedure many errors were corrected, and new words were also found to add to the lexicon. These were collected and sent to Marguerite MacKenzie at Memorial University to be edited and keyboarded into the computer database by Audry Dawe-Sheppard. Simultaneously, the entire lexicon of French definitions was being checked for accuracy and corrected by Anne-Marie Baraby in Montréal.

The Board of Directors of the Naskapi Development Corporation approved the purchase of a faster and more powerful computer to be used for future Naskapi language projects. The Corporation asked Bill Jancewicz to install and maintain the lexicon database programs on their computer, and to perform the final editing, sorting and formatting at Schefferville. In July of 1993 Marguerite MacKenzie visited Schefferville again to assist in final editing, page design and layout. In the fall of 1993 the French corrections were completed and sent to Schefferville to be keyboarded into the main lexicon database, now permanently maintained at the Naskapi Development Corporation's Schefferville office. The lexicon was then subjected to a series of final checks for consistency, and sorted in the manner required for each of the three volumes. The pages for these volumes were printed and checked in Schefferville prior to their being sent to Montréal for printing and binding. The lexicon was computer typeset in the new syllabic font that had been designed in Schefferville specifically for the Naskapi language, the shape and proportions of the characters conforming to the current popular usage and style of syllabics in the community.

This lexicon is the result of years of work by many persons, and this first edition is as accurate as possible. It has been produced largely by and for the Naskapi community itself, and as such it is a reflection of the culture and language of the community. However, mistakes no doubt still persist, and there are probably many words that must be added or changed. The lexicon must now come under close scrutiny by all who use it. By gathering comments, criticisms and additional words, the lexicon will eventually be refined and expanded in later editions. Any comments should be sent to the editors, c/o the language office of the Naskapi Development Corporation.

Acknowledgements for the Print Edition of the Naskapi Lexicon

For originally collecting the words: Elijah Einish, Donald Peastitute, Lana Martens - For doing initial computer entry: Linda Parsons and Janet Kergoat - For doing computer entry of final corrections and English keywords: Audrey Dawe-Sheppard - For doing initial French translations: Jim McLean and Réginald Auger - For final French translations and corrections to French: Anne-Marie Baraby.

We would also like to express our thanks to the Summer Institute of Linguistics for technical assistance in computer typesetting and syllabic font systems design and development, and to the Naskapi Development Corporation for funding and use of facilities. Special thanks to Denise Geoffroy, Michèle Fortin and Ruby Sandy-Robinson for facilitation and encouragement, and to the office staff in Schefferville.

We acknowledge Memorial University of Newfoundland for assistance with computerization of the preliminary edition - The Sécretaire aux affaires autochtones for initial funding and for printing of the preliminary edition - Dave and Paul Cowan for computer programming and assistance - Paul Wilkinson and Marie-Cécile Brasseur for helpful comments regarding the introductory material - And thanks to the many Naskapi speakers themselves who freely offered help and encouragement to us throughout the project.

The Editors