PUBLISHED: 3:57 PM on Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Sealaska Heritage Institute releases "Sneaky Sounds" for language learning
Book and CD Offer a fun approach to learning Tlingit sounds

Sealaska Heritage Institute has released a book and CD to help language students learn sounds difficult to pronounce in Tlingit.

Sneaky Sounds, A Non Threatening Introduction to Tlingit Sounds and Spelling, takes a humorous approach; the book's second subtitle is Fun with Phonology, Fonology with Phun.

Tlingit is famous for having one of the most difficult and complex sound systems in the world, according to an introduction written by Richard and Nora Dauenhauer, authors of the book. Tlingit presents about two dozen sounds not shared with English. Four of these sounds are unique to Tlingit - not shared with any other language on Earth (as far as linguists know). This complexity can prove discouraging for beginners and presents a major barrier to learning.

The idea behind the book is to introduce students to the sounds of the language in as non-threatening a manner as possible, said Keri Edwards, Tlingit linguist for SHI.

"The sound system is difficult for English speakers to learn, and the book isolates some of the more difficult sounds and points out the subtle differences between them," Edwards said. "The book will help students with listening skills, such as discriminating between unfamiliar sounds, and pronunciation and spelling."

The book also will help fluent speakers learn to write Tlingit. The language historically was not written and the orthography used today was developed by linguists in the late 20th century. Consequently, many Elders fluent in Tlingit do not know the writing system. By listening to the CD and following along with the text, fluent speakers will be able to learn which symbols correspond to which sounds, Edwards said.

The CD, produced by Edwards and Albert McDonnell, was recorded by fluent speakers John Marks and June Pegues. The project was six years in the making and received support from SHI, the Juneau School District and the University of Alaska Southeast. The materials were vetted by numerous language students, auditors and community Elders. Sneaky Sounds is available through SHI for $20.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a Native nonprofit established in 1981 to administer educational and cultural programs for Sealaska, a regional Native corporation formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The institute's mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures. Language revitalization is a priority of SHI.