Q & A with Rosita Worl: Our orthography, it’s important to get it right
Elders and linguists have spent decades developing a method for spelling our Native languages, which historically were oral languages and not written. It’s important that the orthography is recognized and adhered to in scholarly papers, news stories and books. It is disheartening to see Native words misspelled in public materials and it does a disservice to our people and language restoration efforts. Because of this, Sealaska Heritage has developed the policy below. As the policy notes, considerable material is available to seek correct spellings, but if consultation with experts is necessary, compensation may be required.
Statement on the Correct Spelling of Alaska Native Words
Sealaska Heritage Institute’s policy and practice is to promote and ensure that all words in the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian languages of Alaska are spelled correctly, including the use of up-to-date orthographic markings on each letter. When written materials in Native languages are included in professional papers, books, media publications, public lectures, and all other types of publications, care should be taken to use accurate spelling. This is not only a matter of respect but of professionalism on the part of the individual author and publishing institution. No difference should exist between the professional standards for ensuring the correct spelling of words in the English language and those of an indigenous language. This practice strengthens language revitalization efforts, cross-cultural understanding, academic scholarship, and the general recognition that Native languages are no less legitimate than English. Scholars, journalists, writers, publishers, and others should apply to Native words the same standards that compel them to spell English and other non-Native words correctly.
This may require researching the written systems for the Native language in question and referencing contemporary works that clearly identify acknowledged experts as their sources. Native birth-speakers and trained linguists have collaborated on many works for those interested in writing in a Native language, and produced a wealth of published dictionaries, grammars, lesson-books, and works of literature that are available for reference at libraries, bookstores, and online. Consulting with Native language experts may also be an option with the expectation that payment may be required. This practice improves the consistency, reliability, and professional standards of all institutions and individuals involved.