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Patagonia Bookshelf

Yahgan Dictionary : Language of the Yamana people of Tierra del Fuego
Manuscript of Rev. Thomas Bridges (later annotations by Rev. John Williams), dated 1865
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Foreword to English–Yahgan Dictionary

'Research that involves the collection of language data is notoriously labor intensive … And yet most of these data … are hidden away in offices and library collections around the world … Most of this information will never find its way out of these caches.'  [see Grenoble]

It is seldom that an archaeologist "digs up" a language, but that is just what Alfredo Prieto /1/ has done with the English section of the Dictionary of the Yahgan and English languages, compiled by Thomas Bridges in 1865, a document which had been lost from view in the vast collection of the British Library, in London.

It would have been an unusual dictionary if there had only been a Yahgan section: just its author, some members of the missionary community, and the few Yamanas who knew how to read could use it. It seemed obvious that there must have been an English counterpart. /2/

This find is very significant, because most later versions of the Dictionary have apparently disappeared. Of the few survivors, there is only one which has been printed (Yahgan section: compiled 1879, printed 1933, re-edited 1987) [see Bridges, Goodall]. This website marks the first publication of the English section.

Even though there remains only a single living speaker of Yahgan [written 2012, Ed.], when she passes away, at least the language will live on to be studied more effectively, thanks to the dictionary now being published. So — Here it is at last!

Patagonia Bookshelf applauds Alfredo Prieto's effort and persistence in tracking down the Dictionary and organizing its presentation. We feel privileged to be able to publish it here, on Internet, free for all to read and study at their leisure.


/1/ Alfredo Prieto: Instituto de la Patagonia, University of Magallanes, Punta Arenas, Chile

/2/ This thought was validated by reading the following statement in a linguistics journal: '… the English–Yahgan dictionary more than deserves a printed edition in facsimile both on its own merits and as the only key to the 1933 Yahgan/Yamana–English dictionary.' [see Klafkowski]