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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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English–Yahgan Dictionary : Preface by Thomas Bridges

Manuscript pages:       1st  open ; 2nd  open ; 3rd  open

The order of the letters as used in this dictionary is as follows, a ɛ i̜ ϖ u̜ ɑ e i o u ɑ̜ ɞ ɵ ɤ ɯ ω vowels. c̹ ŋ ʃ [?] b c d f g h j k l m n p r s t v w y z. 39 letters in all, 16 vowels and 23 consonants. The reasons for adopting the above order of using the letters are -

1st. It is a natural way, the long vowels coming first, then the short ones, and next the broad vowels or diphthongs, then following next the additional consonants of Alex. Ellis's Phonetic System, in wh[ich] system this work is written, and then the other consonants in the same order as in the Roman Alphabet. The sound of each letter is always, in all words the same, and all that is required to most satisfactorily fix the pronunciation of all words is the acute accent ´ marked over the vowel on which it falls. The sounds of the above letters may be seen most accurately defined in any book printed in Ellis's Phonetic System, all therefore that is necessary for me to say is that the letter k, as is appointed, is used for the aspirated ch of the Germans, and hr is a sound that is common in the Welsh Language. All the other sounds of this language which by the natives is called Cɯtɑ̜nɑ, in opposition to Bumɑ̜nɑ, the language of the Foot Indians [Onas / Selknam, Ed.], and Cɛnɑcɑ, the language of the Alωcωlωf people, are common to English, save l m n r w and y aspirated.

The natives pronounce so indistinctly the following letters that it is very difficult to fix upon the proper letter satisfactorily - d & t, q & c, f & p, j & tch, s & sh. In writing this language I have been much hindered by this indistinctness of pronunciation, being often doubtful which letter was nearest, and have often substituted these letters one for another, and again recurred to the first as nearest the truth. No doubt when they learn to read this language, their pronunciation will be strengthened.

Verbs marked plural when transative [sic], refer not to the nominative but to the objective, save in a few cases when they may refer to the nominative. Verbs plural but intr[ansitive] refer of course to the nominative.

In order to abbreviate this work as much as possible there are continual references to Grammar.

One imperfection of this language is the want of general terms. Thus they have no word for leaves of trees or plants, but only specific ones, thus ʃupi̜ɑ leaves of ʃuʃc̹i; Hɑnis leaves of Hɑuis; ωʃcωtɑ̜lɛωʃ leaves of ωʃcωta; Lɛωʃ leaves of i̜ɑ̜cɯ; Múʃɑ̜gɑ̜nɑ leaves of Cωfyien.

Again, they have no term for fish generally, but class them in orders, thus ɑpumωhr, Pi̜ɑcɑ, I̜ɑcɑ̜si, each mean a certain class of fish (these three orders however include all orders.)

Again, they have no terms for ducks, geese, hawks, owls, vultures, penguins, shags, gulls, snipes, etc.; but for each particular kind of these birds they have names, beside terms by which, as with fish, they class them in three orders, thus Bik land birds, Pí̜ɑcɑ beach birds, I̜ɑcɑ̜si sea birds.

Again, they have no term for seals, but have names only for each particular kind. This want of general terms runs through the language, both with verbs and nouns, and is a great imperfection.

Another singularity in this language is the great variety of adverbs of place, each of which have a special prefix to verbs, which prefix signifies to go in that direction. Thus, adverbs of direction ɛnɯ up, ɛlɯ out, ɛtɯ down, Cɑ̜gɯtecɑ to go up, Cɯpɑtegɑ to go down, Cɯtɑtégɑ to go out, said of a boat or ship.

Again, Hɤɑmuc̹í over there, Hɤɑgiu over there (in the opposite direction to Hɤɑmuc̹í), Hɤɑmá̜tɯ over there, Hɤɑcɑ̜gɯ up there, Hɤɑcílɯ down there, Hɤɑcɑ̜pɯ up there. Let one instance of illustration of the verbal prefix suffice, thus Cɑ̜gi̜ii̜i to go about, call, i̜yi hrɑcɑ̜gɯfy to call up. See Grammar for further illustration.

Another peculiarity in this language is the compounding nature of its words, the latter of which stand in place of adverbs, thus i̜yimɑnɑ̜tsicuri to call out, i̜yimuc̹i to call in, i̜yiʃénɑtɑ to call back, i̜yiɯci̜a to call up, i̜yimɛnɑ to call down, i̜yicunɑ to call aboard, i̜yitɯwu[...] to call [...].

Thus again, ɯcɯselɑ to pour out, simple verb, Tɯcɯselɑcɛmɯ to pour in, Tɯcɯselɑtecɑ to pour on.

Another peculiarity is the strange way in which pronouns are included in verbs, as Tɯmɯgi̜ʃínɑnɑ to ask to help one; Hɑtɯmɯgi̜ʃínɑnoɑ cunjimɑ I will ask him to help me; Sɑtɯmɯgi̜ʃínɑnɯda hi̜ɑ you asked me to help you; Cutɯmɯgi̜ʃínɑnɯda sci̜ɑ he asked you to help him; Cumuc̹icumɯda yurʃ he cut his finger; Cumɯgi̜ʃinɑnɑpicinɯda they (two) helped one another; Mɯcωsi to wash oneself; Tɯmɯcωsí to ask another to wash one.

The great number of affixes, prefixes and compounds make the number of distinct or unconnected words few, but of course greatly multiply the forms of the same word.

Some affixes are for prepositions, some for adverbs and others for pronouns.

Another peculiarity in the language is the want of numerals, save the first three, viz. ɯcwɞli, Cumbi̜bi, Mútɑn, one, two, three.

The way the pronouns are used is peculiar. Thus they say Cundan hipi̜ he & me; Cundi̜ɑn hi̜ɑn he and we, or they and me.

There is an entire absence of gender except one or two words which are exclusively either masculine or feminine.

Another peculiarity is the plural verbs both transitive & intransitive. The transitive plural verbs, the plural exclusively refers to the objective case. Most syllables are open but may [sic] are shut.

The only sounds in this language difficult for English people to pronounce are the k or ch of the German, and the following letters aspirated R L M N W.

In Yahgan there are many words in sound alike but having diverse significations. Thus Wuʃtégɑtɑ signifies to finish, verb transitive; to be vexed, irritated, to be teased; Wuʃtɑ̜gɯ to do, make, be displeased; ɯcɑ verb transitive & substantive, to sew a canoe; also the sucker fish or scuttle fish; ωfcɑ adjective and verb transitive, corrupt, offensive; to coil up in the hand; besides many other; Múc̹i to enter, go in, also to put on the head; Mɑ̜gɯ to bear, also to put round the neck.

Phonetic transcription (after notation of Alexander Ellis): Gladys Grace P.
Last updated: 5-VI-2012