While there are many opinions about the propriety of writing down oral Indigenous languages, written sources remain important to language learners and language learning.  Ojibwes, of course, have a unique relationship to literacy going back thousands of years.  This Ojibwe language dictionary by linguist John D. Nichols and Ojibwe speaker/teacher Earl Nyholm (Otchingwanigan) from the University of Minnesota Press was the first, and still most widely available, print resource for Ojibwe language learners.

When I was first learning Ojibwemowin, we grew to refer to this dictionary as “The Bible,” and we meant that only half-jokingly.  I still pull this off the shelf often to check up on a word, or to remind myself of some grammatical detail (usually to find subordinate or transitive forms of verbs).

It’s presented in the Charles Fiero “double-vowel” orthography, which is a simple enough spelling system to use.  While imperfect (as all orthographies are, even IPA since there are several versions of IPA), this writing system helps students remember certain rules.  For example, the basic form of verbs is third person case, such as baapi meaning “s/he laughs.”  When a verb ends in a short vowel sound (represented by a single letter, in that example the single letter /i/), then that vowel ending is dropped when adding the first person singular prefix.  So baapi (“s/he laughs”) becomes imbaap (“I laugh”).  if the third person verb ends with a long vowel (such as wewebinaabii, “s/he is fishing”), then the ending vowel is not dropped after adding the first person prefix (niwewebinaabii is “I am fishing”).

Plus, it’s much easier to produce notes (and supplemental learning materials) in a basic word processing program with Fiero’s orthography than in a system of macrons or syllabics.

This dictionary draws from Minnesota dialects, of course, but the orthography is flexible that it can be used to represent whatever dialect is local to the learner.  It has a handy pronunciation guide, a good guide to usage, a grammatical primer, and a clear layout in both English and Ojibwe.

With entries that balance both historical and contemporary vocabulary, this dictionary also well reflects the ongoing vitality of Ojibwe language and culture. 

Rumor had it this went out of print, but I know that it was last reprinted (with revisions) in 2011, so I think it will remain an important resource for quite some time.

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