|Ndee biyáti' / Nnee biyáti'|
|Native to||United States|
|Region||Primarily south-east Arizona|
|14,000 (65% of pop.) (2007)|
The Western Apache language is a Southern Athabaskan language spoken among the 14,000 Western Apaches in east central Arizona. There are approximately 6,000 speakers living on the San Carlos Reservation and 7,000 living on the Ft. Apache Reservation.Goodwin (1938) claims that Western Apache can be divided into five dialect groupings:
Other researchers do not find any linguistic evidence for five groups but rather three main varieties with several subgroupings:
Western Apache is most closely related to other Southern Athabaskan languages like Navajo, Chiricahua Apache, Mescalero Apache, Lipan Apache, Plains Apache, and Jicarilla Apache.
In 2011, the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s Language Preservation Program in Peridot, Arizona, began its outreach to the "14,000 tribal members residing within the districts of Bylas, Gilson Wash, Peridot and Seven Mile Wash,"only 20% of whom still speak the language fluently.
Many Western Apache place names that are currently in use are believed to be creations of Apache ancestors.Keith Basso, a prominent Western Apache linguist, writes that the ancestors frequently traveled for food, and the need to remember specific places was "facilitated by the invention of hundreds of descriptive placenames that were intended to depict their referents in close and exact detail." Basso also writes that place names provide descriptions of specific locations and also "positions for viewing these locations." The place names are a fundamental aspect of Western Apache communication, allowing for what Basso describes as an appropriation of "mythic significance" for “specialized social ends" via the practice of "speaking with names."
Place names can be descriptive or commemorative or a means of identifying clans. Social groups will often use place names as a way to communicate. For example, they use place names to explain what happened to them: if there is a story linked to the location, they can relate to it or use it as a warning. That use of place names is known in the culture as "shooting with stories," as they shoot one another with stories like arrows of information.
Western Apache uses a classificatory verb system comparable to both the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apaches. Basso gives this example: "the stems –tii and –'a are used in the phrases nato sentii and nato sen’a both of which may be translated broadly as “hand (me) the tobacco.” The difference in meaning between the two verb forms is signaled by their stems: --tii refers to the handling of a single, elongated object (e.g., a cigarette), while –‘a refers to the handling of a single, compact object (e.g., a packet of cigarettes). In short, the referent of the noun nato (“tobacco”) is made more precise according to the stem with which it is coupled."
The use of classificatory verbs is similar to that of nouns: the speaker must select an expression that corresponds to the situation in the world he wishes to refer to. The speaker must place specific objects into categories and use the appropriate verb form in accordance with the particular category. Basso gives these examples of classifications for the Western Apache verb system:
There are 29 consonants in Western Apache:
There are 16 vowels in Western Apache:
An acute accent /á/ represents a high toned accent. Low toned accents are not marked.
Phonetic Semantic signs are divided into two sub-parts: a logographs(donate only one word) and phraseographs (donate one or more words).
Western Apache utilizes unaffricated stops. Willem de Reuse explains, "Unaffricated stop consonants are produced in three locations: bilabial, alveolar, velar. At the alveolar and velar places of articulation, there are three possibilities: aspirated, ejective, and unaspirated. (The voiceless unaspirated alveolars are characteristically realized as taps in intervocalic environments other than stem-initial position) The bilabial stops are more restricted. Ejective bilabial stops do not occur, and aspirated bilabial stops are rarely attested, surfacing primarily, if not exclusively, in borrowed words. The closure for three alveolar stops is voiceless, as indicated by the absence of any energy in the spectrograms during the closure phase."
The only writing system native to Western Apache is a system of symbols created in 1904 by Silas John Edwards to record 62 prayers that he believed came to him from heaven.A Silas John prayer-text is a set of graphic symbols written on buckskin or paper. The symbols are arranged in horizontal lines which are read from left to right in descending order. Symbols are separated by a space, and each symbol corresponds to a single line of prayer, which may consist of a word, a phrase, or one or more sentences. An interesting feature of this writing system is that it includes symbols for nonverbal actions as well as verbal speech.
Symbols can either be "compound" or "non-compound". Compound symbols consist of two symbols being combined in order to form a new symbol. Non-compound symbols are symbols that are not combination of two separate symbols.The "names" of non-compound symbols are the same as the line of text that the symbols elicit. Because of this, the linguistic referent of a non-compound symbol is always the same as the meaning of the element that forms it and can be learned in a single operation.
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Western Apache uses a modified version of the Latin alphabet:
|Letters ʼ – Ł||ʼ||A||B||Ch||Chʼ||D||Dl||Dz||E||G||Gh||H||I||J||K||Kʼ||L||Ł|
|Letters M – Zh||M||N||O||P||S||Sh||T||Tʼ||Tł||Tłʼ||Ts||Tsʼ||U||W||Y||Z||Zh|
|Written||mbá||nadą́ʼ||oyeeł||piishi||silaada||shash||tús||itʼoh||tłád / ikʼah||tłʼoh||tséé||tsʼaał||tú||iwoo||yoo||zas||zhaali|
|IPA pronunciation||mpá||natã́||ojɛːɬ||pʰɪːʃɪ||sɪlaːta||ʃaʃ||tʰús||ɪtʰʔox||tɬʰát / ɪkʰʔax||tɬʔox||tsʰɛ́ː||tsʼaːɬ||tʰú||ɪwoː||joː||zas||ʒaːlɪ|
The geographic locations of events are crucial components to any Western Apache story or narrative.All Western Apache narratives are spatially anchored to points upon the land, with precise depictions of specific locations, which is characteristic of many Native American languages. Basso called the practice of focusing on places in the language "speaking with names."
According to Basso, the Western Apache practice of "speaking with names" expresses functional range and versatility. Basso claims that "a description of a place may be understood to accomplish all of the following actions:
Basso also claims the practice of "speaking with names" can occur only between those with shared "knowledge of the same traditional narratives."He notes that though many elders in Western Apache communities, such as Cibecue, share this knowledge, younger generations of Western Apache "are ignorant of both placenames and traditional narratives in increasing numbers," which makes engaging in the practice of "speaking with names" incredibly difficult.
Western Apache is an endangered language, and there are efforts to increase the number of speakers.One method of teaching Western Apache is the Total Physical Response (TPR) Method, which focuses, especially in early instruction, on commands. That method is best for teaching the straightforward aspects of grammar, such as yes-and-no questions, and can be enhanced with further grammatical exercises.
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