Monthly Archives: December 2013

Dissertation Update

Dakota LanguageToday is Friday the 6th of December, it is approximately -11°F, I am looking out beyond the laptop screen through a south-facing window to the light blue snowscape, the time when the approach of the sun-rise appears eminent. I plan on finishing my opening dissertation chapter (which might turn into an introduction) that deals with the public remembrance of the US-Dakota Wars. One of the main thrusts in this disquisition is to look at not only how various generations have remembered and memorialized the US-Dakota Wars, but to piece together why.

I chatted with an engineer about this a couple days ago, albeit briefly, and I found in myself another reason that I hadn’t articulated so well: whenever we, the royal we, are frustrated with the way things are, sometimes it helps to track the history so as to see how we got where we are today. This doesn’t necessarily mean we will agree with it, but one doesn’t have to agree with something in order to understand it. To my right on the floor is a stack of published monographs on world and public history — historiography (or the history of history) having spoken to and shaped what we know today.

I also picked up and have so far read the introduction of Denise Meringolo, Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History (U of Massachusetts Press, 2012) from the dutiful Inter Library Loan-ists at NDSU. A couple months ago Bill Caraher and I were chatting at Laughing Sun in Bismarck, and he suggested I check it out. It is good. More on that later, either in blog or dissertation form. To my left is Stephen R. Riggs, A Dakota-English Diectionary and John P. Williamson, An English-Dakota Dictionary. I continuously re-re-rediscover that language, or the study of it, provides insights into the past, as do oral traditions and oral histories. But okay, enough of all this blogging for now. I’m just going to get after finishing this draft. Happy Friday to you.


Dakota for Blizzard: Icamnatanka

Since it is snowing now and we’re bracing for a blizzard on the northern Steppes of North America, it seems appropriate to look at and unpack the Dakota word for these storm systems. Dakota, after all, was one of the original languages of the Dakotas and Minnesota.

Blizzard in Dakota is icamnatanka, prounced roughly as ih-cha-mnah-tan-ka. In the case of icamnatanka, the word is a combination of two slightly smaller Dakota words. The first is icamna, which means “to blow, bluster, storm, drive, as wind and snow.” Mna in the word icamna is related to yumna. The yu in yumna expresses causation in some way. Thus the entire word yumna denotes a causation that means to rip a seam with scissors, or to rip a seam in anyway by pulling.

The second word in icamnatanka might be a bit more familiar. The word tanka means large or great. It is easy by now to see how icamnatanka comes to denote blizzard. It is a large or great blowing, blustering storm driven by wind. And mna is a word also connected to ripping at the seams. If we use our historical imaginations, we can envision a Dakota, Lakota or Nakota on the northern Great Plains in what we know today as early December. When an icamnatanka would strike, this blizzard would indeed bluster and blow snow through or rip at any kind of seam, whether in a tipi, earth lodge or through the seam of a hide-garment.

I posted a short version of this to social media the other day and a good friend, Dakota Goodhouse, texted me and said, “The Lakota use ichamna for snow storm or blizzard too, but use Iwoblu for severe blizzard.” The variations in language are mind-blowing. In the paraphrased words of John K. Cox at North Dakota State University, to learn a second language means that one learns to grow the other half of their brain. This is true.

Anyhow, as I continue the joyous struggle to learn second languages, it has always seemed to make more sense to me when individual words are unpacked. And by “joyous struggle” I mean just that: learning languages, at least for myself, is difficult. But I’m up for the task. To understand another word and language is to begin to understand another culture. Language is so very connected to culture, and is the way a culture describes itself, immediate surroundings, and the world. When one opens a language they open up a new way of seeing yesteryear, today, and even tomorrow.

The unpacking of icamnatanka came by way of help from one of Clifford Canku‘s Dakota Language I worksheets, and A Dakota-English Dictionary by Stephen R. Riggs (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992). Riggs started developing the dictionary in the 1830s with Samuel W. and Gideon H. Pond, and Thomas S. Williamson. They worked directly with Michael Renville, David Grey Cloud, James Garvie, and Walking Elk, a Yankton tribal leader.

This blog entry has been cross-posted at North Dakota State University’s Center for Heritage Renewal here and here.


Scholarly Publishing Houses in New Zealand

Since having returned from the South Pacific, and now back on the northern Steppe of North America, I have been rummaging through all the pieces of paper one accumulates while on short or long journeys. I came across the flyers, handbills and handouts that speak to the various scholarly publishing houses in New Zealand. Before my New Zealand trip, these were off my radar. And I figured since I didn’t know about them but do now, I’d share the findings and provide links. There is Bridget Williams Books, Auckland University Press, and Otago University Press. There, of course, are more (this is not exhaustive). But this is a start.

During the New Zealand Historical Association conference, a panel of editors from these scholarly and academic presses spoke to where scholarly publishing has been, where it is today, and where it might go tomorrow. This, I know, is an excellent idea for any scholarly conference, since the only way scholars can disseminate their research is by getting it published. And to get something published requires one to get to know the editors in charge of the publishing houses. And so on.