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Preface to the 1977 PALI text


All dictionaries are partial, incomplete catalogues of the richness of the vocabulary of a language. The creativity of the users of a language is reason enough for the incompleteness of any statement about it. Words become obsolete; they acquire new shades of meaning; new words are created. These processes are continually operating to make the words of a language forever changing.

Dictionaries are incomplete in another way. Dictionary makers are finite creatures, and fallible ones, with special interests and widely varying amounts of knowledge. This Yapese-English dictionary is a crude first attempt at making available in published form a list of some of the words of Yapese, with some of their meanings in English.

Although it is still considered preliminary, this dictionary builds on the work of several predecessors in this field. The three major sources of Yapese words available to me are: P. Sixtus, Kurzgefasste Grammatik der Jap-Sprache (Ponape, 1914); Samuel Elbert, “Yap-English and English-Yap word lists, with notes on pronunciation and grammar” (typescript, 1946); and the unpublished dictionary file compiled by Robert Hsu at the University of Hawaii from 1966 to 1969. The present dictionary is largely a collation of these three books, although I was not able to make as full use of Sixtus’ dictionary as I would have liked.

In addition to the above materials, I incorporated the Yapese-English word list (with English-Yapese finder list). John Iou and I had originally compiled it as an appendix to an unpublished text of Yapese language lessons produced for the U.S. Peace Corps in 1967. All of these materials were edited by Leo Pugram and Raphael Defeg. While in Yap in 1972, I added words culled from conversations with various people and was also able to check the accuracy of spelling and meaning of some of the words.

Because information has been added to the dictionary from many different sources, there are numerous inaccuracies in it. The authors apologize for these, and hope that a second version of the dictionary will provide an opportunity for Yapese authors to make corrections. A number of cases of uncertainty in spelling are disguised as “alternate pronunciations.”

The present dictionary is also inadequate on several counts. Definitions are often incomplete; grammatical information is sometimes missing; more example sentences should have been included; many important Yapese words have been said to be omitted; and, for some words, important aspects of their meaning are not described. There was a need to get this edition into print and so these gaps were not filled.

Bilingual education in Yap is just beginning to become a reality. Orthography is a critical issue. Materials are being prepared and those working with them must know how to spell. Schoolchildren are being taught to spell. Although the Yapese orthography of this dictionary is a systematic one, it is not a system that can be learned in a few simple lessons. Rather, the Yapese orthography must ultimately be worked out through usage. Since most people spell particular words in particular ways on the basis of the authority of a dictionary — as is the case of English and other languages — it is hoped that this dictionary will serve as the basic model for the development of a truly standardized Yapese orthography.

John T. Jensen


It seems an almost endless task to thank the people whose efforts have produced this work. Many helped, each in important ways, and I am deeply grateful to them all. Special thanks go to the following.

First recognition must go to my primary informants, John Iou, Leo Pugram, and Raphael Defeg, all of Yap. These three were the mainstay of our work.

Special thanks go to Raphael Uag, curator of the Yap Museum, who helped me in 1972.

Robert Hsu has been the backstage man now for some ten dictionaries. His patience and diligence and computer skills have been indispensable.

Donald M. Topping has been the midwife for this and a staggering number of other such dictionary, reference grammar, and language lesson productions in the PALI Language Texts series. Without his attention and personal/ personnel management this work would certainly have been stillborn.

My wife, Susan, has lived with “The Yapese Dictionary,” as it has been known, for as long as she has known me. She has been patient and encouraging, and has lent material help at crucial times.

The people who have done the hard, tedious work of keypunching entries have my gratitude. Those known to me are Cynthia Dalrymple, Melody Moir Actouka, Dawn Reid, and Jim Tharp. Pete Siegel and Robert Hsu copy edited the final version.

Masaharu Tmodrang kindly helped me to search for Palauan words that could be sources for Yapese borrowing, or borrowed from Yapese; Ramon Peyal helped me to do the same for Ulithian.

I am deeply grateful to Bruce Biggs of the Anthropology department of the University of Auckland, and to the university itself, for permitting me to work on the dictionary while I was a lecturer in that department and for providing financial assistance at critical times.

Thanks also to Bethel Oestman, director of the Yap Bilingual Education Project, who hired me to write a new dictionary and, nevertheless, permitted me to spend time finishing this one.

This project was funded primarily by a grant from the government of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands to the University of Hawaii. Additional support was provided by the East-West Center through the Pacific Language Development Project. The Department of Linguistics and the Pacific and Asian Linguistics Institute (now the Social Sciences and Linguistics Institute)

Acknowledgments of the University of Hawaii also contributed time and facilities to support the research project under which this dictionary was compiled.

I heartily thank all who helped. I apologize for the inadequacies. 1 alone may he held accountable for them, I hope that this dictionary will be helpful to those Yapese who wish to know more about their language, or who wish to be able to use it more effectively, and especially those who wish to master the new spelling system. I hope also that it will be helpful to those speakers of other languages who are interested in Yapese, either as linguists or as learners. And, finally, I hope that, by God’s help, a new and improved edition will be produced by our present efforts here in Yap.

John T. Jensen


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