Well, I just repeated myself.
Before I moved to Page Arizona, I always thought the traditional Diné (Navajo) greeting was pronounced Yah-ta-hey.
Someone just smack me.
I came by it honestly, I guess. I learned my lousy pronunciation from the Brady Bunch. Sorry, folks, it was the only point of reference I had at the time.
I quickly learned, though, that pronunciation wasn’t the only thing I was struggling with. I had confusedly assumed, as I bet you do too, that Hello and Yá’át’ééh meant the same thing.
Well, they don’t.
First of all, hello is little more than a holler. You may have even guessed correctly that hello is actually a derivation of holler. But yá’át’ééh is a lot warmer and fuzzier than that. The greeting is an equalizer–a recognition that you approach your fellow human being with good intentions, and that you expect the same from them. The actual meaning of the term is it is good. As it was explained to me: it is good between us. So now that we have set the expectation, we can converse without animosity.
I love it.
Now back to pronunciation
It’s a good thing I listened a few times and actually asked someone to help me pronounce the word before I tried it on my students from the rez. As it was, I absolutely butchered it, but I am getting better at it, even though I now live in Kentucky and have absolutely no one to try it on.
As I was struggling to figure out how to help my grandchildren learn Dinè terms correctly, I ran across this awesome website called Navajo WOTD (word of the day). I’ll be using it a lot as I explain what I have learned about the Dinè language and culture.
It turns out that yá’át’ééh is two short syllables and one long one. Emphasis on the first and last. Take a listen:
Now say it again. Keep trying ’til you get it right. I think it’s gonna take me forever, but I’ll bet those smart grandkids of mine will get it right.
For the sake of those awesome grandkids, I’m gonna keep at it, so that as I learn, they can learn about their Diné grandmother and their family from the rez. Maybe one day they will be able to go back and actually put their native language to the test.
What does Brody have to do with this?
I knew you were gonna ask that.
I have decided that in honor of my grandchildren’s Native American heritage, I would post a story or fact to help them learn about, and to appreciate, their native ancestors on or near their birthdays, and it just so happens that today is Brody’s fourth birthday.
So Happy Birthday, Brody! I love you lots, and I can’t wait to practice this with you!