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Explorations in Navajo Poetry and Poetics

Anthony K. Webster

Publication Year: 2009

In this study Webster investigates the devices found in Navajo written and oral poetic traditions. He then explores aspects of language such as code-mixing, punning, and ideophony (sound symbolism), often considered marginal in linguistics literature, revealing how they are central to the study of ethnopoetics and a discourse-centered approach to language and culture.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. vii-x

The original research for this book was done as part of my dissertation research on the emergence of written Navajo poetry on the Navajo Nation. Fieldwork on the Navajo Nation was conducted under a Historic Preservation Office (HPO) permit from June 2000 through August 2001. More recent research, also conducted under permits from HPO, was ...

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Introduction: Navajo Poetry and Poetics

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pp. 1-15

People tell stories. If ethnopoetics has taught us anything, it is that while the “what” of a story (the content) is important, the “how” of the story (the poetic structuring) is of equal importance. This book is about the ways that the how of the story and the what of the story are intertwined. The stories here are Navajo poetry, both written and performed orally ...

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1: Poetic Devices in Navajo Oral and Written Poetry

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pp. 16-50

In this chapter, I outline the poetic devices found in Navajo oral narratives and compare them to poetic devices found in Navajo written poetry. One goal of this chapter is to give specific examples wherein Navajo oral poetic devices are used in Navajo orthographic poetry. It has often been assumed that Navajo written poetry is influenced by Navajo oral poetry ...

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2: Poetics and Politics of Navajo Ideophony

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pp. 51-79

In Language, Edward Sapir (1921:8) suggests that the Northern Athabaskan speaking peoples of the Mackenzie River region (Canada) did not use many onomatopoetic or “imitative” forms in their language. Sapir’s point was to challenge the belief that non-European languages, the languages of so-called primitives, had more sound symbolic forms ...

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3: Language, Language Ideology, and Navajo Poetry

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pp. 80-121

In this chapter I focus on what is not represented in much of the use of the Navajo language in contemporary Navajo-written published poetry. Instead, I suggest that the Navajo used serves as an icon of proper Navajo usage. It presents a “purist” view of the Navajo language and largely obscures communicative practices of younger Navajos. This is especially ...

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4: Performance, the Individual, and Feelingful Iconicity

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pp. 122-151

In the previous chapters, I have focused largely on poetic devices in Navajo and on the representation of language in such poetry. In this chapter, I turn to an analysis of how Navajo poets actually perform their poetry before audiences. I am concerned with how Laura Tohe, a Navajo poet, connects both to audiences and her own past through the feelingful ...

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5: Narratives of Navajoness and Indigenous Articulations

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pp. 152-181

In this chapter, I want to continue exploring the work that poetry and poetry performances do in constructing narratives of Navajoness. In the previous chapter I looked at how Tohe performed poetry that was connected to her own life story—“Cat and Stomp”—and the ways that such stories could reverberate outwards to audience members. In this chapter ...

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6: Intercultural Performances and the Dynamics of Place

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pp. 182-217

Up until now, I have been largely concerned with intracultural performances. In this chapter, I analyze portions of an intercultural performance by Laura Tohe to a non-Navajo audience in rural Illinois. By analyzing Tohe’s metalinguistic commentaries about the use of Navajo, as well as her actual uses of Navajo in her performance, I argue that Tohe ...

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Conclusion: Multiplying Glimpses of Navajo Poetics

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pp. 218-225

Ronald and Suzanne Scollon (1981:53) once argued that, “an Athabaskan cannot, as an Athabaskan, write easily about Athabaskan things.” I think many Navajo poets would disagree with that statement.¹ Esther Belin (2007) recently titled an article in Wicazo Sa Review, “Contemporary Navajo Writers’ Relevance to Navajo Society.” In that piece she talks ...

Appendix A

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pp. 227-228

Appendix B

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pp. 229


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pp. 231-238


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pp. 239-267


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pp. 269-278

Back Cover

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p. 290-290

E-ISBN-13: 9780826348029
E-ISBN-10: 0826348025
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826348012
Print-ISBN-10: 0826348017

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2009