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  • Mai 'íńtin hułghułná'a Ałkidąą' mąii jooldlosh, jiní:Poetic Devices in Chiricahua Apache and Navajo Coyote Narratives Compared
  • Anthony K. Webster (bio)

In this article, I compare Chiricahua Apache Coyote narratives with Navajo Coyote narratives. In doing so, I hope to suggest something of the similarities and differences between two Southern Athabaskan narrative traditions. This comparison is, however, not based on motifs or content, but rather takes as its point of departure the poetic features of these narratives. Thus, I am interested in something of the organizing principles behind such narrative traditions. This research is in concert with the ethnopoetic work of Dell Hymes (1980, 1981, 2003). In so doing, I hope to suggest both ways that Chiricahua Apache and Navajo resonate ethnopoetically with each other and ways in which they diverge. By ethnopoetic, I mean to suggest something of the underlying poetic structure of these narratives. This, I believe, is possible to analyze even when the narratives were recorded by dictation and not audio- recorded. For useful illustrations of this methodology, see Hymes (1981, 2003), William Bright (1984), Ridie Ghezzi (1993), Geoffrey Kimball (1993), and Paul Kroeber (1995). I have also been influenced by the nuanced perspectives of inter-relating poetic components developed by Joel Sherzer (1987) and Anthony Woodbury (1987). Ethnopoetic research on Navajo poetic forms has been done by Barre Toelken and Tacheeni Scott (1981) and by Anthony Webster (2006a, 2008b.). Both Paul Zolbrod (2004) and Margaret Field and Taft Blackhorse Jr. (2002) have published important recent papers on Navajo poetics. James Faris (1994) and David Dinwoodie (1999) have reminded scholars that published texts such as those to be discussed in [End Page 323] this article have complex histories. These were narratives that were told in real-time interactions between socially invested individuals.

Important work on Apachean poetics can be found in Keith Basso (1996) and David Samuels' (2001) work on Western Apache place-names. Basso and Nashley Tessay Sr. (1994), Eleanor Nevins and Thomas Nevins (2004), and Anthony Webster (1998, 1999) have all ethnopoetically analyzed Apachean narratives. Webster (1998) is especially concerned with the dynamics of the elicitation session as a place of mutual contact between historically situated individuals.

Ethnopoetic research can aid in understanding the historical relation between Chiricahua Apache and Navajo. It takes a discursive perspective to historical linguistics (see Sherzer and Bauman 1972:145-47; Beier, Michael, and Sherzer 2002; Kroskrity 1998; see also Rumsey 2005). This work builds on previous work that I have done concerning Chiricahua Apache poetics (Webster 1998, 1999, 2006b) and Navajo poetics (Webster 2004, 2006a, 2008b). This work also adds to and reframes more traditional analysis of narratives from a motif perspective (French 1942; Hill and Hill 1945) as well as linguistic comparisons that have focused on isolated lexical items (core vocabulary) or phonological features. While such research is important, it often misses the dimensions of language in use (see, for example, Rushforth 1991). An ethnopoetic analysis of these narratives reminds us that language becomes socially real in and through use (see Hymes 2003; Sherzer 1987; Friedrich 2006).

By ethnopoetic, I mean the poetic and expressive economies within a given speech community. Such practices are realized in and through discourse (from puns to narratives). They are not, however, limited to a single language, but rather extend to the entire linguistic economy of a speech community. Thus, for example, in ter-lingual puns, of the kind first described by W. W. Hill (1943:17), found among Navajos, are a part of the ethnopoetic repertoire. Some Navajos still pun 'cornflakes' as stłé are your socks' (where the second person prefix ni- has been dropped). stłé, according to consultants, sounds like 'cornflakes'. Another crucial feature of ethnopoetics is the recognition of poetic lines based on recurrence of formal features (the satisfaction and thwarting of expectations). An ethnopoetic analysis is at the intersection of the [End Page 324] creative individual and the discursive traditions which he or she engages in and changes (by degrees).

In what follows, I outline ways that Navajo and Chiricahua Apache have been compared linguistically. I then present an ethnopoetically analyzed Chiricahua Apache narrative as told by Samuel E. Kenoi to Harry Hoijer in...


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