Jamie Valadez says Klallam is a living language. You understand what she means by the time you’ve spent just a few minutes with her.
Valadez teaches Klallam at Port Angeles High School, but only because of the efforts of a large group of people -- including her -- that worked to record the stories of tribal elders, transcribe more than 350 of them into an international alphabet developed by linguists, and arrange those transcriptions into grammar books in order to build a curriculum.
At the front of those books are photographs of the elders who told the stories that allow their descendants to speak as they did. It’s clear that Valadez’s students take that connection seriously.
Valadez has been teaching long enough that some of her current students are the children of former students. The current high schoolers in her class have heard Klallam their whole lives, beginning with tribal Head Start and continuing with after-school classes during their primary years.
Now they know it well enough to text it to each other. That’s another way Klallam is a living language. Its structure allows for words like computer -- “a container of thoughts” -- and its alphabet can be typed on smartphones.
That shared alphabet allows for a broader connection as well. Klallam speakers are able to understand the words of of other tribes. Dialects and formulations may be different, but many are similar enough that conversations can spring up at gatherings.