The Del Norte Indian Welfare Association sponsored the formation of the Tolowa Dee-ni' Language program in 1969. The Dee-ni' community began to write their oral tradition in earnest using the Tolowa version of the Uni-fon alphabet. The characters of the Uni-fon are unique and were written down by hand. The historic use of the handwritten Uni-fon Alphabet documented and amassed a good working foundation of linguistic information. Eventually, the Del Norte Indian Welfare Association collapsed in 1972. It left behind an established Tolowa language program with two State Eminence Credentialed Tolowa teachers including a young tribal member pursuing a bi-lingual Teaching Credential at Humboldt State University. This effort created the first edition of The Tolowa Language text in 1983 and its second edition as the XUS WE-YO' in 1985.
During the Twentieth Century, a few anthropologists and linguists wrote Dee-ni' words using their own alphabets and special characters. A story collection was done by Pliny Goddard in 1903. Edward Curtis photographed and published a short ethnography on the Dee-ni' in 1923. The sole Tolowa and their Southwest Oregon Kin ethnography were completed by Phillip Drucker in 1937. It was followed by a single study of the Tolowa phonology by Jane Bright during the 1950s. These works, for the most part, were handwritten and limited to university use and their publications. These studies made no contribution to the efforts of the Dee-ni' language community.
During the 1970s, a typing element was designed, for the Uni-fon letters to use on a typewriter. As the computer age developed in the 1980s nothing was available for Uni-fon. The McIntosh Computer Company developed special Uni-fon programs and installed them in a limited set of Apple computers. The Uni-fon alphabet has 20 consonants, 6 vowels, 1 reduced vowel, and 3 diphthongs. Nine of the letters were not available on a keyboard. With these developments and limitations, a new Dee-ni' alphabet needed to be "keyboard friendly".
Practical Alphabet Replaced Uni-fon
In 1993 the Language Committee decided to replace the Uni-fon alphabet and shift to the Practical Alphabet. The Practical Alphabet has 24 consonants, 5 vowels, 1 reduced vowel, and 3 diphthongs. The new typing needs were the Barred-L, the Barred-I, the Barred-U, and the Nasal hook. It was understood these letters were available on computers but, they also required specialized computer programming and eliminated typewriter use entirely. The Language Committee managed to get the Now You're Speaking Tolowa - The Dee-ni' people, their language pocketbook published in 1995. This prompted the revision of the Practical Alphabet.
Phonemic Sound Study
A phonemic sound study was completed by Loren Bommelyn in conjunction with the Linguistics Department at the University of Oregon. The study more accurately isolated the sounds of Dee-ni' and resulted in the development of the Tolowa Dee-ni' Alphabet in 1997. The following upgrades allowed the alphabet to be represented from the keyboard: the consonant blend Lh or lh replaced the Barred-L consonant, the letter V or v replaced both the Barred-U vowel and the Barred-I reduced vowel, and the tilde diacritic (~) replaced the vowel Nasal hook as follows a~, i~, and u~.
The Tolowa Dee-ni' Alphabet has 30 consonants; 6 are ejectives and 2 are glottalized, 5 vowels, 3 nasal vowels, 4 glottalized vowels, and 4 diphthongs. The Tolowa Dee-ni' Alphabet is user friendly to virtually any kind of application. This text is written in this alphabet. The publication of Tolowa Dee-ni' is enjoyed in the Dee-ni' Nuu-wee-ya' NewsMagazine, family genealogies, language texts, language classes and meetings, topography studies, and signage.
Loren Me'-lash-ne Bommelyn
The Taa-laa-wa Dee-ni' Language Committee Chairperson