Remembering Virginia Beavert

Submitted by Vipasha Bansal on
Virginia Beavert and Sharon Hargus
Virginia Beavert

The Department of Linguistics regretfully announces that Virginia Beavert, native speaker of Sahaptin (Ichishkíin, the traditional language of the Yakama Nation) and long time collaborator of faculty member Sharon Hargus, died on February 8, 2024, at the age of 102.

Sharon writes:

I first met Virginia in 1987. She had come to the department looking for a linguist to work with. That in itself is extraordinary, and probably due to her observation of her stepfather Alex Saluskin collaborating with anthropological linguist Bruce Rigsby. (Among other things, they designed the writing system currently in use for Yakama Sahaptin.) Virginia had recently received her B.A. in Anthropology from Central Washington University, and was starting to teach Sahaptin at Heritage College (now Heritage University) in Toppenish WA, defying a tribal ban at the time on teaching and writing the language. In coming to UW Linguistics, she was probably hoping to receive help from a linguist on the development of teaching materials. After speaking with someone in the main office, she was referred to me, as the faculty member most closely associated with indigenous languages and friend of all minority languages. Thus began a collaboration of over 30 years on a variety of grammatical topics, from vocalism to clitics to modals, as well as lexical and textual documentation. Nearly every month we got together in Toppenish or Eugene, during which we usually had one waffle and huckleberry brunch (to give us energy to work). A few times we went on root-digging and berry-picking expeditions. Over the years I considered Virginia one of my closest friends. Although we never created classroom pedagogical materials, others at Heritage and at the University of Oregon helped her with that.

In 2009 I nominated Virginia for a Doctorate of Humane Letters from UW for our dictionary of her language, published in 2009 by UW Press. (We continued to refine and expand the dictionary, and a new edition will be published in the future.) In 2012 Virginia received a PhD from UO for her dissertation, Wántwint Inmí Tiináwit: A Reflection of What I Have Learned, published in 2017 by UW Press (with Janne Underriner). At some point I realized that Virginia had done the work for another three doctorates: one for her collaborations with linguists, not only me but also Joana Jansen on her 2010 dissertation, A Grammar of Yakima Ichishkíin/Sahaptin (Joana agrees); another for her research and publication in 1974 of Anakú Iwachá, a book of legends (in English), republished in 2023 (with Michelle Jacob and Joana Jansen); another for showing her late mother, Ellen Saluskin, near-monolingual in Sahaptin, how to use a tape recorder. Thanks to Virginia, we have over 50 hours of recordings from her mother. A major focus of our research over the last 17 years was transcribing and translating the Ellen Saluskin (and others’) texts.

Virginia touched many lives. More complete documentation of her amazing life is available at any of these links:

Below is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral services on February 11, 2024:

Waníkshaash Sharon Hargus. Tux̲ámshish iwachá inmí átawit sapsikw’aɬá ichishkíin. Kúshx̲i iwachá inmí x̲ɨ́tway, átawit x̲ɨ́tway. Wíyat’ish nash áwinanuuna pɨnmipáynk ɨníitpa kush áwishapnya. Ku na áw itɬ’yáwit-anakwa. Áw ɨshá íchna haashnút púukspa. Ku áw na íchi tɬ’áax̲w áwx̲sha niimí wyánch’i. Íchiish wá ínk, nch’í tk̲úni inmípa tɨmnápa. Kutya wíyat’ish ipayúwishana ku ishaláwishana. Ku tɬ’ápx̲i payúyi iwacha, ɨshnɨwáyna na tɬ’áax̲wma, ku na iwapíitana. Ku mash núu, inmí átawit sapsikw’aɬá, shíx̲ wíihaashhaashk. Kw’aɬanúusha mash. Palaláay nam pásapsikw’ana, ku mash cháw mún láakta. Kwalíisim mash p’ɨ́x̲ta inmípa tɨmnápa. Kush íx̲wi wá shápnit Ichishkíin. Ku íchiish wá inmí px̲wít, inmíma x̲ɨ́twayma. Áw iwá átawtx̲aw ku na pápawapiitata. Áw na pápasapsikw’ata. Áw na náykyuuta niimí shúkwaat. Íkush itk̲’íx̲tax̲nay niimí átawit sapsikw’aɬá.



Photos by Dave Paul Nelson 2009

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