Until the late 1960s, Tlingit was written exclusively in phonetic transcription in the works of linguists and anthropologists, except for a little known Cyrillic alphabet used for publications by the Russian Orthodox Church. A number of amateur anthropologists doing extensive work on the Tlingit had no training in linguistics whatsoever and left numerous samples in vague and inconsistent transcriptions, the most famous being George T. Emmons. However, such noted anthropologists as Franz Boas, John R. Swanton, and Frederica de Laguna have transcribed Tlingit in various related systems which feature accuracy and consistency, though sacrificing readability.
Two problems ensue from the multiplicity of transcription systems used for Tlingit. One is that there are many of them, thus requiring any reader to learn each individual system depending on what sources are used. The second problem is that most transcriptions made before Franz Boas’s study of Tlingit have numerous mistakes in them, particularly because of misinterpretations of the short vowels and ejective consonants. Thus it is important to check any given transcription against similar words in other systems, or ideally against a modern work postdating Naish and Story’s work in the 1960s.
Tlingit grammar at first glance appears to be highly fusional, but this is an incorrect assumption. There are predictable processes by which the basic phonetic shapes of individual morphemes are modified to fit various phonological requirements. These processes can be described with a regular language, and such descriptions are given here on a per morpheme basis by giving rule schemas for the context sensitive phonological modification of base morphemes. Analyzing all the possible combinations of morphemes and phonological contexts in Tlingit and constructing a regular language to describe them is a daunting but tractable task.
Despite not being a fusional language, Tlingit is still highly synthetic as an agglutinating language, and is even polysynthetic to some extent. The verb, as with all the Na-Dené languages, is characteristically incorporating. Nouns are in comparison relatively simple, with many being derived from verbs.
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