Monday, March 1, 2010

The Term Montagnard & Jarai Online Dictionary

To the unacquainted, the term Montagnard can be a bit confusing and the pronunciation can give people some trouble.  Here is a fairly accurate audio clip of the word so you can hear it pronounced:  Keep in mind, people pronounce the word differently, so you won't hear it pronounced exactly like the robotic version at  There's more fluidity to the word when it's used, and people will say the first half a little differently.  Some say "mont" and others say "munt" so it depends on who is using the word.  The "g" is silent, which throws off some English-speaking folks.  

Anyway, the term is kind of like American Indian or Native American--in that it is a term from outsiders used to reference a lot of different tribes, each of which have their own culture and language.  It began when the French were in the highlands of Vietnam, and began referencing the tribes collectively as Montagnards which is a derivative of the French word montagne (meaning mountain in English).  The term Montagnard basically means mountain people.  There are some other terms, but we'll stick to just one for the sake of brevity for this post.

One of the largest Montagnard tribes is Jarai.  I have had the pleasure of meeting a few members of the Jarai tribe that live in North Carolina while working on this film.  They have been very kind to me, sharing their culture, history and time.  It is something I definitely don't take for granted.

The image to the left is a map of Vietnam created by one of our cast members, Charlie Long, who was a missionary with his wife, EG, in Vietnam.  Charlie spent time documenting about 30 Montagnard tribes and languages.  (He even translated the Bible into one of the Montagnard languages.)  This map details where the tribes were located, and right in the middle there is a section showing the Jarai tribe.  You can see that it's much larger than many of the others.

One of the members of the Jarai tribe, whom I have already written about is a man named Lap.  He has been working on a Jarai-English dictionary for quite some time.  That's probably an understatement.  He's been working hard on it for, well, as long as I've known him (and we've been working on Abandoned Allies for about two years now).

Lap emailed me this weekend to say that the dictionary he's been working on is now online!  I can't imagine how excited he must be about this achievement.  Lap has been meeting with the elders in his community to build this dictionary, one that I believe includes about 3,000 words.  He gathered details on Jarai words, different meanings, and the English translation.  

This is a huge accomplishment, to say the least.  I think it may very well be the first online Montagnard dictionary, too.  It is published by TshwaneDje Human Language Technology based in South Africa, as Lap tells me.  

Enjoy using the dictionary:  Feel free to post any comments on the dictionary here on this blog, so that Lap can see your feedback.  Tell him congrats or words of encouragement.  I know he'll appreciate it!

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