Yas Niłt’ees

We’re back for the New Year with Yas Nił’ees, which is the Navajo word for the month of January.

To give some background, the word follows a theme we’ve been pointing out to you recently, which is snow. It sits right there at the beginning.

The next part is a bit of a mystery… niłt’ees refers to the second person act of either frying, cooking, or generally applying heat to something. The root of this verb is, more or less, -t’ees.

That root is echoed in an earlier word from Thanksgiving which is ak’ah bee sit’é. You’ll notice sit’é uses the root to mean “cooked.” Sit’é would be past tense, acting as an adjective, and niłt’ees would be present (or currently in progress) and second person so “you fry/grill/cook/heat/etc.” The root makes the verb, and is essential in learning more advanced Navajo.

Back to the month of January; the following is speculation. Yas Niłt’ees may refer to the time when snow was melted for regular use (i.e. when there was no running water). Otherwise, it would imply ‘melting snow’ as in ‘this is the month when it warms up’ but that would not make much sense because January.

P.S. The adjectival sit’é, being past tense, has 1st, 2nd and 3rd person verb forms which are séłt’é, sínłt’é, and yisté, respectively. So in a sentence like “atsį’ séłt’é” it would mean “I cooked the meat.”

And with that, Happy New Year!