Alaska Native languages

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

At the time of statehood in 1959, there were twenty indigenous languages spoken within the boundaries of the state of Alaska.[1] Most of these languages belong to one of two large language families: Eskimo-Aleut and Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit (Na-Dene). The Tsimshian language arrived in Alaska only recently in 1887, moving under the leadership of Anglican missionary William Duncan.[2] Tsimshian spoken in Alaska is one of the four Tsimshianic languages, the other three spoken in Canada. The Haida language, once thought to be related to Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit, is a language isolate, not demonstrably related to any other language.[3]

Of these twenty languages, one is now extinct. The last speaker of Eyak died in 2008. Though not included as a modern Alaska Native language, Tsetsaut was still spoken in the region of the Portland Canal in southern Alaska at the time of Alaska purchase in 1867. The last speaker likely died in the 1930s or 1940's.[4] Some authors consider the Salcha-Goodpaster dialect of Lower Tanana to be a distinct language, known as Middle Tanana.[5] The last speaker died in 1993.

For the Alaska Native languages, the years between 1960 and 1970 were, in Michael E. Krauss's words, "a transitional period of rebirth of interest in Alaska Native languages and a shift of developments in their favour".[2]

Language preservation[edit]

Alaska Native languages are being recorded and transcribed today in the hopes of having them revitalized through the use of these published dictionaries and grammar books.[6] The languages are being recorded in their native tongue as speakers tell stories that are then written in both English and that language’s alphabet. These alphabets are relatively new to the languages since they did not typically have a written version of the language before the influence of non-Native Alaskans. About 20 native languages are being worked with by the Alaska Native Language Center (ANLC). In current time, the languages are being re-taught to the villages and interested people through university campus classes and classes that are help in the villages around Alaska and Canada. These languages are not limited solely to Alaska since their speakers were established before state and country borders were. One of these Athabaskan languages is documented to be found in Southeast Alaska, along the interior and eastern border of Alaska, into Northern Canada, and then on into Western Greenland.[7]

List of Alaska Native languages[edit]


Language Population Speakers Percent Speakers
Ahtna 500 80  %16.00
Aleut 2,200 300  %13.64
Alutiiq/Sugpiaq 3,000 400 %13.33
Dena'ina x x x
Deg Xinag 275 40 %14.55
Eyak 50 0 %0.00
Gwich'in 1,100 300 %27.27
Haida 600 15 %2.50
Hän 50 12 %24.00
Holikachuk 200 12 %6.00
Inupiat 13,500 3,000 %22.22
Koyukon 2,300 300 %13.04
Tanana 380 30 %7.89
Tanacross 220 65 %29.55
Tlingit 10,000 500 %5.00
Tsimshian 1,300 70 %5.38
Upper Kuskokwim 160 40 %25.00
Upper Tanana x x x
Yup'ik, Central Alaskan 21,000 10,000 %47.62
Yupik, Siberian 1,100 1,050 %95.45
  • Information in this table was retrieved from the Alaska Native Languages Center. [1]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Krauss, Michael, Gary Holton, Jim Kerr, and Colin T. West. 2011. Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska. Fairbanks and Anchorage: Alaska Native Language Center and UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research.
  2. ^ a b Krauss, Michael E. 1980. Alaska Native Languages: Past, Present, and Future. (Alaska Native Language Center Research Paper 4). Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center.
  3. ^ Krauss, Michael E. 1997. The indigenous languages of the north: A report on their present state. Northern Minority Languages: Problems of Survival, ed. by H. Shoji & J. Janhunen, 1-34. (Senri Ethological Studies 44). Osaka, Japan: National Museum of Ethnology.
  4. ^ Krauss, Michael E. & Victor K. Golla. 1981. Northern Athabaskan Languages. Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 6: Subarctic, ed. by J. Helm, 67-86. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian.
  5. ^ Holton, Gary. 2010. Behind the Map: The reification of indigenous language boundaries in Alaska. Working Papers in Athabaskan Languages, ed. by S. Tuttle & J. Spence, 75-87. (Alaska Native Language Center Working Papers 8). Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Fairbanks.
  6. ^ Ruth,Ridley. Eagle han huch'inn hÒdÖk. Fairbanks,AK: Alaska Native Language Center,1983. Print
  7. ^ Leon Unruh, Editor for the Alaska native language center