Alaskan Native Languages Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1523 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Communication - Language

Alaskan Language Project

The continuance and historical understanding of the remaining approximate 200 tribal languages in Alaska (Krauss, 1996) is a significant cultural and educational concern for the American Indian and Alaska Native societies. Recently, the tribes and educators have spent considerable resources to ensure they capture the present languages and allow for their survival. Richard Littlebear relates the emergency of this problem:

Our native languages are in the penultimate moment of their existence in this world. It is the last and only time that we will have the opportunity to save them. We must continue to promote the successful programs throughout Alaska and Indian Country. We must quit endlessly lamenting and continuously cataloguing the causes of language death; instead, we must now deal with these issues by learning from successful language preservation efforts. So if we do nothing, then we can expect our languages to be dead by the end of the next century. Even that time-line might be an optimistic [one], if we do nothing to preserve our languages.

A great void will be left in the universe that will never be filled when all of our languages die (Littlebear, 1996, p. xv).

There are a number of different ways that these languages can be studied and preserved, among them a dissection of the stories that are already written and read by some of the indigenous communities. This research project offers a suggestion on how this can be done.

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Languages have subtle nuances that cannot be translated. They embody the philosophy of a people. This information is gone when its language disappears. Linguists now believe that half the languages spoken today will disappear within the next century. One of the languages that is in serious trouble is This is true for some Yupik Eskimo communities in Alaska, where just 20 years ago all of the children spoke Yupik. Now, the youngest speakers of Yupik in some of these communities are in their 20s, and the children speak only English (Robins; Alaskan Native Language Center).

Term Paper on Alaskan Native Languages Assignment

Crawford (1996) explains how linguists recognize that a language is disappearing in Alaska: 1) decreasing amount of speakers; 2) language fluency is greater with older speakers; 3) declining use of language social activities, religious and cultural observances, and in the home; and 4) children no longer learning the language from their parents. In many tribal societies, only a few fluent speakers remain and that the language is rarely heard except at some tribal school language classes and at historical ceremonies and feasts. Indigenous languages are usually not what is spoken in daily conversations, and English is the language for government and commerce in many tribal communities. Cleary and Peacock interviewed Native language teachers and examined the current state of indigenous languages: They conclude that two schools of thought exist about the relationship between American Indian and Alaska Native languages and culture. Some say the extinction of languages means the extinction of that culture. Others respond that aspects of culture can and usually exist without the language. Attempts over the past generations to eliminate American Indian languages have had a profound impact on present-day American Indian education, loosing hundreds of tribal languages. Thus, preserving language is a top concern in American Indian communities as recognized by the myriad of ongoing efforts. However, there are numerous hurdles. American Indian language teachers have rich cultural backgrounds, but may not be trained as educators. In many cases, they also have to develop their own curricula where few or none had existed before. Further, not having an acceptable orthography, spelling of the language, impedes language maintenance along with dialectic differences. In addition, some American Indian students are under intense peer pressure not to learn or use their tribal language.


There are a number of different ways that languages can be studied or preserved. In 2005, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded 13 fellowships and 26 institutional grants in their Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) partnership, a new, multi-year effort to preserve records of key languages before they become extinct. The new DEL awards, totaling $4.4 million, will support digital documentation work on more than 70 such languages.

For example, a grant to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, is being used to digitize one thousand Yup'ik audio recordings for storage at the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center and assess the feasibility of creating a Northern Indigenous Languages Archive for the 200 endangered languages of the Far North.

Meanwhile, there are also many models that can be used to perpetuate the language in the schools, themselves. For example, creating curricula that combines Native language and cultural instruction and assists students in better understanding the two aspects. Several tribes are using extensive educational materials that remain largely underutilized (Greymorning, 1999). Greymorning (1999) credits the Hawaiian Aha P. nana Leo and the Maori for providing effective models for the Arapaho language immersion programs they developed for the Wyoming Indian school system. These programs begin in preschool mother/child programs and an elder woman teaches parents traditional language used in caring for Arapaho children. Children raised this way have a head start when they enter kindergarten Arapaho immersion programs (Greymorning, 1999).

In addition, developing the ability to read and write a language helps that language become permanent. Languages with literary traditions generally survive longer than languages without literary traditions or languages with only oral traditions (Anonby, 1999). Immersion experiences. Immersion experiences allow people to be immersed in the language while away from English (Stiles, 1997). The Navaho, Arapaho, Native Hawaiians, and New Zealand Maori are examples of tribes that use immersion experiences extensively to teach the language (Anonby, 1999; Greymorning, 1999).

Another way to learn more about a culture is to study their oral and traditional tales. Early oral folk were told by a storyteller or community member and created a sense of community and explained forces in nature. The stories were passed through the generations and carried the knowledge of the culture and the lessons necessary to become a society member. All elements of a society were reflected in the folk tales, such as a people's beliefs, language, philosophies, dance, art, music, traditions and customs. These stories passed throughout the community through word of mouth, bringing news from other villages, and teaching preparing children for their future life.


There are several tales that remain of the Yupik language. These could be contrasted and compared to other tales that are known today from the Native Americans, the Anglo-Europeans, Africans and the Asians. By looking at the themes in the Yupik stories that compare to those in other larger societies, it would be possible to see the differences and similarities between cultures. Since all these stories have been translated into English, much of the original cultural flavor is homogenized, but there is still enough that a comparison could be made.

The Yupik tales would include: "Raven's Yupik Stories," "Long Nails," "Eye of the Needle," "Yup'ik Stories Read Aloud = Yugcetun Qulirat Naaqumalriit Erinairissuutmun. With Transcriptions and Word-by-Word Translations," Yupik fairy tales.

The questions that would be asked are:

What are some of the similarities between the Yupik stories and those of the other larger societies? Why do these similarities occur?

What are some of the differences between Yupik stories and those of other larger societies? Why do these differences occur?

Are the Yupik stories closer to any one other society, such as Native American or Asian? or, do they share commonalities equally with all the societies?

To answer these questions, I will have to do research through the Internet, research materials in the Alaskan Native Languages archives, and other individuals/organizations that have information on the Yupik language and culture. Others, such as the Endowment of the Arts, would have to be contacted, too. There are specialists in fairy tales who can be… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Alaskan Native Languages" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Alaskan Native Languages.  (2007, May 6).  Retrieved November 29, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Alaskan Native Languages."  6 May 2007.  Web.  29 November 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Alaskan Native Languages."  May 6, 2007.  Accessed November 29, 2020.