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Posts Tagged ‘Tlingit’

Arts Journal often links to interesting articles on languages, especially vanishing ones. In Alaska, there are actually several native languages that are endangered. The Sealaska Heritage Institute has been tackling one of them and is starting to add more.

Wesley Yiin wrote about the effort at Pacific Standard.

“According to a 2007 study by linguist Michael E. Krauss of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, only three of the 20 recognized Alaska Native languages have more than 1,000 native speakers. (Compare that figure to the most commonly spoken Native language in America, Navajo, which has 170,000 native speakers.) Several are extinct or close to it: The last native speaker of the Eyak language died in 2008, as did Holikachuk’s last fluent speaker, in 2012.

“One of the most endangered is Tlingit, one of four languages from Alaska’s southeast region. …

“Recently, advocates who have been establishing means of revitalizing Alaska Native languages have created new opportunities for the preservation of Tlingit. Perhaps the most creative effort has been that of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, a non-profit based in Juneau that promotes understanding of Southeastern Alaska Native cultures. In late 2016, it produced two phone applications and a podcast that aim to teach users the Tlingit language. One app teaches Tlingit sounds and some basic words and phrases, while another instructs listeners on the Tlingit words for animals that live in Southeast Alaska through interactive games.”

Katrina Hotch is the language project coordinator for Sealaska Heritage. Here are some of her comments on the work.

“One of its goals is to help teachers create welcoming environments for their students and to create culturally and linguistically sensitive learning environments within their classrooms. …

“You can revisit words and phrases as often as you need to. You just hit the button again and then you hear it again. I think this will help people with their pronunciation quite a bit and will expand their vocabulary and basic phrases. …

“It’ll help them to speak with more advanced speakers. It’ll be easier for them to be understood because they have so many examples of fluent speakers — all of the speakers in the app are fluent speakers. …

“Passion is contagious, and if people are hearing people who are passionate about the language, then it draws them in more.” Click here for the whole interview with Hotch.

The one thing about the interview that struck me as discouraging was that Hotch herself has been studying Tlingit for years and doesn’t feel fluent. A whole different worldview is involved, she says. That tells me that the initiative is best focused on helping children who grow up in the culture to keep it going. There are not likely to be many brand-new adult speakers.

Katrina Hotch’s podcast is a first step in preserving a Native Alaskan language called Tlingit.

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