Centuries-old Alutiiq translation guide found in Alaska


Alutiiq dancer in traditional dress. Public domain image

KODIAK, Alaska (AP) – A centuries-old primer for Russian to Alutiiq was found during a routine check of a Kodiak museum’s artifacts.

Kodiak was first colonized by Russian settlers in 1763 and was a Russian colony for more than 100 years until the Alaska Purchase in 1867.

Kodiak’s Baranov Museum collections master Michael Bach said the document contains unique children’s prayers disseminated by Russian Orthodox missionaries, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Wednesday.

“It appears to be teaching kids to pray,” he said.

Bach said that scholars say language instruction was used strategically by Russian settlers.

It contains pronunciation guides that list common consonant-vowel groupings, likely as a reading primer.

Because Alutiiq was not a written language at the time, Cyrillic characters were used with accent marks to denote sounds not heard in Russian.

The form of writing nearly died out after political tensions in the 1960s caused wariness of Russian script. Cyrillic was replaced by the English alphabet, which is used to write Alutiiq today.

“For political reasons, the form of writing was thrown out the door,” Bach said.

The artifact will be kept in the Baranov Museum’s permanent collection.

There are an estimated 200 Alutiiq (or Sugpiaq) speakers in Alaska today, according to the Alaska Native Languages Center.

Yup’ik, which is part of the Eskimo-Aleut family of languages and linguistically similar to Alutiiq, has around 11,000 speakers in the state.

Native language experts have been urging lawmakers in Alaska to declare a “linguistic emergency” for Native languages that are in danger of becoming defunct.

The Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council warned the governor that if no action is taken, most of the 20 indigenous languages recognized by the state will die by the end of the century.

Independent state Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan last week introduced a resolution calling for a governor administrative order on the issue.

“I don’t want to see any of our Native languages disappear,” Ortiz said. “And will work with every member of the House and Senate to get this resolution to the Governor’s desk as soon as possible.”


Information from: Kodiak (Alaska) Daily Mirror, http://www.kodiakdailymirror.com