SSILA: studying the indigenous languages of the Americas

January 24, 2009 at 4:21 pm | Posted in Alaska, Language, Organization | Leave a comment

A arrived to this site via Talking Alaska. They were announcing the SSILA 2009 Annual Meeting, with the following topics:

  • Acoustic correlates of stress in the Inland dialect of Dena’ina Athabascan (Siri Tuttle, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)
  • The phonetics of tone in two dialects of Dane-zaa (Julia Colleen Miller, University of Washington)
  • A H+L% boundary tone in Athabaskan (Sharon Hargus, University of Washington)
  • Landscape and landscape at the intersection of Athabascan and Eskimo (Gary Holton, University of Alaska Fairbanks)
  • The morphosyntax of Navajo comparatives and the degree argument (Elizabeth Bogal­Allbritten, Swarthmore)
  • Aspiration as phonation: An acoustic analysis of aspirated affricates in the Dene languages (Joyce McDonough, University of Rochester; Jordan Lachler, Sealaska Heritage Institute; Sally Rice, University of Alberta)
  • Coordination in Pribil of Islands Aleut (Anna Berge, University of Alaska Fairbanks)
  • A contrastive feature account of Inuit ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ /i/ (Richard Compton and B. Elan Dresher, University of Toronto
  • Navajo degree constructions and the decompositional analysis of gradable predicates (Elizabeth Bogal­Allbritten, Swarthmore)

After reading that, I keep looking for more information:

The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA)

The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA) was founded in December 1981 as the international scholarly organization representing American Indian linguistics, and was incorporated in 1997. Membership in SSILA is open to all those who are interested in the scientific study of the languages of the native peoples of North, Central and South America. The Society has approximately 900 members, more than a third of them residing outside the United States.

All members receive the SSILA Newsletter, a quarterly publication that contains news, announcements, notices of recent publications, current journal contents, a listing of recent dissertations, and several other regular features. (The Newsletter is sent at the airmail rate to all members residing outside the United States, at no additional charge.) If you would like to purchase previous volumes of the SSILA Newsletter, most are still avaliable for US $3.50 per issue. A “SSILA Bulletin” with late-breaking news, job openings, etc.,is also e-mailed to all members (and to others on request) every two to fourweeks. The “SSILA Bulletin” is archived on this website in pdf format.

Other activities and benefits of the Society include:

  • SSILA holds an annual winter meeting, featuring several topical sessions on various aspects of American Indian linguistics, usually meeting jointly with the Linguistic Society of America. We will next meet in Chicago, Illinois in January, 2008.
  • The Mary R. Haas Book Award is presented annually to an unpublished monograph that the Society judges to be a significant contribution to our knowledge of American indigenous languages. Manuscripts receiving the Haas Award are eligible for publication under the Society’s sponsorship.
  • A Membership Directory is published yearly in February, and includes an index of the language specializations of the Society’s members, as well as postal and e-mail addresses. The Directory is available to members for US $3.50 (or $5.00 Canadian) in addition to basic dues. A searchable web version of the Membership Directory, with postal and e-mail addresses, is kept current. The membership directory is available only to members.
  • Mouton de Gruyter regularly offers substantial discounts to SSILA members on its publications in American Indian linguistics and allied topics.
  • The SSILA Bulletin with late-breaking news, job openings, etc., is posted regularly (at least once a month, and sometimes more frequently) on the Internet. Back issues are archived at the SSILA website.

Do not miss the bulletin, the newsletter and the links pages! And if you find it interesting enough, you may decide to apply as a member here.

Arctic Indigenous Languages

December 26, 2008 at 12:54 am | Posted in arctic, Language, North Pole, Research | Leave a comment
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This is one of the most specific sites I found. Is it dedicated to all of the Arctic languages, so the topic is quite similar to mine. It is packed with good information, I will post something more later on:

Welcome to Arctic Indigenous Languages website.

This website aims to be a resource that strengthens Arctic indigenous languages. It includes background papers and articles related to indigenous languages, video clips of Arctic indigenous people explaining how important their languages are to them, and descriptions of current best practices in the protection and revitalization of indigenous languages.

An interestint section of the page is the one about the state of Arctic Indigenous Languages, where you will find some interesting documents:

State of Arctic Indigenous Languages

saami woman in conversationThe circumpolar Arctic is home to over 40 indigenous languages, with hundreds of indigenous communities spread throughout the circumpolar region – many speaking local variations of their people’s language. Because these communities differ in many ways, including their historical interactions with their colonizers and non-indigenous neighbours, it is clear that there will be many local perspectives and variations in how indigenous languages are currently used in the Arctic.

The articles and links on this page offer recent information on the state of Arctic indigenous languages, though this information is certainly not exhaustive.

Arctic Human Development Report (Chapter 3: Societies and Cultures: Change and Persistence) PDF icon

The Arctic Human Development Report was published in November 2004. The section “Languages: losses and reversed language shifts” on pages 53-56 describes the current state of the over 40 indigenous languages spoken in the Arctic.

United Nations Forum calls on governments to immediately support the revitalization of indigenous languages PDF icon

English | French | Inuktitut | Inuinnaqtun

May 27, 2008 (Iqaluit, Nunavut) – The Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth welcomes the recent calls for action from the international community to stop the rapid erosion of indigenous languages.

National Inuit Leader Says Census Data points to Call for ActionPDF icon

The President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami Mary Simon says Inuit must recognize that the Inuit language is eroding and be prepared to do whatever is necessary to reverse this trend to protect, preserve and enhance the Inuit language and the different dialects that we speak.

Nunavut Examines Indigenous Language Issues
on World Stage
PDF icon

The Government of Nunavut recently returned home after attending the 7th Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. The forum is a United Nations advisory body that deals with indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, environment, education, health and human rights.

UNESCO – 2008 International Year of Languages

On 16 May 2007, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2008 to be the International Year of Languages. UNESCO invites all its partners to increase their own activities to promote and protect all languages, particularly endangered languages, in all individual and collective contexts.

International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Languages

Documents from the indigenous experts, UNPFII members, Member States, UN Agencies, Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations, and Non-Governmental Organizations who participated in the International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Languages in New York, 8-10 January 2008.

Inuit Language PDF icon

Presentation by Carl Christian Olsen (Puju) at the International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Languages, 8-10 January 2008.

International Day of World’s Indigenous People (August 9th)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, to be observed August 9th, 2008.

Inuktut Uqausiit (Inuit Languages) in Canada – History and Contemporary Developments – Nadine Fabbi PDF icon

This overview of the history and current use of Inuit languages was updated in August 2008 to reflect the latest developments of Inuit languages in Canada.

Preserving Endangered Languages or Local Speech Variants in Kamchatka PDF icon

This paper was prepared for the 12th Conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, held in September 2008. It concerns various language preservation projects in the Russian Far East that center on the production and dissemination of multimedia language teaching materials (DVD with textbook) with culturally adapted content, designed for use inside and outside the classroom. They refer to the endangered language of Itelmen as well as to endangered local variants of the Even and the Koryak languages spoken in Kamchatka.

The Red Book of Peoples of the Russian Empire: the Aliutors

October 7, 2008 at 6:48 am | Posted in Language, Naming, Siberia | Leave a comment
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More information from the Red Book of peoples of the Russian Empire:


Like the Chavchu group of the Chukchi and the Koryak, the Aliutor people were mostly nomadic reindeer-breeders which is exactly what their self-designation, ramkyken, means. The earliest reports of settled off-shore Aliutors date from the end of the 17th century. They called themselves elutel’u. S. Krasheninnikov, who explored Kamchatka in 1755, considered the Aliutors to be a separate ethnic group. Various documents from the 18th century also give separate mention to the Koryaks, Aliutors and Chukchis. In the 1930s the Aliutors were confused with the Koryaks, and both were called nymylan. The name Aliutors, reinstated later, obviously comes from the previous designation of the settled tribes. Hence also, the name of the Oliutor district.


The Aliutors live on the Kamchatka Isthmus in northeast Siberia. Their territory encompasses nearly 15,000 sq. km. stretching from the Karaga Bay of the Bering Sea to Oliutorka (formerly Alutorskoye), and from Rekinniki to Podkagernaya on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea. Administratively, they belong to the Koryak Autonomous District, Kamchatka Region, Russian Federation. From 1930 to 1977 the territory had the status of a National District. Beside the Oliutor District, Aliutors live in the southern part of the Karaga district and the northern part of the Tigil district. The administrative centre is Tilichik (Tyliran) in the Oliutor district. Most of the territory belongs to the zone of woodland tundra. The climate is influenced by both the Bering and the Okhotsk Seas.


No official data on the Aliutor population is available. A report of 1934 mentions them as a sizable ethnic group after the Chavchus. Nowadays, the Oliutor district, like the Koryak Autonomous District displays enormous ethnic variety. In all probability official statistics still do not distinguish the Aliutors from the Koryaks. Their actual number is possibly 2,000 to 3,000.

Anthropologically the Aliutor people, like the Chukchi and the Koryak belong to the mongoloid Northern-Asiatic race. They are characterized by a swarthy complexion, dark eyes and straight hair, a short and stocky figure, a very broad flat face and a conspicuous Mongolian fold. There is little facial hair.


The Aliutor language is a member of the Chukchi-Kamchatka group of the Paleo-Asiatic or Paleo-Siberian languages. Genetically, it is connected to the Chukchi, Koryak, Kerek and Itelmen languages. In the 1930s Aliutor was still unanimously considered one of the four southern dialects of the Koryak language, but since the 1950s, it has been regarded as a separate language. Morphologically, the language most resembles Chukchi. In terms of structure Aliutor is an incorporating or polysynthetic language.

There are three dialects: Ukin, Karaga and Palana, but neither the dialectal division nor the individual dialects have been sufficiently studied. According to P. Skorik, the Karaga and Palana dialects could be classified as cognate languages of Aliutor.

As with the Chukchi language, there are regular pronunciation differences in men’s and women’s usages. Women say ts where men have l or s (e.g. plaku versus ptsaku ‘footwear’). Men’s usage is considered improper for women and vice versa.

Through close contacts with their kindred peoples the Aliutors are able to use their mother tongue to communicate with the Koryak and the Chukchi. The role of Russian has grown since the 1930s and since the 1960s the Aliutors have voluntarily started to change over to the Russian language as this schooling helps them gain work in a Russian environment.


There is no written language. Instead, the Aliutors, who were then considered just a dialect group of the Koryak, used the Koryak written language introduced in 1923. A few articles in the so-called Aliutor dialect were published in a local newspaper. Since 1958, Aliutor has been considered a separate language (P. Skorik), but this has not meant a higher prestige, more attention or more active research. Communication with neighbouring peoples is still in either Koryak or Russian. Russian is also the sole language of education and cultural activities.

All research on the Aliutor people dates from recent times. The first notes on their language were made by S. Stebnitski in 1927. He was also the author of the first survey of the phonetics, morphology and syntax of the language (1934, 1938), but, as everybody else he considered it a Koryak dialect. Any attention hitherto paid to the Aliutor language and its dialectal divisions can hardly be considered sufficient. A survey by I. Vdovin (1956) and a study of the Karaga dialect from the point of view of experimental phonetics made by G. Melnikov (1940) are unpublished. The longest publication available is a chapter dedicated to the Aliutor language by A. Zhukova, published in Vol. 5 of The Languages of the Peoples of the USSR (1968).


The Aliutors have long been considered as part of the Koryak people. Yet the Aliutor reindeer-breeders ramkyken could be distinguished from Chavchus as the Chavchus’ main activities were fishing, and seal hunting, and their herds were not large. So the language and life-style of the ramkyken were more resemblant of those of the settled Aliutors for whom fishing and the hunting of sea animals was the main livelihood.

By the end of the 18th century the resistance of the Kamchatka peoples was broken by Russians. The territories of the Aliutors were also conquered. In the 19th century Russian Orthodox missionaries were followed by Russian merchants. As well as being swindle by the merchants — often pulled off with the help of vodka and promissory lists — the Aliutor people were subjected to the whims and compulsions of Russian bureaucracy.

Major changes were brought about by the establishment of Soviet power in 1923. In 1930, the Koryak National District was formed. Along with the introduction of collectivization the reindeer-breeders were forced to settle down. This had a far-reaching effect on a large part of the Aliutors as well. Their whole life-style changed. New economic relations were woven accompanied by ideological reorientation and the abolishing of illiteracy. Initially, the Aliutors learned the Koryak script, but the use of written Russian gradually came to dominate. A ‘militant atheism’ was propagated to counter shamanism and religion. Russian homes and machines, their education system and traditions in clothing and diet were held up as examples of progress. Nowadays all of these things are constituents of the normal way of life. The use of the Aliutor language and the observance of local customs are derided by Russians who consider such conduct primitive.

The fate of the Aliutors is a sad example of the accumulation of negative phenomena in accompaniment with the advance of civilization. The political and industrial innovations have become a danger not only to the survival of the Aliutors’ own culture but also to their whole physical existence.

The Sami languages

October 1, 2008 at 9:38 pm | Posted in Language, Scandinavia | Leave a comment
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It has been a long time ago since I posted about the Sami people, so today it is the turn of the languages. As this is an introductory post, the information comes from the Wikipedia:

The Sami languages

The Sami languages are spoken in Sápmi in Northern Europe, in a region stretching over the four countries Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, reaching from the southern part of central Scandinavia in the southwest to the tip of the Kola Peninsula in the east.

During the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age now extinct Sami languages were also spoken in the central and southern parts of Finland and Karelia and in a wider area on the Scandinavian peninsula. Historical documents as well as Finnish and Karelian oral tradition contain many mentions of the earlier Sami inhabitation in these areas (Itkonen 1947). Also loanwords as well as place-names of Sami origin in the southern dialects of Finnish and Karelian dialects testify of earlier Sami presence in the area (Koponen 1996; Saarikivi 2004; Aikio 2007). These Sami languages, however, became later extinct under the wave of the Finno-Karelian agricultural expansion.

The Sami languages form a branch of the Uralic language family. According to the traditional view, Sami is within the Uralic family most closely related to the Baltic-Finnic languages (Sammallahti 1998). However, this view has recently been doubted by some scholars, who argue that the traditional view of a common Finno-Sami protolanguage is not as strongly supported as has been earlier assumed, and that the similarities may stem from an areal influence on Sami from Baltic-Finnic.

In terms of internal relationships, the Sami languages are divided into two groups: the western and the eastern ones. The groups may be further divided into various subgroups and ultimately individual languages. (Sammallahti 1998: 6-38.) Parts of the Sami language area form a dialect continuum in which the neighbouring languages may be to a fair degree mutually intelligible, but two more widely separated groups will not understand each other’s speech. There are, however, sharp and absolute language boundaries, in particular between Northern Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami, the speakers of which are not able to understand each other without learning or long practice.

Western Sami languages

– Southern Sami
– Ume Sami
– Pite Sami
– Lule Sami
– Northern Sami

Eastern Sami languages

– Inari Sami
– Kemi Sami (extinct)
– Skolt Sami
– Akkala Sami (extinct)
– Kildin Sami
– Ter Sami

At present there are nine living Sami languages. The largest six of the languages have independent literary languages; the three others have no written standard, and there are only few, mainly elderly speakers left. The ISO 639-2 code for all Sami languages without its proper code is “smi”.

The other Sami languages are moribund and have very few speakers left. Ten speakers of Ter Sami were known to be alive in 2004, and Pite Sami and Ume Sami likely have under 20 speakers left. The last speaker of Akkala Sami is known to have died in December 2003, and the eleventh attested variety Kemi Sami became extinct in the 19th century.

Of course the data needs to be continuoslly revised as the sociolinguistic situation is always dynamic. Advice an info in that direction would be very appreciated, so if you are Sami and are reading that, do not hesitate to comment!

The Atlas of Canadian Languages

September 22, 2008 at 11:25 pm | Posted in Alaska, Canada, Language, Maps | 1 Comment
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I arrived to this series of maps by the Atlas of Canada via the Alaska Native Languages Map blog. They offer information about the situation of languages in Canada, from three different perspectives: the linguistic group, the usage and the continuity:

Atlas of Canada

The linguistic group map

The current 50 languages of Canada’s indigenous peoples belong to 11 major language families – ten First Nations and Inuktitut. Canada’s Aboriginal languages are many and diverse, and their importance to indigenous people immense. This map shows the major aboriginal language families by community in Canada for the year 1996, and it is a part of a series of three maps that comprise Aboriginal Languages.

Some language families are large and strong in terms of viability, others small and vulnerable. The three largest families, which together represent 93% of persons with an Aboriginal mother tongue, are Algonquian (with 147 000 people whose mother tongue is Algonquian), Inuktitut (with 28 000) and Athabaskan (with 20 000). The other eight account for the remaining 7%. Tlingit, one of the smallest families, has a mere 145 people in Canada whose mother tongue is that language. Similar variations apply to individual languages – Cree, with a mother tongue population of 88 000, appears immense when compared with Malecite at 660.
Influence of Geography on the Size and Diversity of Languages

Geography is an important contributor to the diversity, size and distribution of Aboriginal languages across Canada’s regions. Open plains and hilly woodlands, for example, are ideal for accommodating large groups of people. Because of the terrain, groups in these locations can travel and communicate with each other relatively easily, and often tend to spread over larger areas.

On the other hand, soaring mountains and deep gorges tend to restrict settlements to small pockets of isolated groups. British Columbia’s mountainous landscape with its numerous physical barriers was likely an important factor in the evolution of the province’s many separate, now mostly small, languages. Divided by terrain, languages such as Salish, Tsimshian, Wakashan, Haida, Tlingit and Kutenai could not develop as large a population base as the widely spread Algonquinian (particularly Cree and Ojibway) and the Athapaskan languages, whose homes are the more open central plains and eastern woodlands.

Geography can also influence the likelihood of a language’s survival. Groups located in relatively isolated regions, away from the dominant culture, face fewer pressures to abandon their language. They tend to use their own language in schooling, broadcasting and other communication services and, as a result, are likely to stay more self-sufficient. Communities living in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, the northern regions of Quebec and Labrador – the Inuit, Attikamek and Montagnais-Naskapi – are examples of such groups.

Because of their large, widely dispersed populations, the Algonquian languages account for the highest share of Aboriginal languages in all provinces except British Columbia and in the territories, ranging from 72% in Newfoundland to nearly 100% in the other Atlantic provinces. In both British Columbia and the Yukon, the Athapascan languages make up the largest share (26% and 80%, respectively), while Inuktitut is the most prominent Aboriginal language in the Northwest Territories and practically the only one in Nunavut. British Columbia, home to about half of all individual Aboriginal languages, is the most diverse in Aboriginal language composition. However, because of the small size of these language groups, the province accounts for only 7% of people with an Aboriginal mother tongue.

The ability map

The Index of Ability compares the number of people who report being able to speak the language with the number who have that Aboriginal language as a mother tongue. The index has been compiled and mapped for each of the Aboriginal communities shown in the map Aboriginal Languages by Community, 1996. Relatively higher values of this index may suggest some degree of language revival. This map is part of a series of three maps that comprise Aboriginal Languages.

The INDEX OF ABILITY may be used to suggest some degree of language revival. The index of ability compares the number of people who report being able to speak the language with the number who have that Aboriginal language as a mother tongue (consult text Data and Mapping Notes for further information).

There are a number of factors which contribute to a language’s ability to survive. First and foremost is the size of the population with an Aboriginal mother tongue or home language. Since a large base of speakers is essential to ensure long-term viability, the more speakers a language has, the better its chances of survival. Indeed, Inuktitut, Cree and Ojibway – the three most flourishing languages – all boast over 20 000 people with an Aboriginal mother tongue. In contrast, endangered languages rarely have more than a few thousand speakers; often they have only a few hundred. For instance, the two smallest and weakest language groups, Kutenai and Tlingit, have mother tongue populations of 120 and 145 respectively.

To survive, a language must be passed on from one generation to the next. The most effective way of making this happen is to speak it in the home where children will learn it as their mother tongue. Spoken in the home, language is used as the working tool of everyday life. In contrast, when learned as a second language, it is often used in potentially limited situations, only as may be the case, for example, in immersion programs. There is, therefore, no equivalent to learning a language as a mother tongue. Unlike other minority language groups, Aboriginals cannot rely on new immigrants to maintain or increase their population of speakers. Consequently, passing on the language from parents to children is critical for the survival of all Aboriginal languages.

The continuity map

The Index of Continuity measures language continuity, or vitality, by comparing the number of those who speak a given language at home to the number of those who learned the language as their mother tongue. The index has been compiled and mapped for each of the Aboriginal communities shown in the map Aboriginal Languages by Community, 1996. The lower the score, the greater the decline or erosion of language continuity. This map is part of a series of three maps that comprise Aboriginal Languages.

One way of measuring language continuity or vitality is the INDEX OF CONTINUITY. This index measures language continuity or vitality by comparing the number of those who speak an Aboriginal language at home to the number of those who learned the language as their mother tongue (consult text Data and Mapping Notes for further information).

Between 1981 and 1996, the index of continuity declined for all Aboriginal languages. Although the number of people reporting an Aboriginal mother tongue increased by nearly 24% between 1981 and 1996, the number of those who spoke an Aboriginal language at home grew by only 6%. As a result, for every 100 people with an Aboriginal mother tongue, the number who used an indigenous language most often at home declined from 76 to 65 between 1981 and 1996.

The index of continuity has some relationship to the ratings of languages as viable or endangered. Although most languages experienced a steady erosion in linguistic vitality during these years, endangered ones suffered the most. For example, the index of continuity for Salish languages fell from 35 in 1981 to only 12 by 1996. Tlingit and Kutenai, as languages most often spoken at home, had practically disappeared by the 1990s. Given that in 1996 there were only 120 people with a Kutenai mother tongue, it is not hard to see why there is a serious concern for the survival of this language. In contrast, although the continuity index dipped for the relatively strong Cree as well, it did so by considerably less: from 78 to 65. Although Inuktitut did experience a slight erosion in the early 1980’s, the past decade has seen its index stabilize at 84.

Groups that live in remote communities or in settlements with concentrated populations of indigenous speakers appear to find it easier to retain their language. Indeed, two such groups, on-reserve Registered Indians and the Inuit, show the highest indexes of language continuity among all groups: 80 and 85, respectively. In contrast, non-status Indians and Metis, who tend to live off-reserve, as well as off-reserve registered Indians have home-language-mother tongue ratios of 58, 50 and 40 respectively. This suggests a more pronounced state of language decline. Clearly, the off-reserve environment poses major threats to Aboriginal languages.

By 1996, these rates of language erosion resulted in strikingly different continuity levels for viable and endangered languages as a whole. For every 100 speakers with an Aboriginal mother tongue, an average of about 70 used an Aboriginal home language among viable groups, compared with 30 or fewer among endangered groups.

You can read data and mapping notes here.

Michael Krauss and the Eyak language

September 4, 2008 at 4:45 pm | Posted in Alaska, Language | Leave a comment
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Michael E. Krauss (born 1934) is a linguist who has worked extensively on the Na-Dené language family, especially on proto-Athabaskan, pre-proto-Athabaskan, the Eyak language, which became extinct in January 2008, and also numerous other Athabaskan and Eskimo-Aleut languages.

With his 1991 address to the Linguistic Society of America, Krauss was among the first to create an awareness of the global problem of endangered languages. He has since worked to encourage the documentation and re-vitalization of endangered languages across the world.

Krauss, professor emeritus, joined the faculty of the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1960 and served as director of the Alaska Native Language Center from its inception in 1972 until his retirement in June 2000. He remains active in efforts to document Alaska’s Native languages and encouraged awareness of the global problem of endangered languages.

Krauss’ largest contribution to language documentation is his work on Eyak, conducted through much of the 1960s. Eyak was then already the most endangered of the Alaskan languages, and Krauss’ work is all the more notable considering that it represents what today might be considered salvage linguistics. While some Eyak data had been previously available, they were overlooked by previous scholars, including Edward Sapir. However, Eyak proved to be a crucial missing link for historical linguistics, being equally closely related to neighboring Ahtna and to distant Navajo. With good Eyak data it became possible to establish the existence of the Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit language family, though phonological evidence for links to Haida remained at the time elusive. Further, the system of vowel modifications present in Eyak inspired Krauss’ theory of Athabaskan tonogenesis, whereby tone develops from vowel constriction.

Font: Wikipedia

The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire

September 3, 2008 at 2:49 pm | Posted in Language, Naming, Siberia | Leave a comment
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Deepening into the geography of Russia is not easy, as it is en enormous country with lots of tribes and peoples. This website, The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire, offers a very good guide to wide our knowledgment, as it lists and describe a long list of Russian languages and tribes. It is based on a book with the same name published in Estonia, that you can also buy. I present the site today, and I will keep posting about the Nordic tribes later on:

The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire


In the cliché-ridden propaganda of the Soviet era tsarist Russia was frequently dubbed the “prison of nations”. When the Soviets came into power this “prison”, by virtue of new national policies, transformed into a family of friendly and brotherly nations in whose bosom all the national cultures flourished. To boast of the achievements under the Communist Party leadership, grandiose cultural festivals were arranged in the Soviet republics, folkloristic dance, song and instrumental groups were established and the revival of old peasant culture was encouraged. The slogan “socialist in content, nationalist in form” came to be applied to the new Soviet culture. Behind this deceptive facade of ethnographic originality, the tsarist prison of nations never ceased to exist: russification was carried out on a large scale, nationalist intellectuals were persecuted, a policy of extensive exploitation of land was pursued and nations were continuously resettled and mingled. The desired result was the birth of a new, Russian-speaking “Soviet nation”, and to lay the theoretical foundation for this a whole army of scholars was employed. The evolution of the Soviet nation was seen as the process of history within the cognizance of Marxist-Leninist principles which was as inevitable as the process of life itself.

The recent rapid collapse of the Soviet economic and political system has revealed the consequences of these brutal colonization policies: hundreds of culturally and economically crippled nations, with the smallest of them nearing the crucial point of extinction.


The authors of the present book, who come from a country (Estonia) which has shared the fate of nations in the Russian and Soviet empires, endeavour to publicize the plight of the small nations whose very existence is threatened as a result of recent history. Perhaps it is not too late to give a supporting hand to them without an attempt at either ideological brainwashing or economic exploitation.

Peoples according to language groups

[I quote the only the groups related with this blog, if you want to read the complete list you have it here]

PALEO-ASIATIC PEOPLES: Aleuts, Aliutors, Asiatic Eskimos, Chukchis, Itelmens, Kereks, Kets, Koryaks, Nivkhs, Yukaghirs.

MANCHU-TUNGUS PEOPLES: Evens, Evenks, Nanais, Negidals, Orochis, Oroks, Udeghes, Ulchis.

URALIC PEOPLES: Enets, Ingrians, Izhorians, Karelians, Khants, Kola Lapps, Livonians, Mansis, Nenets, Nganasans, Selkups, Veps, Votes.

It seems that my work it has been multiplied now! But I see they use the language as a criteria to stablish the boundaries of a tribe, so I have not been wrong until the date. They offer also a selected bibliography of the different tribes for further research.

What about Inuinnaqtun?

August 25, 2008 at 2:31 am | Posted in Canada, Language, Maps | 4 Comments
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In the last post it arose a doubt about the languages of Nunavut, the Innu land in Canada. In their website they talk about Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, as if they were separate languages. I googled it, and the Wikipedia says:

Inuinnaqtun is an indigenous language of Canada. It is related very closely to Inuktitut, and many people believe that Inuinnaqtun is only a dialect of Inuktitut. The governments of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut recognise Inuinnaqtun as an official language in addition to Inuktitut.

Inuinnaqtun is used primarily in the communities of Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk in the western Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut. To a smaller extent it is also spoken in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. Outside of Nunavut it is spoken in the hamlet of Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, where it is called Kangiryuarmiutun. It is written using the Latin alphabet.

Spoken in: Canada (Nunavut and Northwest Territories)
Total speakers: approximately 2,000
Language family: Inuit

I also found this in the Nunavut’s Languages Comissioner:

Inuktitut/Inuinnaqtun is the largest language group in Nunavut. Seventy percent of Nunavummiut speak Inuktitut as their first language.

Inuktitut is divided up into a number of different dialects, including Inuinnaqtun, which is spoken in the western-most parts of the territory. Inuinnaqtun uses Roman orthography, rather than syllabics.

This last page has a lot of material, I will dig into it later on!

Revitalizing Indigenous Languages

August 16, 2008 at 2:25 am | Posted in Language, Research | 1 Comment
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Thanks to Northern Arizona University I found this interesting paper about indigenous languages revitalization. This is a field on which I have been interested before, probably because of my linguistic education at the university. And because personally, I totally agree with the fact that language is one of the most important things regarding cultural diversity. The paper is quite long, so I just selected some parts of it. You can read the full version here.

Some Basics of Indigenous Language Revitalization
Jon Reyhner

Fishman’s eight stages of language loss

Based on his study of minority languages worldwide, Fishman postulated in his landmark 1991 book Reversing Language Shift a continuum of eight stages of language loss with stage eight being the closest to total extinction and stage one being the closest to dynamic survival. Fishman’s eight stages are summarized below and in Figure 1 along with suggestions on what can be done to promote indigenous language use at each stage based on presentations at the Stabilizing Indigenous Languages symposiums and other sources. It is important to remember that one of Fishman’s stages can only roughly approximate the real situation of a particular indigenous language, and it is imperative to understand that different approaches to language revitalization are called for depending upon the current health of a language and unique local conditions.

(go here and see the scale)

The role of technology in revitalizing indigenous languages

The final section in this volume is on the uses of technology in indigenous language revitalization efforts. There has been telling criticism of “technofixes” for endangered languages. Hilaire Paul Valiquette writes that,

Computers are the most questionable of language teaching tools. They are not cost-effective; they bypass intergenerational teaching; they often involve handing over control to technical experts. They are very often connected with bad L[anguage] teaching (word lists, clicking on the face to hear the word ‘nose,’ etc.). Their use makes a patronizing statement: “the superiority of technology of the dominant culture is saving you.” (1998, p. 111)

However given that, he goes on to write, “Computers do have a use in long-range language preservation” (1998, p. 111).

The first paper in this section by Mizuki Miyashita and Laura Moll describing a dictionary project is a good example of using technology to inexpensively aid both language documentation and to make that information more accessible to indigenous language learners. The second paper by Amar Almasude focuses on how cassette tape recorders and other new technologies have allowed an oral culture to be maintained and diffused both within Morocco and and among emigrants abroad. The last paper by Robert St. Clair and his colleagues gives useful information to anyone interested in publishing indigenous language materials.

Teaching and supporting indigenous languages

Anyone studying the issue knows how threatened indigenous languages are everywhere in the world despite the rhetoric of tribal policies and the Native American Languages Act in the United States and similar efforts abroad, such as the 1992 Sámi Language Act in Norway (Corson, 1995). However, this volume emphasizes the positive steps being taken to effectively revitalize indigenous languages so that Native people who wish to keep their languages alive can get some guidance from the efforts currently being made around the world. And I want to emphasize that these efforts supporting indigenous languages indicate that children can learn an international language such as English along with their indigenous language. English does not have to be purchased at the price of losing one’s indigenous language.

However, if we are to get beyond teaching students numbers, colors, and names of animals, teacher education will be critical in regard to school programs designed to revitalize indigenous languages. There is a large body of experience with second language teaching that can inform teachers of indigenous languages. In particular, Joyce Silverthorne, a member of the Montana State Board of Education, dealt at the 1997 symposium with the broad overview of education required for a professional indigenous language teacher. An excellent inservice teacher training model for promoting indigenous language preservation and teaching that incorporates modern research on second language acquistion is described in the appendices of Stabilizing Indigenous Languages (Cantoni, 1996, pp. 234-239). Developed by Richard Littlebear and the staff of the Interface Alaska Bilingual Multifunctional Resource Center, the model stresses the importance of the use of the Total Physical Response (TPR) and “Natural” approaches to language learning for beginning language instruction. The model also discusses the importance of attitudes towards language, building a theoretical base, building a rationale for language preservation, classroom teaching methods, practical applications, and follow-up to training. Immersion teaching methods, such as Greymorning describes in this volume, are most conducive to developing communicative competence, but they require fluent teachers who are not always available. Teresa McCarty and her colleagues described at the 1997 symposium an intensive summer training program for teachers of indigenous languages, and Cantoni and Reyhner (1998) summarized what educators can do to help with indigenous language revitalization.

Steve Greymorning’s 1997 symposium presentation on “Going Beyond Words” and paper in this volume describe various efforts to teach Arapaho to school children, which had more and more success as the teachers were taught various immersion language teaching methods and spent more classroom time using them to teach Arapaho, but he concludes by advocating the Maori “philosophy of language from the breast,” which emphasizes intergenerational language transmission in the home. The Maori have started language classes for mothers with children 16 to 24 months old. Mothers learn Maori while their babies also learn the sounds and cadences of their tribal language. Veronica Carpenter described at the 1997 symposium how young children pick up the sounds and rhythms of the language(s) spoken around them and how older children not so exposed to their tribe’s language need specific help to pick up that sound system they did not learn at their mother’s side.

It is well known that infants who are breast fed pick up immunities from childhood diseases from their mother’s milk, and I maintain that children who learn their indigenous language and culture at their mother’s breast pick up immunities from the diseases of modern life that lead our children to joining youth gangs, abusing drugs and alcohol, and becoming members of the rootless consumer society described by Robert N. St. Clair in his talk on “The Invisible Doors Between Cultures” at the 1997 symposium. The message about the values of indigenous languages and cultures that I found on the Iñupiaq wallet card I received in Anchorage at the Third Annual Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium needs to be a part of any indigenous language revitalization effort. Whichever of Fishman’s stages an indigenous language is in, there is a need to convince people, indigenous and non-indigenous, that keeping the language alive is important. This need for “marketing” indigenous languages was described at the 1997 symposium in regard to the Maori of Aeotora/New Zealand by Rangi Nicholson.


Indigenous language activists first need to determine the current status of their language and then set realistic goals for their language revitalization efforts. Irregardless of whether these goals include literacy, once goals are established, language activists need to concentrate on the methods, materials, and motivation they will use to achieve their goals, what I term the three “M’s” of indigenous language education (see Figure 4). It is these three “M’s” that will either lead indigenous language learners to communicative competence and more sophisticated language usage or to failure.

No one person, community, school, university, tribe, or government program has all the answers to keeping any indigenous language alive. It is only through sharing successes and learning from failures that the extinction of indigenous languages can be prevented. More needs to be done to create a network of information sharing between indigenous communities. The five symposiums and associated publications, including this volume, Revitalizing Indigenous Languages, are among the many attempts to get the word out about the importance and value of indigenous languages, the current peril they are in, and what can be done to revitalize them.

Go and take a look on their site, if this is a subject you are interested in.

Avataq Cultural Institute

August 6, 2008 at 4:39 pm | Posted in Canada, History, Language, Organization, Traditions | Leave a comment
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Yesterday I found this interesting website from Avataq Cultural Institute:

Avataq Cultural Institute

Avataq Cultural Institute provides a strong foundation for the living culture of today’s Inuit. Since its inception in 1980, Avataq has built a solid reputation as the cultural leader for Nunavik Inuit and as an important resource for Inuit culture in Canada and beyond. Our goal is to ensure that Inuit culture and language continue to thrive into the future, so that our descendants can benefit from the rich heritage passed down to us through the wisdom of our ancestors.

About Us

Founded in 1980, Avataq Cultural Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the language and culture of Inuit in Nunavik (Northern Quebec). The organization has its head office in Inukjuak, Nunavik, and an administrative office in Westmount, Quebec.

Avataq receives its mandate directly from Nunavik Inuit at the biennial Nunavik Inuit Elders’ Conferences. Avataq has a board of directors comprising five Inuit members elected for two-year terms.

The programs and services of the Avataq Cultural Institute include: an Inuktitut promotion and preservation program, a genealogy program, a Nunavik museums program, a Nunavik Inuit art collection, an archaeology department, an artists’ support program, a documentation and archives centre, local cultural committees, traditional skills courses, as well as a research and publications service.

Through its language, heritage and cultural programs, the Avataq Cultural Institute is striving to support and preserve Inuit culture for present and future generations.

I have a photographic day, as you see 😉 I copied a lot of nice photos they have on their website. They have a very very interesting section about the Inuit in Nunavik, as well as maps. This will be for another post tonight! As an extra, you can download the Inuktitut fonts for your computer too! The link is here!

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