Connection between Siberian and Alaskan languages: new research

March 30, 2008 at 1:28 am | Posted in Alaska, Language | Leave a comment
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I am so happy, take a look at what I have just found! I was reading Anthropology.net, and they had an article about the Siberan and native Alaskan languages from National Geographic. Check it out here, or read it below:

Siberian, Native American Languages Linked. A First.

John Roach
for National Geographic News
March 26, 2008

A fast-dying language in remote central Siberia shares a mother tongue with dozens of Native American languages spoken thousands of miles away, new research confirms. The finding may allow linguists to weigh in on how the Americas were first settled, according to Edward Vajda, director of the Center for East Asian Studies at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Since at least 1923 researchers have suggested a connection exists between Asian and North American languages—but this is the first time a link has been demonstrated with established standards, said Vajda, who has studied the relationship for more than 15 years. Previous researchers had provided lists of similar-sounding and look-alike words, but their methods were unscientific. Such similarities, Vajda noted, are likely to be dismissed as coincidence even if they represent genuine evidence. So Vajda developed another method. “I’m providing a whole system of [similar] vocabulary and also of grammatical parallels—the way that verb prefixes are structured,” he said.

Dying Tongue

His research links the Old World language family of Yeniseic in central Siberia with the Na-Dene family of languages in North America. The Yeniseic family includes the extinct languages Yugh, Kott, Assan, Arin, and Pumpokol. Ket is the only Yeniseic language spoken today. Less than 200 speakers remain and most are over 50, according to Vajda. “Within a couple of generations, Ket will probably become extinct,” he said. (Related news: “Languages Racing to Extinction in 5 Global ‘Hotspots’” [September 18, 2007].) The Na-Dene family includes languages spoken by the broad group of Athabaskan tribes in the U.S. and Canada as well as the Tlingit and Eyak people. The last Eyak speaker died in January.

Vajda presented the findings in February at a meeting of linguists at the Alaska Native Language Center in Fairbanks.

Making the Connection

Vajda established the Yeniseic-Na-Dene link by looking for languages with a verb-prefix system similar to those in Yeniseic languages. Such prefixes are unlike any other language in North Asia. Only Na-Dene languages have a system of verb prefixes that very closely resemble the Yeniseic,” he said. From there, Vajda found several dozen cognates—or words in different languages that sound alike and have the same meaning. The results dovetail with earlier work by Merritt Ruhlen, an anthropologist at Stanford University in California who Vajda said discovered the first genuine Na-Dene-Yeniseic cognates. Vajda also showed how these cognates have sound correspondences. “I systematically connect these structures in Yeniseic with the structures in modern Na-Dene,” Vajda said. “My comparisons aren’t just lists of some look-alike words … I show there is a system behind it.”

Johanna Nichols is a linguist at the University of California in Berkeley who attended the Alaska meeting where Vajda presented his research. With the exception of the Eskimo-Aleut family that straddles the Bering Strait and Aleutian Islands, this is “the first successful demonstration of any connection between a New World language and an Old World language,” Nichols said.

Mother Tongue

Vajda said his research puts linguistics on the same stage as archaeology, anthropology, and genetics when it comes to studying the history of humans in North Asia and North America. However, the research has not revealed which language came first. Neither modern Ket nor Na-Dene languages in North America represent the mother tongue. For example, some words in the Na-Dene family likely represent sounds of the mother tongue more closely than their Yeniseic cognates. Other words in Yeniseic, however, are probably more archaic.

Based on archaeological evidence of human migrations across the Bering land bridge, the language link may extend back at least 10,000 years. If true, according to Vajda, this would be the oldest known demonstrated language link. But more research is needed to determine when the languages originated and how they became a part of various cultures before such a claim will be accepted, according to UC Berkeley linguist Nichols. “I don’t think there is any reason to assume the connection is [10,000 years] old … this must surely be one late episode in a much longer and more complicated history of settlement,” she said.

Being a linguist myself, I am thrilled with that discover. This is very good news, congratulations for the researchers! Let’s see if this helps conserving and increasing the use of all those forgotten languages.

First step: Alaska and Canada

March 12, 2008 at 1:17 am | Posted in Language, Maps, Naming | 3 Comments
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I’m working with Ethnologue trying to stablish the linguistic braches related with the North culture and lifestyle. I’ve made some interesting finds. Some language families spoken in Alaska and Canada are spoken also in Siberia, the North of Russia. That is exciting, as makes me wonder how it happened, so expect some future research into that direction.

Anyway, that is what I have found:

Alaska
In the United States of America there are 293,027,571 people. Population includes 1,900,000 American Indians, Inuits, and Aleut, not all speaking indigenous languages (1990 census). The National or official languages are Hawaiian (in Hawaii) and Spanish (in New Mexico). The number of languages listed for USA is 238. Of those, 162 are living languages, 3 are second language without mother-tongue speakers, and 73 are extinct. All the Inuit and Aleut languages are still alive.

Aleut
[ale] 300 in the USA (1995 M. Krauss). Population total all countries: 490. Ethnic population: 2,000 (1995 M. Krauss). Western Aleut on Atka Island (Aleutian Chain); Eastern Aleut on eastern Aleutian Islands, Pribilofs, and Alaskan Peninsula. Also spoken in Russia (Asia). Dialects: Western Aleut (Atkan, Atka, Attuan, Unangany, Unangan), Eastern Aleut (Unalaskan, Pribilof Aleut). Classification: Eskimo-Aleut, Aleut

Inupiatun, North Alaskan
[esi] Ethnic population: 8,000. Norton Sound and Point Hope, Alaska. Also spoken in Canada. Alternate names: North Alaskan Inupiat, Inupiat, “Eskimo”. Dialects: North Slope Inupiatun (Point Barrow Inupiatun), West Arctic Inupiatun, Point Hope Inupiatun, Anaktuvik Pass Inupiatun. Classification: Eskimo-Aleut, Eskimo, Inuit

Inupiatun, Northwest Alaska
[esk] 4,000 (1978 SIL). Speakers of all Inuit languages: 75,000 out of 91,000 in the ethnic group (1995 M. Krauss). Ethnic population: 8,000 (1978 SIL). Alaska, Kobuk River, Noatak River, Seward Peninsula, and Bering Strait. Alternate names: Northwest Alaska Inupiat, Inupiatun, “Eskimo”. Dialects: Northern Malimiut Inupiatun, Southern Malimiut Inupiatun, Kobuk River Inupiatun, Coastal Inupiatun, Kotzebue Sound Inupiatun, Seward Peninsula Inupiatun, King Island Inupiatun (Bering Strait Inupiatun). Classification: Eskimo-Aleut, Eskimo, Inuit

Yupik, Central
[esu] 10,000 (1995 M. Krauss). Ethnic population: 21,000 (1995 M. Krauss). Nunivak Island, Alaska coast from Bristol Bay to Unalakleet on Norton Sound and inland along Nushagak, Kuskokwim, and Yukon rivers. Alternate names: Central Alaskan Yupik. Dialects: Kuskokwim Yupik (Bethel Yupik). There are 3 dialects, which are quite different. Classification: Eskimo-Aleut, Eskimo, Yupik, Alaskan

Yupik, Central Siberian
[ess] 1,050 in the USA (1995 Krauss). Population total all countries: 1,350. Ethnic population: 1,050 in USA (1995 Krauss). St. Lawrence Island, Alaska; Gambell and Savonga villages, Alaska. Also spoken in Russia (Asia). Alternate names: St. Lawrence Island “Eskimo”, Bering Strait Yupik. Dialects: Chaplino. Classification: Eskimo-Aleut, Eskimo, Yupik, Siberian

Yupik, Pacific Gulf
[ems] 400 (1995 M. Krauss). Ethnic population: 3,000 (1995 M. Krauss). Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island (Koniag dialect), Alaskan coast from Cook Inlet to Prince William Sound (Chugach dialect). 20 villages. Alternate names: Alutiiq, Sugpiak “Eskimo”, Sugpiaq “Eskimo”, Chugach “Eskimo”, Koniag-Chugach, Suk, Sugcestun, Aleut, Pacific Yupik, South Alaska “Eskimo”. Dialects: Chugach, Koniag. Classification: Eskimo-Aleut, Eskimo, Yupik, Alaskan

Canada

In Canada there are 32,507,874 people, including 32,000 Inuit ethnic total (1993): 146,285 first-language speakers (1981 census). The National or official languages are English and French. Literacy rate: 96% to 99%. The number of languages listed for Canada is 89. Of those, 85 are living languages and 4 are extinct.

Inuktitut, Eastern Canadian
[ike] 14,000 (1991 L. Kaplan). Ethnic population: 17,500 (1991 L. Kaplan). West of Hudson Bay and east through Baffin Island, Quebec, and Labrador. Alternate names: Eastern Canadian “Eskimo”, “Eastern Arctic Eskimo”, Inuit. Dialects: “Baffinland Eskimo”, “Labrador Eskimo”, “Quebec Eskimo”. Classification: Eskimo-Aleut, Eskimo, Inuit

Inuktitut, Western Canadian
[ikt] 4,000 (1981). All Inuit first-language speakers in Canada 18,840 (1981 census). Ethnic population: 7,500 (1981 census). Central Canadian Arctic, and west to the Mackenzie Delta and coastal area, including Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic coast north of Inuvik (but not Inuvik and Aklavik, and coastal area). Alternate names: Inuvialuktun. Dialects: Copper Inuktitut (“Copper Eskimo”, Copper Inuit), “Caribou Eskimo” (Keewatin), Netsilik, Siglit. Caribou dialect may need separate literature. Classification: Eskimo-Aleut, Eskimo, Inuit.Inupiatun, North Alaskan.

Inupiatun, North Alaskan
[esi] Mackenzie delta region including Aklavik and Inuvik, into Alaska, USA. Alternate names: North Alaskan Inupiat, Inupiat, Inupiaq, “Eskimo”. Dialects: West Arctic Inupiatun (Mackenzie Inupiatun, Mackenzie Delta Inupiatun), North Slope Inupiatun. Classification: Eskimo-Aleut, Eskimo, Inuit

Here you have the wonderful Ethnologue maps as well:

Alaska
Canada

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