Alaska fact #2

“Eleven different languages are spoken among Alaska’s Native People, who make up about 16 percent of the state’s population.”

5,000 Awesome Facts, Nat’l Geographic Kids, 2015

An Alaska native is recognized when the heritage can be traced back to the last 2 great migrations that happened thousands of years ago.

The recognized languages, for the indigenous people in Alaska are;

Inupiaq, Siberian Yupik, Central Alaskan Yupik, Alutiiq, Unang ax, Dena ‘Ina, Deg Xinag, Holikachuk, Ko Yukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Gwich’in, Tanana, Upper Tanana, Tana cross, Han, Ahtna, Eyck, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian.

The book says that there are only 11 different languages but when pulling this up on Google I found there were 20. I looked at the dates and that was 2022. Several sites also stated 20 as the number of languages.

The languages are from 2 main language groups, the Inuit-Unangan and Na-Dene, or Eskimo-Aleut and Athabasan-Eyak-Tlingit.

16 of those languages are considered endangered, and 2 of them, Eyak & Tsetsa’ut as of 2018 are considered extinct, or no fluent speakers.

There used to be over 300 different languages among the 4 major tribes that settled in Alaska, but by 1959 when Alaska joined the union it had dwindled to 20.

In 1960 – 1970 there was a great rebirth in the native languages and and preservation began to keep them alive.

Today the languages are being re-taught to the villages and they are being recorded and transcribed in hopes to revitalize them. Dictionaries are also being printed in the languages.

I found out as well that in 1877 Sheldon Jackson, a missionary turned into General Agent of Education for the territory of Alaska implemented the policy of English Only to be spoken in schools, legal and political areas and remained until the year 2002. Any violation would be met with mental and physical abuse, which furthered the disappearing of the native languages.

In 1924 the Alaska Voter’s Literacy Act was passed in which stated that an English literacy test must be taken and passed to earn the right to vote, which greatly contributed to the disappearing of native languages as well.

Wow, that was pretty interesting for me. I had no idea. I hope the languages will make a come back and it sounds as if Alaska is trying to get them back in circulation.

People that are interested in learning the languages can take classes that are offered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.





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