Safronova, archivist at St. Herman Russian Orthodox Seminary, examines a religious text handwritten in Alutiiq, which dates from the early 1900s. Brianna Gibbs/KMXT photo
rediscovery of a book, handwritten in Alutiiq and containing numerous gospels
of the Bible, could play an important role in the on-going Alutiiq language revival on
Kodiak Island. KMXT's Brianna Gibbs has more.
Safronova is an archivist and faculty member of St. Herman Russian Orthodox Seminary
and came across the volume when she received a tip that someone had seen it in
the seminary's archives.
said the book and its culturally significant contents were previously discovered
by the late anthropologist Lydia Black, and was even put on display for a time.
However, only recently, as scholars from the seminary and Alutiiq Museum with
the help of elders try to revive the endangered language, was its importance
-- (Alutiiq Revival 1 :39 "Maybe
it was not the time for it to surface at that point. Now during the Alutiiq
language revival, this is an incredibly important document because this is
basically a Rosetta stone. This is a literary language preserved and the elders
still understand it. A good proof of that was a recent event in Old Harbor,
that father Michael read from the gospel of St. Matthew during divine liturgy,
and it did it first in Alutiiq, then a couple of versus in Slavonic, and then
in English. Well Old Harbor has a congregation of people who still speak
Alutiiq, and they understood what he said.")
to the biblical text, Safronova found dozens of teaching documents from church
schools founded by Russian Orthodox missionaries in the early1900s. Classroom
records, Alutiiq ABC books and even lesson plans written in Alutiiq, Church
Slavonic and Russian are now crucial clues that will help the revival.
-- (Alutiiq Revival 2 :42 "And
this is Alutiiq language in Alutiiq cursive. We can even say there existed
Alutiiq cursive. And how we can say that, well if you were consistent and you
were forced through the ABC book, you would have known that the difference
between Russian alphabet and Alutiiq miraculously is seven letters. Because the
sound system is very close. So this for example is "n," I immediately understood
that this is not Russian because it is a "n" sound. But it is an Alutiiq person
writing it, and it's incredible.")
the similarity of Russian and Alutiiq alphabets, Safronova, who speaks fluent
Russian, is able to read the handwritten Alutiiq text found in the archives.
She said she understands some of it, only because she knows the gospels and prayers
in Russian. As for the parts she doesn't understand, Safronova and Father John,
the dean of St. Herman Seminary, meet with Alutiiq elders once a week to read
and go through the dense biblical text. Safronova is able to read the Alutiiq
cursive, and Alutiiq elders can understand what she is saying. Words or phrases
that are unknown to both parties are filled in by Father John, who uses his
liturgical knowledge to translate the missing pieces of the gospels.
slow, collaborative process, according to Safronova. But she said it is
something that must be done to gain enough knowledge of the rediscovered
materials to use in teaching younger generations.
-- (Alutiiq Revival 3 :38 "Kids are the fastest to learn. At this
point it was a perfect demonstration in Old Harbor, an eight and six-year-old,
they learned the alphabet and learned how to read basic words in less than one
hour. It's just letters, and then you can learn how to read. And for kids it's
like a code. So there is a big potential in this thing and the elders support
it and whatever hard feelings may have existed, for the church, because they
couldn't understand Slavonic, but now it is clear that the church was actually
trying to introduce multiple languages.")
the rediscovery process continues, and Safronova says the St. Herman Seminary
has opened up its archives to the public, and anyone who would like to come in
and learn about the language is more than welcome. She said the process must be
inclusive, because it will take input from many different directions to help
revive the language.
teaches Russian language at Kodiak College and plans on incorporating the
similarities between Russian and Alutiiq alphabets this fall.