How do you express modern concepts
and terms in an endangered Native language spoken fluently by few people? Each
month, elders from around Kodiak meet to tackle that question, developing new
words in Alutiiq for English words such as "computer" and "Internet," in order to
help the Alutiiq language evolve with the times.
The New Words Council is a major
component of the Alutiiq
Museum's Alutiiq Living
Words Project, an extensive project designed to increase knowledge and revitalization
of the language. The council met last week in Old Harbor.
April Laktonen Counceller is the Alutiiq Language manager at the Alutiiq Museum and also the project manager for
the living words project. She said the project involves mostly fluent Kodiak elders
with the assistance of semi-fluent second language speakers.
-- (Counceller 1 35 sec. "The council is made up of ... a way to start the discussion.")
to Counceller, Alutiiq words usually consist of a root word with any number of
suffixes attached. She said the new words the council creates tend to be
literal, either based on function, what the word sounds like or a direct
translation. The council created and debated a number of such new words at its
most recent meeting.
-- (Counceller 2 46 sec. "We created a new word for ... rules of the language.")
said elders create about five new words each time the council meets. Other
recent additions to the language include Alutiiq words for credit card,
barista, ketchup and television. However, she hasn't heard many of the new
words being used regularly, at least not just yet.
-- (Counceller 3 38 sec. "I think the elders see ... the things that are around them.") Counceller said the New Words
Council has been meeting since 2007 when the project was first funded by a
grant from the National Science Foundation. She said that with a year left on
the grant, the future direction elders on the council choose to take has yet to
-- (Counceller 4 45 sec. "We'll probably be deciding ... other different purposes.")
estimates that there are about 56 fluent Alutiiq speakers on Kodiak
Island or from Kodiak and now living elsewhere. She hopes to
compile a comprehensive list of fluent speakers in consultation with elders
within the next year. The Alutiiq
Living Words Project is funded by the National Science Foundation's
Documenting Endangered Languages program. The Alutiiq Museum's
web site features project and language updates, along with audio clips, and the
museum plans to launch a new online language learning tool soon.