|Native to||United States|
|Extinct||January 21, 2008, with the death of Marie Smith Jones|
Pre-contact distribution of Eyak
Eyak is an extinct Na-Dené language historically spoken by the Eyak people, indigenous to south-central Alaska, near the mouth of the Copper River. The name Eyak comes from a Chugach Sugpiaq name (Igya'aq) for an Eyak village at the mouth of the Eyak River.
Numerous Tlingit place names along the Gulf Coast are derived from names in Eyak; they have obscure or even nonsensical meanings in Tlingit, but oral tradition has maintained many Eyak etymologies. The existence of Eyak-derived Tlingit names along most of the coast towards southeast Alaska is strong evidence that the prehistoric range of Eyak was once far greater than it was at the time of European contact. This confirms both Tlingit and Eyak oral histories of migration throughout the region.
Marie Smith Jones (May 14, 1918 – January 21, 2008) of Cordova was the language's last native speaker, and the last full-blooded Eyak. Because of the dying off of its native speakers, Eyak became a symbol in the fight against language extinction.
The spread of English and suppression of aboriginal languages are not the only reasons for the decline of the Eyak language. The northward migration of the Tlingit people around Yakutat in precontact times encouraged the use of Tlingit rather than Eyak along much of the Pacific Coast of Alaska. Eyak was also under pressure from its neighbors to the west, the Alutiiq people of Prince William Sound, as well as some pressure from the people of the Copper River valley. Eyak and Tlingit culture began to merge along the Gulf Coast, and a number of Eyak-speaking groups were absorbed by the Gulf Coast Tlingit populations. This resulted in the replacement of Eyak by Tlingit among most of the mixed groups after a few generations, as reported in Tlingit oral histories of the area.
In June 2010, the Anchorage Daily News published an article about Guillaume Leduey, a French college student with an unexpected connection to the Eyak language. Beginning at age 12, he had taught himself Eyak, utilizing print and audio instructional materials he obtained from the Alaska Native Language Center. During that time, he never traveled to Alaska or conversed with Marie Smith Jones, the last native speaker.
The month that the article was published, he traveled to Alaska and met with Dr. Michael Krauss, a noted linguist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Dr. Krauss assisted Leduey with proper Eyak phonological pronunciation and assigned further instruction in grammar and morphology—including morphemic analyses of traditional Eyak stories.
In June 2011, Leduey returned to Alaska to facilitate Eyak language workshops in Anchorage and Cordova. He is now regarded as a fluent speaker, translator, and instructor of Eyak. Despite his fluency, Eyak remains classified as "Extinct" as there are no native speakers. Currently, Leduey provides instruction and curriculum assistance to the Eyak Language Project from France.
The following charts are based on the material in Krauss (1965). His orthography is shown in bold, with IPA equivalents in square brackets.
Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar
Velar Uvular Glottal central lateral plain labial Plosive unaspirated (b [b]) d [t] g [k] gw [kʷ] g̣ [q] aspirated t [tʰ] k [kʰ] q [qʰ] ejective t' [tʼ] k' [kʼ] q' [qʼ] ' [ʔ] Affricate unaspirated dz [ts] dl [tɬ] j [tʃ] aspirated ts [tsʰ] tl [tɬʰ] ch [tʃʰ] ejective ts' [tsʼ] tl' [tɬʼ] ch' [tʃʼ] Fricative s [s] ł [ɬ] sh [ʃ] x [x] xw [xʷ] x̣ [χ] h [h] Nasal (m [m]) (n [n]) (ŋ [ŋ]) Approximant l [l] y [j] w [w]
The nasals [n] and [m] occur in loanwords; in native words, Krauss (1965) suggests that they can be interpreted as /l/ and /w/ (respectively) followed by a nasalized vowel. /b/ and /ŋ/ occur only in loanwords. Aspirated stops contrast with unaspirated stops only before vowels.
All consonants may be found stem-initially, except /h/, which is interpreted as zero. /h/ has the allophone [h] only word-initially or directly following a vowel.
In Krauss's terminology, vowels can be oral or nasal, with further modification by glottalization, aspiration, length, or a combination of glottalization and length. The only unmodified vowels are /i/, /ə/ and /u/. Unmodified /ə/ varies morphophonemically between [æ] and [e], so /ə/ serves as the basic form of both vowels. When orally modified, the nucleus of /e/ varies between [ɛ] and [æ], the nucleus of /a/ between [a] and [ɔ]. All vowels, regardless of their oral modification, are nasalized following /n/, with the exception of /e/ which is never nasalized.
|unmodified||glottal||aspirated||long||glottal long||nasalized glottal||nasalized aspirated||nasalized long||nasalized
All syllables begin with an onset, so that no two vowels may occur consecutively. Syllables can be counted exactly by number of vowels.
Eyak is not tonal, unlike many of the Athabascan languages to which it is related; nor does it have distinctive pitch. Stems are heavy syllables, whereas affixes tend to be light. Stress usually falls on stems and heavy syllables. In sequences of heavy syllables, the stress falls on the penultimate syllable, as in q’ahdí’lah "goodbye".
With few exceptions, Eyak nouns are morphophonemically invariable. Kinship and anatomical stems are the only noun stems that may take pronominal possessive prefixes, which are as follow:
- First person singular: si-, siyaaq'e', "my aunt (mother's sister)"
- Second person singular: ʔi-
- Third person singular and plural: ʔu-
- First person plural: qa'-
- Second person plural: ləx-
- Indefinite: k'u-
- Reciprocal: ʔit-
Eyak verb stems take many affixes: there are nine prefix positions before the verb (many of which may be subdivided) and four suffix positions after. All positions may be filled with zero, except the stem, which can be filled by any of several hundred morphemes but not zero.
- 1. Object
- A. Direct object: xu (1 sg.), i (2 sg.), ø ~ ə (3 sg. and pl.), ləx̣ĩ (2 pl.), əd(ə) ~ əd(u) (reflexive), i ~ i(da) (indeterminate)
- B. Indefinite subject or object: k'u
- The indeterminate is used where there is no specific object (such as in intransitive verbs), while the is indefinite is used where there is a specific but unspecified subject or object.
- C. Mark of semitransitive: ʔ ~ '
- 2. Mode-aspect position A (inceptive imperfect): quʔ ~ qaʔ ~ qeʔ ~ qiʔ
- 3. i'lih ~ 'lih
- This position is filled only in a few verbs of thought or emotion, such as ilih
- 4. Plurality emphasizer: qə (subject and object)
- 5. Classificatory (nominal) and thematic (verbal): the most variable and characteristically Eyak affix position. gu, x̣ə, ləx̣ə̃, də, yə, and lə may occur singly, the rest occur in combinations of two or three.
- A. Gə, gu
- B. x̣ə
- C. qi', ləx̣ə̃, ti', kũ', k'uš, tsĩ, tsiʔ
- D. də, yə
- E. lə ~ ˜'
- Only in position C. do the morphemes have specified meaning, and only nominally, for example: ləx̣ə̃, "berry-like, ball-like, eye" or qi + də "foot". The other morphemes have unlimited, much broader meanings, but tend to concentrate in certain areas. They may be nominal classificatory or verbal thematic.
- gu + lə is nominally classificatory and refers to liquid or viscous matter; when gu appears by itself it refers nominally to basket-roots, thread, or hair, (but not rope), as well as thematically with -ɫ-qu, "chase".
- x̣ə + də may nominally refer to matches or logs (but not sticks) or to clouds, among others. də alone thematically refers to an unusually broad selection including but not limited to hunger, sleds, arrows, noises (only certain types), and non-solid round objects (including eggs, severed heads, and hearts).
- This is a very limited sampling of the breadth of the meanings of the possible morphemes in position 5.
- 6. Mode-aspect B1: Ge, ø ~ ə, ' ~ ə
- 7. Subject: xʷ (1 sg.), ø ~ y(i) (2 sg.), ləx̣ (2 pl.), ø (all else)d
- 8. Mode-aspect B2: sə ~ s (perfective), (y)i ~ ø (inconclusive function)
- 9. Verb voice: ø, də ~ di, ł, łə ~ łi
- 10. Verb stem
- 1. Derivational: g (habitual action), x̣ ~ ø (progressive)
- 2. Aspectival: ł (perfective); Derivational: k' (customary)
- 3. Negative: G
- 4. Human subject or object of third person: ĩh (sg.), inu' (pl.); non-human object of imperative: uh
- "Last Alaska language speaker dies". BBC News. January 24, 2008.
- "How Do You Learn a Dead Language?", Christine Cyr, Slate, January 28, 2008
- "Marie Smith". The Economist. February 7, 2008.
- Hopkins, Kyle. "Extinct Alaska Native language interests French student". Retrieved 15 July 2011.
- Gibbins, Jennifer. "Preserving Alaska Native culture". Retrieved 15 July 2011.
- Hund, Andrew. “Eyak.” 2004. Encyclopedia of the Arctic. Taylor and Francis Publications. ISBN 1-57958-436-5
- Krauss, Michael E., ed. 1982. In Honor of Eyak: The Art of Anna Nelson Harry. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center. ISBN 0-933769-03-2
- Krauss, Michael E. 2004. Athabaskan tone. Pp. 51–136 in Sharon Hargus & Keren Rice (eds) Athabaskan Prosody. (Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 269). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ISBN 90-272-4783-8. Based on an unpublished manuscript dated 1979.
- Krauss, Michael E., and Jeff Leer. Athabaskan, Eyak, and Tlingit Sonorants. Alaska Native Language Center Research Papers No. 5. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, P.O. Box 757680, Fairbanks, AK 99775-7680, 1981. ISBN 0-933769-35-0
- New Yorker, June 6, 2005: "Last Words, A Language Dies" by Elizabeth Kolbert
- Native Village of Eyak (official homepage of the Tribe)
- An Eyak speaker
- Alaska Native Language Center
- Wrangell's 1839 Comparative Word-List of Alaskan languages (includes Eyak)
- Eyak basic lexicon at the Global Lexicostatistical Database
- BBC News article about death of last native speaker, with her picture. (Article date January 24, 2008).
- Eyak Preservation Council
- From Stewards to Shareholders: Eyaks Face Extinction (interview).
- The Eyak Corporation (ANSCA Corporation)
- Extinct Alaska Native language draws French student's interest
- "In Alaska, a Frenchman Fights to Revive the Eyak's Dead Tongue" Jim Carlton, The Wall Street Journal, 10 August 2010