Alaska Native languages

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At the time of statehood in 1959 there were twenty indigenous languages spoken within the boundaries of the state of Alaska.[1] Within Alaska today these languages are generally referred to as Native languages. Most of these languages belong to one of two large language families: Eskimo-Aleut and Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit (Na-Dene). The Tsimshian language arrived in Alaska only recently in 1887, moving under the leadership of Anglican missionary William Duncan.[2] Tsimshian spoken in Alaska is one of the four Tsimsihanic languages, the other three spoken in Canada. The Haida language, once thought to be related to Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit, is a language isolate, not demonstrably related to any other language.[3]

Of these twenty languages, one is now extinct. The last speaker of Eyak died in 2008. Though not included as a modern Alaska Native language, Tsetsaut was still spoken in the region of the Portland Canal in southern Alaska at the time of Alaska purchase in 1867. The last speaker likely died in the 1930s or 1940's.[4] Some authors consider the Salcha-Goodpaster dialect of Lower Tanana to be a distinct language, known as Middle Tanana.[5] The last speaker died in 1993.

For the Alaska Native languages, the years between 1960 and 1970 were, in Michael E. Krauss's words, "a transitional period of rebirth of interest in Alaska Native languages and a shift of developments in their favour".[2]

List of Alaska Native Languages[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Krauss, Michael, Gary Holton, Jim Kerr, and Colin T. West. 2011. Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska. Fairbanks and Anchorage: Alaska Native Language Center and UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research.
  2. ^ a b Krauss, Michael E. 1980. Alaska Native Languages: Past, Present, and Future. (Alaska Native Language Center Research Paper 4). Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center.
  3. ^ Krauss, Michael E. 1997. The indigenous languages of the north: A report on their present state. Northern Minority Languages: Problems of Survival, ed. by H. Shoji & J. Janhunen, 1-34. (Senri Ethological Studies 44). Osaka, Japan: National Museum of Ethnology.
  4. ^ Krauss, Michael E. & Victor K. Golla. 1981. Northern Athabaskan Languages. Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 6: Subarctic, ed. by J. Helm, 67-86. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian.
  5. ^ Holton, Gary. 2010. Behind the Map: The reification of indigenous language boundaries in Alaska. Working Papers in Athabaskan Languages, ed. by S. Tuttle & J. Spence, 75-87. (Alaska Native Language Center Working Papers 8). Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Fairbanks.