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Alaska Native Language Preservation & Advisory Council

Languages

Alaska has some 20 distinct languages, most within two main language groups. The two groupings include Inuit-Unangan (a.k.a. Eskimo-Aleut) and Na-Dene (a.k.a. Athabasan-Eyak-Tlingit). Since its creation by the Alaska Legislature in 1972, the Alaska Native Language Center has researched and documented Alaska's Native languages.

For more information about Alaska Native Languages please visit the Alaska Native Language Center's website.

Alaska Native Language Map

Click here to see enlarged map. This map is courtesy of the Alaska Native Language Center , and is also available on their website.

How Many Speakers are There of Each Alaska Native Language?

There are a lot of challenges to counting who is a “speaker” of a language is and there always will be. The numbers presented in the table below under 'Status Alaska Native Language Speakers', if the number is fewer than 100, come from community members who tell me that they have sat down with other language community members and written down lists of who all they can name who is a strong speaker. Sadly, those numbers are easier to come by as the number of speakers becomes really small.

Surveys that simply ask “Do you (or does that person) speak the language?” are not very informative. One person who speaks the language quite well, but knows that they are far from perfect speaker, may modestly reply “no” whereas someone else, who knows a couple hundred words and a couple dozen phrases, may reply “yes.” Neither one is wrong as such, but it illustrates how a simple “yes/no” question about speaking does not provide useful information.

With Council members, we have been talking about trying to collect numbers of speakers in four categories:

  1. Those who learned the language as children and speak the language well.
  2. Those who started learning the language as children but who have become “dormant speakers” who understand but cannot converse.
  3. Second-language learners who speak the language well.
  4. Second-language learners who can carry on short conversations (five or ten minutes)—more than simply using memorized dialog.
Status Alaska Native Language Speakers Directory of Alaska Native Languages

For more information about the Alaska Native Language Preservation & Advisory Council contact

D. Roy Mitchell, IV
Research Analyst
Division of Community and Regional Affairs
Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development
Phone: 907-269-3646
Email: anlpac@alaska.gov