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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.

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
Language Family Language
Inuit-Unangan Inupiatun (Inupiaq): Estimated <2,500 highly proficient speakers in Alaska
Yupigestun / Akuzipigestun (St. Lawrence Island Yupik): Estimated <1,000 highly proficient speakers.
Yugtun/Cugtun (Central Alaskan Yup'ik / Cup’ik): Estimated <10,000 highly proficient speakers.
Cup’ig (Nunivak Island [Yupik]): Data unavailable
Unangam Tunuu (UnangaX Aleut): <80 highly proficient speakers
Sugt’stun / Alutiit’stun (Sugpiaq/Alutiiq [Yupik]): About ~80 highly proficient speakers
Na-Dene Dena’inaq’ (Dena'ina): 5 highly proficient speakers.
Denaakk'e (Koyukon): Data unavailable
Holikachuk: 0 highly proficient speakers.
Deg Xinag: 2 highly proficient speakers
Dinak’i (Upper Kuskokwim): <5 highly proficient speakers--perhaps as few as one or none.
Benhti Kokhwt’ana Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana): 1 highly proficient speaker.
Sahcheeg xut'een xneege' (Middle Tanana):0 highly proficient speakers speakers.
Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich'in): <250 highly proficient speakers
Hän: 2 highly proficient speakers in Alaska
Dihthaad Xt’een Iin Aandeeg’ (Tanacross): <10 highly proficient speakers?
Nee'aanèegn' (Upper Tanana): ~7 highly proficient speakers; about 25 proficient second-language speakers in Alaska
Koht’aene kenaege’ (Ahtna): ~25 highly proficient speakers.
dAxhunhyuuga’ (Eyak): 0 highly proficient speakers.
Lingít (Tlingit): 50 highly proficient, first-language speakers plus 10 highly proficient second-language speakers.
Wetal (Tseta’ut): 0 highly proficient speakers.
Haida Xaad Kíl (Haida):3 fluent speakers in Alaska plus perhaps 2 highly proficient second-language speakers
Tshimshianic Sm'algyax: 4 highly proficient speakers in Alaska
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