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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 (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 Directory of Alaska Native Languages

Atnakenaege’ / Ahtna

Atnakenaege’, also known as Ahtna, is an Athabascan language in the Na-Dene language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Ugheli Dzaen!, translates roughly to mean 'Hello, good day!' Find more information about Atnakenaege’ at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and check out one language continuation program at www.ahtnaheritage.org.

Central Yup'ik

Central Yup’ik is one of the Yupik languages in the Inuit-Unangan language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Cama-i, quyana tailuci!, literally means 'Greetings, thank you for coming!' and is spoken here in Generalized Central Yup'ik. Find more information about Central Yup’ik at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and look at one language revitalization project at ayaprun.lksd.org.

Deg Xinag

Deg Xinag is the language of the Deg Hit’an people, one of the Athabascan languages in the Na-Dene language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Ndadz dengit'a?, literally means 'Hello, how are you?' Find more information about Deg Xinag at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and look at one language continuation resource at ankn.uaf.edu.

Denaakk'e / Koyukon

Denaakk’e is one of the Athabascan languages in the Na-Dene language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Enaa neenyo, literally means 'It is precious that you came!' Find more information about Denaakk’e at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and look at one language revitalization project at www.denakkanaaga.org.

Dena'ina

Dena’ina is one of the Athabascan languages in the Na-Dene language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Naghe nduniya!, literally means 'Welcome!' Find more information about Dena’ina at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and look at one language revitalization project at qenaga.org.

Dinak'i / Upper Kuskokwim

Dinak’i (Upper Kuskokwim) is an Athabascan language in the Na-Dene language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Do'ent'a?, literally means 'How are you?' Find more information about Dinak'i at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and look at one language continuation resource at ukpreservation.com.

Dinjii Zhuh K'yaa / Gwich'in

Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa, also known as Gwich’in, is an Athabascan language in the Na-Dene language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Nakhwal’in shoo ihlii, translates roughly to mean 'I am happy to see you all.' Find more information about Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and find one language continuation resource at www.ynlc.ca.

Doogh Qinaq / Holikachuk

Doogh Qinaq (also known as the Holikachuk language) is an Athabascan language in the Na-Dene language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Etla, s'coy, literally means 'Hello, my grandchild'. Find more information about Doogh Qinaq at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and find more information about the language at www.endangeredlanguages.com

Häl golan / Hän

Häl golan, also known as the Hän language, is an Athabascan language in the Na-Dene language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Nänjit dähònche?, translates roughly to mean 'Hello, how are you?' Find more information about Häl golan at www.alaskanativelanguages.org.

Inupiaq

Inupiaq is one of the Inuit languages in the Inuit-Unangan language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Paglagivsi, literally means 'Welcome!' is spoken here in North Slope Iñupiaq. Find more information about Inupiaq at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and look at one language revitalization project at www.north-slope.org.

Nee’aandeg’ / Tanacross

Nee’aandeg’, also known as Tanacross language, is an Athabascan language in the Na-Dene language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Nts’a?a?’ di?i?t’eh, translates roughly to mean 'Hello, how are you?' Find more information about Nee’aandeg’ at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and find one language learning resource at ankn.uaf.edu.

Sm’algyax

Sm’álgyax is a Tsimshianic language spoken in Southeast Alaska and Northwestern British Columbia. This 'Welcome' recording, Ama sah gya'wn, translates roughly to mean 'It is a good day today.' Find more information about Sm’álgyax at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and find one language continuation resource at web.unbc.ca.

St. Lawrence Island Yupik

St. Lawrence Island Yupik, also known as Siberian Yupik, is one of the Yupik languages in the Inuit-Unangan language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Quyaakamsi tagilghiisi, literally means 'Thank you all for coming!' Find more information about St. Lawrence Island Yupik at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and look at a grammatical text of the language at library.alaska.gov.

Sugpiaq / Alutiiq

Sugpiaq (Sugt’stun in the Sugpiaq language) or Alutiiq is closely related to the Central Yup’ik language in the Inuit-Unangan language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Cama'i, literally means 'Hello, welcome!'. Find more information about Sugt’stun at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and look at one language continuation project at www.alutiiqlanguage.org.

Tlingit

Tlingit is one of the languages in the Na-Dene language family. This 'Welcome' recording, Yak’éi haat yigoodée!, literally means 'It is good that you have come here!' Find more information about Tlingit at www.alaskanativelanguages.org, and look at one language revitalization project at tlingitlanguage.com.

Unangam Tunuu

Unangam Tunuu is the language of the Unangax^ (also known as Aleut) people and one of the Inuit-Unangan languages. This 'Welcome' recording, Aang, literally means 'Yes' or 'Hello'. Find more information about Unangam Tunuu here, and look at two language continuation projects at eddersko.com and at www.apiai.org.

Xaat Kíl / Haida

Xaat Kíl, also known as Haida, is a language isolate, meaning it does not have any known genetic relationship to other languages. This 'Welcome' recording, Sán uu dáng gíidang?, translates roughly to mean 'Hello, how are you?' Find more information about Xaat Kíl at www.alaskanativelanguages.org and check out one language resource at www.haidalanguage.org.



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