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Old 01-12-2011, 05:12 AM   #1
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Help Save the Eyak Language

A new project has been launched to help save the Eyak language from extinction. The last Eyak speaker, the late, Chief Marie Smith Jones and Dr Micheal Krauss from the University of Alaska have worked for over 50 years to record the Eyak language.

Chief Smith Jones, passed away in 2008 and with her, the Eyak Language.

The project's goal is to teach folks who are interested, the fundamentals of the language over the next year starting with a word a week. It started last week and the words have already been posted.

The first week was the word: iishuh - which translates to: Is that you?

The second week's word is: aan, xuu q'a'al which translates to: Yes, it's me.

What have you got to lose? I'm a firm believer that if every First Nation citizen learned 100 words of their language, then collectively we could save all our languages. We can all start off by helping the Eyaks.

The Eyak Language Project - A New Beginning You'll need Quicktime to properly play the videos. You can download it for free.
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Old 01-12-2011, 02:08 PM   #2
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How cool!

As I've mentioned in some other threads, I'm a language geek. So, issues surrounding language extinction and revitalization greatly interest me. I hate to see a language die out - it means that a unique way of seeing/way of knowing is gone.

Yaahl, what is the current state of the Haida language? I know it has been considered severely endangered in the past. I think I remember your saying in another thread that you speak both Haida and Tutchone (sp?). Is there a serious revitalization movement among the Haida to restore the language?
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Old 01-12-2011, 03:06 PM   #3
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Haida got very close to extinction a few decades ago, but I believe once we got past the doomsday date of the 1960s (the period by which anthropologists, the CDN government and museums predicted in the 1930s that all First Nations people would be assimilated or absorbed into the mainstream society by then as well as the 1960 Bill of Rights which forced an amending of the Indian Act) there was a revitalization of the languages within the communities.

In the communities, children are being taught the languages (and dialects) on a daily basis and the number of fluent speakers grows yearly. Provincial governments who are responsible for education, have introduced Native language classes for those areas that have shown an interest. I can't off hand recall the interest quota required by an urban or village in order to have funding diverted for language training but I do recall that urban areas were quite taken back with the large numbers.

On the federal level, once the GOC realized that we weren't going to die off or disappear they deemed that only a few languages were worth saving many because of the larger population base... if I recall they were Mohawk, Cree and Inuit. They sunk huge dollars into providing funding for TV, radio and film in those languages. They didn't really get with the program (that many more languages were at risk of extinction) until the late
90s.

But linguists like Michael Krauss, John Enrico, Emma Lawrence and Bill Poser have spend the better part of half a century learning the languages of the Northwestm BC, Yukon, NWT and Alaskan people. I've worked with both Krauss and Poser and they have a much better outlook on why they are studying the language... unlike their historical colleagues who studied the languages to record a "dead" language, they studied them to save them.

Here's a bibliography of work done on the Haida language You might find it informative. A more in depth discussion can be found here.

So want to study Eyak with me?
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Old 01-13-2011, 01:02 AM   #4
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Here's a bibliography of work done on the Haida language You might find it informative. A more in depth discussion can be found here.
Thanks for the info! I'm going to enjoy checking out some of those links.

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In the communities, children are being taught the languages (and dialects) on a daily basis and the number of fluent speakers grows yearly. Provincial governments who are responsible for education, have introduced Native language classes for those areas that have shown an interest.....
Fantastic! You hear so much discouraging information, it is so nice to hear about successful programs. Great that the kids are getting regular instruction in the language. It's sad that there are languages that should be thriving b/c plenty of adults speak and understand them, but instead seem to be waning b/c they aren't getting passed down to the children.

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...I've worked with both Krauss and Poser and they have a much better outlook on why they are studying the language... unlike their historical colleagues who studied the languages to record a "dead" language, they studied them to save them.
That was the conventional wisdom back when I was in school. I was considered "naive" to think that any marginalized language (Haida, Erse, at the time, even the Baltic languages, etc.) could survive much longer.


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So want to study Eyak with me?
I'm always up for learnin'.
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Old 01-13-2011, 03:34 PM   #5
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As I've mentioned in some other threads, I'm a language geek.
RD,

I have a question that I ask to all linquists who are interested in Native languages. I would be interested to hear your opinion.

"Many Native languages and dialects are no longer spoken and have not been spoken in our current generation. If a Native language has not been recorded, what guarantees are there that a professional linguist (who is not of the tribe), would be understood if fluent speakers were alive?"
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Old 01-13-2011, 11:06 PM   #6
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That's a good question. And not an easy one. The answer depends on so many different variables. How long has the language been extinct? How similar (or dissimilar) phonemically is the dead language to the language of the linguist. Is there any written text in the language, or do you just have a "grammar" and vocabulary lists? The quality and amount of available data, etc...

But, in general, I don't think the native speakers would have as much trouble understanding the linguist as vice versa. I'll go so far as to compare it to teaching yourself a foreign language with a "Teach Yourself..." book, but with no cd's, tapes, or any kind of audio. Yeah, you can teach yourself e.g. Spanish that way, and then go to a Spanish-speaking country and get around and make yourself understood perfectly well - but don't kid yourself that you're speaking "good Spanish." In fact, it's gonna be some weird Spanish. And the native-speakers are gonna understand you better than you're gonna be able to understand them.

There's an extra challenge when you're talking about a language that had no written form. The rules (grammar, pronunciation, syntax,...) of any language point to a theoretical linguistic "standard" that may never have truly existed in practice. It's true for languages with a long written tradition, and I think the divide between theory and practice might wider in languages without that tradition.

I also think that the further back in time the language became extinct, the lesser your chance of being able to reconstruct the language in a way that would be intelligible to an original native speaker.

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Old 01-14-2011, 01:37 AM   #7
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RD,

I have a question that I ask to all linquists who are interested in Native languages. I would be interested to hear your opinion.

"Many Native languages and dialects are no longer spoken and have not been spoken in our current generation. If a Native language has not been recorded, what guarantees are there that a professional linguist (who is not of the tribe), would be understood if fluent speakers were alive?"
That was the idea behind the WWI and WWII Native Codetalkers, in a way. No outsider, except for a white man whose parents were missionaries on the reservation, had been exposed to Navajo language, and culture.

There were U.S. Basque codetalkers, but enough Basque had travelled around the world that it was feared the Axis powers could find a speaker to work for them.

So, even though the Japanese had talented linguists working for them, they could not make heads nor tails of the Navajo transmissions they intercepted.
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Old 01-14-2011, 02:02 AM   #8
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That was the idea behind the WWI and WWII Native Codetalkers, in a way. No outsider, except for a white man whose parents were missionaries on the reservation, had been exposed to Navajo language, and culture.

There were U.S. Basque codetalkers, but enough Basque had travelled around the world that it was feared the Axis powers could find a speaker to work for them.

So, even though the Japanese had talented linguists working for them, they could not make heads nor tails of the Navajo transmissions they intercepted.
And yet, if they had looked to the Siberian indigenous folks - the Chukchi, they would have been able to find the connection linguistically to the Tlingits which in turn share the same root languages within the Athapaskan languages.

Thank goodness they didn't make the connection.

Amigo, WhoMe - would you guys like to give Eyak a try? A word a week, what have you got to lose (compared to the Eyaks losing their language completely).
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Old 01-16-2011, 04:46 AM   #9
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I also think that the further back in time the language became extinct, the lesser your chance of being able to reconstruct the language in a way that would be intelligible to an original native speaker.

Even if the language didn't become extinct it would still be harder for the language to be understood by a native speaker in the past. For example even some of what counts as "Modern English" can be hard for native speakers of English to understand.

I'm working on language reconstruction for my language and that was a dilemma that I thought about a lot earlier. But as I looked at the other related languages and compared them to what was recorded in the past I see that they have changed too, and it's actually cool to see language change in progress.
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Old 01-17-2011, 02:34 PM   #10
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A short video to watch, Whome, it might answer some of your questions regarding beig understood. Parlez Vous Eyak?

New word for the week: laXiishuh - greeting a group of people. ( lax - you plural)

Kgirl, I've often heard that there is a similarity of some words in the Caribe language to Cree... stories have been told that some Caribes escaped slavery and were found by Cree speakers in what was then, Prince Rupert's Land- when they returned to their home - they took some Cree words with them. Any foundation to these stories?
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I can see the wheel turning but the Hamster appears to be dead.
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Old 01-18-2011, 06:46 PM   #11
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Yep, I can store a few Eyak words in my brain, plenty of empty space, LOL.

BTW, I had the honor, and pleasure, to shake the hand of Samuel Tom Holiday USMC Ret. Navajo Code Talker this weekend. He is blessed with great health, and spoke at a short ceremony surrounded by Native artists at the Native American Pavilion at the NAMM Show 2011. Amazing.......
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Old 01-18-2011, 08:46 PM   #12
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That must have been a very moving experience Amigo... I just love hanging out with our Vets...

This week's word has the throaty sound in the first syllable (kind of like the CH sound in Hebrew ie Challah... I'm thanking for all those Hebrew/Arabic lessons when we were posted to the Sinai).
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Old 01-20-2011, 02:45 PM   #13
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Even if the language didn't become extinct it would still be harder for the language to be understood by a native speaker in the past. For example even some of what counts as "Modern English" can be hard for native speakers of English to understand.

I'm working on language reconstruction for my language and that was a dilemma that I thought about a lot earlier. But as I looked at the other related languages and compared them to what was recorded in the past I see that they have changed too, and it's actually cool to see language change in progress.
Hey Kgirl7! Nice website. I ended up on a different career track, but I got my B.A. in Linguistics. Nice to meet someone else who can get excited about things like vowell shift. And yeah, it is cool to see!

Then, sometimes there are changes that happen pretty quickly. And that can certainly lead to problems with comprehension. I wonder how many people on these forums were taught in school that the current and correct plural form of the word "cow" is kine?

I know I was!

(and just in case anyone is wondering...no, I don't say "kine," I say "cows." But in elementary school I was taught that that wasn't good English.)
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Old 01-20-2011, 02:51 PM   #14
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That must have been a very moving experience Amigo... I just love hanging out with our Vets...

This week's word has the throaty sound in the first syllable (kind of like the CH sound in Hebrew ie Challah... I'm thanking for all those Hebrew/Arabic lessons when we were posted to the Sinai).
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I laugh everytime I hear this!
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Old 01-22-2011, 10:32 PM   #15
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Kgirl, I've often heard that there is a similarity of some words in the Caribe language to Cree... stories have been told that some Caribes escaped slavery and were found by Cree speakers in what was then, Prince Rupert's Land- when they returned to their home - they took some Cree words with them. Any foundation to these stories?
I haven't heard of that but I believe it's totally possible since who knows how many Native American Caribbean folks ended up in the U.S. (and vice versa). For example Tituba (of the Salem Witch Trials) is commonly thought of as Black but was Indigenous Caribbean. Which words have you found similar. I've found similarities of words in our language in other Native American languages which have always intrigued me. Some I know were clearly borrowed. For example in our dictionary the word for hammock is acat, which I always thought was weird because we already had the word hamaka and our words don't end in consonants. I was looking at the Timucua dictionary just by chance and found it. It means 'bed' in Timucua and we most certainly had contact with them.
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Old 01-22-2011, 10:34 PM   #16
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Hey Kgirl7! Nice website. I ended up on a different career track, but I got my B.A. in Linguistics. Nice to meet someone else who can get excited about things like vowell shift. And yeah, it is cool to see!

Then, sometimes there are changes that happen pretty quickly. And that can certainly lead to problems with comprehension. I wonder how many people on these forums were taught in school that the current and correct plural form of the word "cow" is kine?

I know I was!

(and just in case anyone is wondering...no, I don't say "kine," I say "cows." But in elementary school I was taught that that wasn't good English.)
Thanks! I'm brushing up on my html skills so I can update it. Glad to see another linguist on here!
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Old 01-24-2011, 11:29 PM   #17
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laXiishuh, y'all!

This week's word is: aan, GayaG q'a'al (yes, it's us)

Those glottal stops are killing me!
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Old 01-25-2011, 01:13 AM   #18
Sg̱aaga g̱uu hla.
 
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The vowels are killing me...
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A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. Robert A. Heinlein

I can see the wheel turning but the Hamster appears to be dead.
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