Agrafena's language: Alutiiq

Agrafena was probably a member of the southern branch of Eskimo which has gone by a number of names, as found in the following listing for her language at the SIL Ethnologue Web site on the Internet, and illustrated further by Dr. Michael Krauss' discussion in the quote at the bottom of this page. This is the same language spoken by Agrafena's Children of Nanwalek, Alaska.

YUPIK, PACIFIC GULF (ALUTIIQ, SUGPIAK ESKIMO, SUGPIAQ ESKIMO, CHUGACH ESKIMO, KONIAG-CHUGACH, SUK, SUGCESTUN, ALEUT, PACIFIC YUPIK, SOUTH ALASKA ESKIMO) [EMS] 600 speakers out of 3,000 population (1990 L.D. Kaplan). Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island, Alaskan coast from Cook Inlet to Prince William Sound. Eskimo-Aleut, Eskimo, Yupik, Alaskan. Most speakers are middle-aged or older. English is used as second language. Bible portions 1848.

In the book The Languages of Native America: Historical and Comparative Assessment, edited by Lyle Campbell and Marianne Mithun, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979, pages 814-816), Dr. Michael Krauss of the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks says of this branch of Eskimo:

Pacific Gulf Yupik

This group of dialects deserves the status of a separate language from Central Alaskan Yupik [N.B. spoken in Bethel and the surrounding western area of Alaska], though there is much mutual intelligibility between the border dialects on the Bristol Bay coast of the Alaska Peninsula. There are several important isoglosses at the border, and certainly there is little mutual intelligibility between the Chugach dialects and the central dialects of Central Yupik.

Naming this language presents a problem. Popularly the people are called and now call themselves Aleuts [N.B. and this has been historically true of those of us in Ninilchik who spoke of our Native ancestry], an inheritcance from Russian days. Along with the name they also share with the Aleutian Aleuts the Russian religion and Russian surnames as part of their identity. Their adaptation of the term in their language is Alutiiq [l:tq], which according to the consensus of local opinion is perhaps the best term for the language. Another is Sugcestun [sxtstun] [N.B. which it is called by our relatives in Nanwalek], their own (adverbial) term for their language ( [from the word for] 'like people'). Used by Krauss on his 1974 map of the native peoples and languages of Alaska was Sugpiaq, parallel in construction to Yupik and Inupiaq, but the people in question often disapproved of the term as a name for themselves because it is now obsolescent in that idiomatic sense, meaning now only 'genuine people'. Other terms sometimes used in the litreature are Suk (local form of the shibboleth, for 'person'), and the obvious Pacific Gulf Yupik, though the people do not readily accept identification with Yupiks or Eskimos.

Of about 3,000 people who belong to this group, only about 1,000 speak the language. Almost everywhere the children speak English only.

The language, for which a promising printed Cyrillic church literature began in 1848, suffered the lapse of a century of nearly total silence in the literature until work began in 1971 by Derenty Tabios of Port Graham and the linguist Jeff Leer. By that time, as in the case of Aleutian Aleut, in only one small village, English Bay [N.B. now known as Nanwalek] on the Kenai Peninsula, were any small children still speaking the language. By1978 even this is only marginally true. Since the beginning of bilingual education programs there in 1972, after the establishment of a practical Roman orthography by Leer and Tabios, Carl Anahonak, Mike Sam, Doris Lind, Thomas Phillips, Steven Tanape, Feona Sawden, Arthur Moonin, and others have produced about 40 school texts in the language, some in the Koniaq dialect, but more in the Chugach.


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