Ninilchik Words

The words spoken by any particular group of people are important to them. Some words can signal that those who use them belong to "the group". Some words represent things which are special to people, such as things which they eat or believe in, or important tools they use.

When Ninilchik was first settled, the language spoken was Russian. But most of the people who lived in Ninilchik then, and later, also had some Native Alaskan blood in them. Along with this Native blood came some Native words, even when individuals no longer could be said to be "speakers" of their ancestral language, such as Aleut, southern Eskimo, or one of the Athabaskan dialects.

Russian was spoken widely in Ninilchik among members of the old families at least as late as the mid 1950's (and it is still understood and occasionally spoken by a few older people in Ninilchik today). When homesteading on the Kenai Peninsula brought more and more people to the Ninilchik area who spoke only English, the balance of language usage between Russian and English shifted quickly to English. But many of the old families still spoke Russian to each other in private. And even when conversations came more and more to be carried on in English certain words which were important to Ninilchik life were still often pronounced with the old words of the old families.

Younger generations of the old families may today seldom hear some of these words which were important to Ninilchik life. But for those who wish to know something of their family's past, we list here some of those words.

Most of these words are Russian, but some of them, like the greeting "Chamai", are not. We will write the words here with English letters, rather than Russian Cyrillic letters, trying to spell them to make it as easy to pronounce them as possible. The spellings given here are in no way "official". But old timers will recognize the words, and, hopefully, those of younger generations who would like to speak some of these words to their parents or grandparents can say them well enough to bring a smile of recognition and emotional familiarity to those they came from.

spasiba: thank you
dasvidanya: goodbye
chamai (second syllable pronounced just like English "eye"): Hello! 
     (originally an Eskimo word, used throughout southwestern Alaska, 
     including Ninilchik)
xorosho: good, O.K. (the "x" is pronounced like a scratchy "h")
sadyees:  Sit down!
pushkay:  That's the way it is! (a fatalistic epithet, something like Spanish, 
     Que sera sera!)
Xristos vo skres: Christ has risen (said at Easter).
vayestinu vo skres: Indeed, he has risen.
kulich: Easter bread
bulik: smoked salmon
tyshee (as in the two English words "tie" and "she"): dried fish (tyshee is a slightly modified pronunciation of the Athabaskan Denaina word for dried fish.)
pirok: meat or fish pie
prestakisha: curdled milk
riba: fish (Click on the Fish link below for names of different kinds of salmon and other fish.)
marashki:  light pinkish berries (with cluster shape similar to raspberries)
sahat: moose
sabaka: dog
koshka: cat
poochka: wild celery plant; poochki: wild celery plants
babushka: grandmother
dedushka: grandfather
batushka: priest (an affectionate term for "father")
matushka: priest's wife (an affectionate term for "mother")
starosta: church caretaker
siwash: a very derogatory Alaskan word for a person with Native blood, 
     especially if they were more than half Native.  This word illustrates 
     the prejudice which people, including Russian creoles (people of Russian 
     and Native blood) of lighter skin, held toward those of Native origin.  
     Sometimes angry young men in Ninilchik would call each other siwashes.  
     Alaskan census records list some members of Athabaskan Indian families 
     in the Copper River area as having the last name of Siwash, and it 
     appears that some even listed their tribal affiliation as "Siwash".  So 
     it may be that the word "siwash" was actually at one time a respectable 
     word of Athabaskan origin, but was abused to such an extent that it came 
     to become a derogatory term for any Alaskan Native person.
Krasnay Mees: Red Point, a landmark area on the beach about 1 mile north of 
     the present mouth of Ninilchik River (below the bluff where Elmer Banta 
     lives now)
lapka: snowshoe; lapkee: snowshoes
nyoozhnik: outhouse, toilet ("zh" is the sound of "s" in "measure")
banya: bathhouse
kalyidor: enclosed porch, usually off the kitchen
shapka: hat
galoshi: galoshes, overshoes
People who study languages can often tell where someone is from by the words they say or the way they pronounce them. Those who speak "fancy" or "educated" Russian have told us that Ninilchik Russian is "peasant Russian", and so it may be. Maybe our ancestors came from the peasant countryside of Russia. Or maybe our ancestors learned to speak the Russian of the common people after they came to Alaska. In any event, we can be proud of Ninilchik Russian, even if it is called "peasant Russian", because our people were hard- working. They didn't wear fancy clothes or live in fancy houses, they earned what they had and often grew or gathered what they ate.

One word which does not come from "fancy" Russian is the word for "outhouse", nyoozhnik, a word which has been used by speakers of Russian throughout Alaska, not just in Ninilchik. (Maybe Ninilchik speakers borrowed the word from Russian speakers in other areas of Alaska.) This word would likely not be used by someone from Moscow, St. Petersburg, or Vladivostok.

For more of our Ninilchik words visit Bobbie Oskolkoff's Babushka's Language page.

Also, see the announcement about our current project to study the Ninilchik language.

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