Posts tagged ‘athabaskan’


Here’s a story from Alaska Public Radio about revitalizing or better, resuscitating, the Eyak language in Alaska. A website has been set up to help.


Eyak Language Project


January 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm Leave a comment

575+ Tlingit Verbs

The Tlingit verb database mentioned in the previous article can be found here: 575+ Tlingit Verbs

There’s also an introduction to the database.

September 14, 2010 at 6:50 pm Leave a comment

Juneau linguist keeping Native languages alive

by Amy Fletcher / Juneau Empire
JUNEAU, Alaska — Verb conjugation may seem to some a rather dry activity, but for local linguist Keri Edwards, it’s a process full of personal interaction and cross-cultural connections — as well as one that may help to forestall the destructive effects of time and shifting demographics on Alaska Native languages.

For the past five years, Edwards has been working on a database of Tlingit verbs and their conjugations with help from elders across Southeast in an effort to keep the language alive and active in the minds and mouths of younger speakers. The process has included her own immersion in learning the language.

“Someone made a comment in class recently,” she said. “They said, ’Studying Tlingit will change your life,’ and I have to agree with that. It’s just a whole different way of looking at the world.”

Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer started the verb database project in the 1990s and passed it on to Edwards in 2005. The project has been undertaken through the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation and Sealaska Heritage Institute, with funding help from the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Administration for Native Americans.

The database now contains about 575 verbs and their conjugations, a number Edwards called “a good start.”

“It’s definitely not a complete list,” she said. “It has a long way to go to cover all the verb stems.” This spring, Edwards also has been leading a University of Alaska Southeast course on verbs geared toward educators of all levels. The course, offered at the Bill Ray Center downtown, offers teachers concrete tools for helping students grasp Tlingit verb forms, and includes a conversational aspect that engages Tlingit elders in the teaching process. The class continues in May.

Elders who have been involved in Edwards’ class include Fred White, of Yakutat, one of Tlingit’s youngest fluent speakers, Florence Marks Sheakley, of Juneau, who is Nora Dauenhauer’s sister, and Ruth Demmert, of Kake.

Elders from other Southeast communities also frequently call in to participate, she said, including those from Sitka, Hoonah Klukwan, Wrangell, Yakutat and Kake.

The class also helps teachers learn to use the verb database.

Though Tlingit verbs have been catalogued by other linguists, most notably by Constance Naish and Gillian Story, there was no good resource for the verbs in their conjugated forms, Edwards said, making it difficult for educators to teach them to classes in the absence of a fluent speaker.

“There’s just not any resource out there that covers the most critical information about the Tlingit verbs,” she said.

In compiling the list for the database, Edwards has focused on verbs that were the most common or useful.

“I had regular weekly meetings here in Juneau with local speakers and would have the list of verbs I wanted to collect for that day,” she said.

Regular language consultants included Lillian Austin, Irene Cadiente, George Davis, Anna Katzeek, David Katzeek, Anita Lafferty, John Marks, June Pegues and Helen Sarabia.

“The first couple hundred verbs were ’eat,’ ’drink,’ ’talk,’ ’dance,’ ’sing’ – verbs that were relevant to the culture and to everyday life, and we went from there.”

In addition to the input from Tlingit elders and the Dauenhauers, Edwards said she has had invaluable help from other sources, including the Jeff Leer, of Alaska Native Language Center in Fairbanks, Dionne Cadiente-Laiti and Edward Hotch, from Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, and Donald Gregory, of Sealaska Heritage Institute.

During the UAS class, Edwards said she has seen a committed group of younger speakers dedicate themselves to improving their Tlingit language skills, in spite of the difficulties inherent in the process. Tlingit is a complex language to learn and to teach, she said, in part because of the unfamiliar sounds.

“The learning curve is very steep, mostly because the sound system is so complex,” she said. “That is the first barrier you have to break through – you have to be able to hear the sounds that are coming at you and distinguish between them.”

Another barrier is the unique structure of the language, the verbs in particular.

“There’s no such thing as a regular verb in Tlingit,” she said. “There’s patterns, but there’s nothing close enough to call it regular.”

Prefixes added on to verb roots can change the tone or tense of the verb and often contract to make other prefixes, she said. Because of this, the verb database is arranged alphabetically by verb root, as that is where the meaning of the verb is contained, rather than alphabetically by prefix.

Edwards, who grew up in Haines, said she first became interested in Tlingit language study while an undergraduate in linguistics at UAF working under Tlingit elder Bessie Cooley, the language consultant for her field linguistics course.

Edwards continued her linguistics work at the University of Oregon, graduating with a masters in 2003. She said she knew of the Dauenhauer’s work in Juneau and contacted them after she graduated to see if she could get involved. After getting to know Edwards, the couple handed the verb database project over to her.

Edwards, who is white, said her affiliation with the couple has helped her to build trust in the Tlingit community.

“For the most part, people are very supportive and patient,” she said.

Learning to speak Tlingit is for her an ongoing and enjoyable process.

“I understand a lot of what I hear, and I’m able to write down anything that’s said,” she said. “But in terms of busting out with conversational Tlingit, it’s pretty minimal. I can talk about the basics but I can’t wax poetic about anything.”

Even though she’s not there yet, waxing poetic is one of the things Tlingit is apparently well-suited to: Edwards said she finds the language to be very descriptive, full of humor and detail.

“Things just don’t translate that nicely from Tlingit to English,” she said. “You can never quite do it justice.”

Most language resources put the number of fluent Tlingit speakers between 200 and 400, but Edwards said she thinks its probably closer to 150.


Information from: Juneau Empire,

Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – Juneau linguist keeping Native languages alive

September 14, 2010 at 6:39 pm Leave a comment

Shi-IPod Baa Hashne’

A description of an Ipod in Navajo with both Navajo and English subtitles!

September 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm Leave a comment

Navajo comes to Rosetta Stone

from The Daily Times.

Navajo language software hits the market

— By Alysa Landry — The Daily Times

Posted: 08/25/2010 01:04:59 AM MDT

The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Rosetta Stone, creator of the renowned language learning software, on Tuesday released its Navajo version, the first large-scale language revitalization project for the dialect.

Navajo, traditionally an oral language, still is spoken by more than 100,000 people, making it the most common American Indian language north of Mexico.

Yet use and fluency among the younger generations is on a decline with about 50 percent of Navajo age 17 and younger unable to speak their native language at all, according to data from the 2000 U.S. Census.

The software is the result of thousands of hours of work and hundreds of volunteers who provided expertise, photos, audio recordings and cultural support to the project.

Launched in December 2007 through a nonprofit group of Navajo educators called Navajo Language Renaissance, the project sought to revitalize what is considered to be an endangered language.

“Navajo is very hard to learn,” said Lorraine Manavi, language professor at San Juan College. “It’s difficult when the concepts and sentence structures are dramatically different from a person’s first language.”

For native English speakers, for example, learning Navajo is less about the words and more about rearranging the sentence structure and putting the verb last.

Instead of saying “the bird is sitting on a tree,” Manavi said, the Navajo translation would be “the bird, the tree, on it, it

sits.”Similar software, which is immersion-based, not memory-based, has assisted English speakers to learn other difficult languages, such as Russian and Arabic, said Marion Bittinger, manager of Rosetta Stone’s Endangered Language program.

“We’re excited that the Rosetta Stone Endangered Language Program can play a role in encouraging younger generations to use the Navajo language,” Bittinger said in a prepared statement. “We’re optimistic our work with indigenous groups will be a step toward reversing the tide of global language extinction.”

Navajo is one of five endangered languages adopted by the Virginia-based Rosetta Stone. The company already has produced language-learning software in 30 languages.

Rosetta Stone launched its Endangered Language Program in 2004 to help revitalize native dialects. The program has completed software programs for Mohawk, Alaskan Inupiac and Labrador, an Eskimo language.

Manavi, who teaches Navajo language classes at the college, was on a team of linguists, editors and native speakers who developed the first Navajo language software available to anyone with a computer.

The first two levels are complete, Manavi said. Navajo Language Renaissance will own and market the software, with a goal of getting it into every school on the reservation and in border towns. The software will not be part of Rosetta Stone’s commercial product line.

Manavi said she hopes to use it in the classroom, but that it will not take the place of her regular curriculum.

“This is another supplement,” she said. “It’s a beginning process, but we need more training on it. I haven’t really seen the product or how it works, so we need to look at it before we use it in the classroom.”

The software also comes out the same month the Central Consolidated School District offers its first Navajo immersion class for kindergarten students.

Alysa Landry:

August 27, 2010 at 5:03 pm Leave a comment


Denai’ina at Kenai Peninsula College.

March 1, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Preserving Dena’ina

Dena’ina is a severely endangered Athabaskan language spoken in Alaska. KTUU recently had an article on efforts to save the language.

Full story.


Qenaga, a site dedicated to the Dena’ina language.

A Dena’ina youtube Channel.

This blog’s youtube channel.

December 14, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

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