February 27, 2008

Recording Alaskan languages

UAF gets $1.2 million to record Native languages

Some are on the verge of extinctionA researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has been awarded $1.2 million by the National Science Foundation to document the endangered languages of Alaska and other areas of the Arctic.

“If it’s ever going to be done, it has got to be done now,” said Michael Krauss, professor emeritus of linguistics at UAF. “Making a record, as much as we can, of a language while it is still there is vital to the future of the language and the people.”

On Jan. 21, Marie Smith Jones died at the age of 89. Her death, Krauss said, marked a “tragic new phase of history” in Alaska because she was the last remaining speaker of Eyak. The language may be extinct, but Krauss will continue his work to document it. The grant, funded from the National Science Foundation, will enable the detailed documentation of Eyak and 10 other languages. A number of linguists will be working with speakers of various languages from across Alaska and the Arctic.

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