March 21, 2012

Digitizing Alutiiq

Program seeks to recover Afognak's lost Alutiiq words

Kodiak village is starting to digitize video and audio recordings of elders.

By James Brooks
The Native village of Afognak is beginning a long-term project to digitize hundreds of hours of video and audio conversations with Alutiiq elders, converting them into a format accessible to modern researchers. Locked within the recordings may be Alutiiq language words lost to current speakers.

"We want to identify those lost words and bring them back," said Melissa Borton, tribal administrator of the village.

In 2003, a survey found only 45 fluent or semi-fluent Alutiiq speakers on the island. Intensive efforts to revive the language of Kodiak's Native inhabitants have taken place since, but it's not simply a matter of maintenance.

In 2007, April Counceller started the Kodiak Alutiiq New Words Council. Each month, Counceller and a group of elders meet to discuss ideas for Alutiiq words to translate modern items or concepts. In 2010, for example, the group translated "hovercraft" as tengauruasqaq, literally "kind of flier."

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