Preserving Native languages target of bill

Associated PressFebruary 1, 2012 

Linguists and Native groups from across Alaska are lining up behind a proposal aimed at preserving and revitalizing the state's 20 Native languages.

Sen. Donald Olson, D-Nome, is recommending that the state create the Alaska Native Language Preservation Council, which would advise the governor on programs and projects that would make the most of resources available to Native groups. After waiting almost a year, Olson's bill, SB130, made its way before the State Affairs Committee on Tuesday. Linguists and representatives from various Native groups voiced their support and called for lawmakers to do what they can before time runs out.

Lawrence Kaplan, a Native language professor at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, is one of the measure's supporters. If the bill passes, he said, it will be important that the council consults with specialists in language revitalization to help them understand techniques that can be used.

Teaching students from an early age and working fast while elderly Native language speakers are alive, Kaplan said, is paramount to avoiding the extinction of languages, as was the case with Eyak when the last speaker of that language died.

State Affairs Chairman Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, held the bill in committee pending further dialogue with Native groups.

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