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Alaska Beat

'Rosetta Stone' of Alutiiq language rediscovered

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published July 31, 2012

At the St. Herman Russian Orthodox Seminary on Kodiak Island, a yellowed and worn hand-written book dating to the early 1900s is being called the "Rosetta Stone" of the Alutiiq language, KMXT reports.

Daria Safronova, an archivist and faculty member of the seminary, told KMXT that the book, which contains gospels from the Bible, was previously discovered by the anthropologist Lydia Black, but its significance was not realized. "Maybe it was not the time for it to surface at that point. Now during the Alutiiq language revival, this is an incredibly important document," Safronova told KMXT.

The book is written in four different languages, Church Slavonic, Russian, Alutiiq and English. Along with the biblical text, dozens of teaching documents from Russian Orthodox church schools have been located. Alutiiq ABC books and lesson plans written in Alutiiq, Russian and Church Slavonic are also important parts of the language puzzle. They serve as proof that the Alutiiq were extremely literate, more so than that majority of the Russian population at the time.

Now, Alutiiq elders meet with Safronova and Father John, the dean of St. Herman Seminary, to comb over the text. Safronova, who is fluent in Russian, is able to read the Alutiiq text aloud to the elders, due to a keen similarity in Russian and Alutiiq alphabets. When they hit a word or phrase they don't know, Father John fills in the gap with his liturgical knowledge.

Safranova said she has hope for a multi-lingual renaissance, especially now with Kodiak College offering classes in both Russian and Alutiiq this fall.

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