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Alaska Native languages are in danger of extinction by 2100, state report says

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: January 21, 2018
  • Published January 21, 2018

Elders Peter Morre and Paul John listen to Yup’ik translated from English at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage on Oct. 23, 2014. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

Alaska Native languages are in a "linguistic emergency" and most are predicted to be extinct or dormant by the end of the 21st century unless action is taken to save them, according to a new report out this month from a state body.

The Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council, in its 2018 biennial report, urged Gov. Bill Walker to issue an administrative order recognizing the emergency and make state policy to promote and develop those languages.

"If current rates of decline were to continue as they have been since the 1970s, all Alaska Native languages may lose their last fluent speakers by the end of the 21st century," the report said.

The council was created by the state Legislature in 2012 and is tasked with recommending programs that support the preservation, restoration and revitalization of Alaska Native languages.

There are 20 Alaska Native languages recognized as official languages of the state (plus English). All of those Native languages have "suffered an ongoing loss in the number of speakers over the past 40 years," the report said.

One language, Tsetsa'ut, lost its last fluent speaker in the early 1930s, according to the report, and another, Eyak, lost its last fluent speaker in 2008. While the Alaska Native population has grown since 1980, the report found, the number of people who actually speak the languages has gone down.

Central Yup'ik and Inupiaq are the Alaska Native languages with the most speakers. On the other end of the spectrum, Haida, Tsimshian, Han, and Upper Tanana are among the languages that now have fewer than 10 speakers each in Alaska, according to the council.

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