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Alutiiq RavenNiugneliyukut (We Are
Making New Words):

A Community Philosophy of
Language Revitalization

A Thesis

Presented to the
Faculty of the
University of Alaska Fairbanks

In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

By
April Gale Laktonen Counceller, M.A.
Fairbanks, Alaska
December 2010

Dissertation (pdf - 5.3 MB)

Abstract:

The Alutiiq language on Kodiak Island (Alaska) is severely threatened, with only 37 resident speakers. The Alutiiq communities of Kodiak are engaged in a multifaceted heritage revitalization movement, which includes cultural education, revitalization of arts, and language revitalization. The language revitalization effort includes education, materials development, documentation, and terminology development (creation of new words) as a means of making the language more viable. The Kodiak Alutiiq New Words Council began in the fall of 2007. This language revitalization strategy is new to the Alutiiq community, and little research has been done on Alaska Native or Indigenous terminology development as a form of heritage revitalization. There is a need to understand the New Words Council in terms of its role in the wider language and heritage revitalization efforts, as well as understanding the value of the council to its members.

The Kodiak New Words Council is a contemporary heritage revitalization effort that entails development of new Alutiiq terms, and is part of a broader social movement to revitalize Alutiiq language and culture. Some past research on cultural heritage revitalization movements in Indigenous communities have focused on historical inaccuracies and ‘inventedness’ of new cultural forms, rather than the value and meaning of these efforts to their participants. Critiques of ‘invention’ scholarship counter that it denies Indigenous communities’ agency and authority over their own cultural forms, and overlooks ongoing efforts for justice, sovereignty and healing. This study focuses attention on the social and historical context of heritage revitalization and its meaning to participants. Benefits of the council go beyond the formal goal of developing new words to modernize the language. Participants put great value on social benefits of the New Words Council, such as empowerment, connection to culture and identity, and healing. They further measure the success of the New Words Council in terms of participation, commitment, and continuity. Ultimately, this language revitalization effort is part of a broader effort of self- determination and community survival.

 

 

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Last modified February 3, 2011