Aleut language

Aleut language

nativename = "Unangam Tunuu"
states=Alaska (Aleutian and Pribilof Islands), Kamchatka Krai (Commander Islands)
speakers=305 in 1995
fam2=Aleut group

Aleut ("Unangam Tunuu") is a language of the Eskimo-Aleut language family. It is the tongue of the Aleut (unicode|Unangax̂) people living in the Aleutian Islands, Pribilof Islands, and Commander Islands. In 1995 there were 305 speakers of Aleut.


Aleut is alone with the Eskimo languages (Yupik and Inuit languages) in the Eskimo-Aleut group. The main dialect groupings are Eastern Aleut, Atkan, and Attuan.

Within the Eastern group are the dialects of Unalaska, Belkofski, Akutan, the Pribilof Islands, Kashega and Nikolski. The Pribilof dialect boasts more living speakers than any other dialect of Aleut.

The Atkan grouping comprises the dialects of Atka and Bering Island.

Attuan, now extinct, was a distinct dialect showing influence from both Atkan and Eastern Aleut. Copper Island (or Mednyy) was settled by Attuans, and Copper Island Aleut is a heavily creolized form of Attuan. Ironically, today Copper Island Aleut is spoken only on Bering Island; Copper Islanders were evacuated to Bering Island in 1969.

All dialects show lexical influence from Russian; Copper Island Aleut has also adopted many Russian inflectional endings.



The consonant phonemes of the various Aleut dialects are represented below. The first line of each cell indicates the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) representation of the phoneme; the second indicates how the phoneme is represented in the Aleut orthography. "Italicized" orthographic forms represent phonemes borrowed from Russian or English; bold orthographic forms represent native Aleut phonemes. Note that some phonemes are unique to specific dialects of Aleut.

`Peter is helping him.'

(Bergsland 1997, pp. 126-127)

When more than one piece of information is omitted, the verb agrees with the element whose grammatical number is greatest. This can lead to ambiguity:

"kidu-ku-ngis" help-PRES-PL.ANA `He/she helped them.' / `They helped him/her/them.'

(Sadock 2000)

Both nouns and verbs are subject to extensive derivational morphology. Aleut words begin with a content morpheme, called a `root' or a `base', optionally followed by any number of derivational suffixes (`postbases'). Inflectional endings are obligatory; interestingly, there is no "zero" (null) inflectional ending for either class of words.

Aleut's canonical word order is subject-verb-object.

Comparison to Eskimo grammar

Although Aleut derives from the same parent language as the Eskimo languages, the two language groups (Aleut and Eskimo) have evolved in distinct ways, resulting in significant typological differences. Aleut inflectional morphology is greatly reduced from the system that must have been present in Proto-Eskimo-Aleut, and where the Eskimo languages mark a verb's arguments morphologically, Aleut relies more heavily on a fixed word order.

Unlike the Eskimo languages, Aleut is not an ergative-absolutive language. Subjects and objects in Aleut are not marked differently depending on the transitivity of the verb (i.e. whether the verb is transitive or intransitive); by default, both are marked with a so-called absolutive noun ending. However, if an understood complement (which may either be a complement of the verb or of some other element in the sentence) is absent, the verb takes an "anaphoric" marking and the subject noun takes a "relative" noun ending.

A typological feature shared by Aleut and Eskimo is polysynthetic derivational morphology, which can lead to some rather long words:

`Perhaps he tried to fool me again.' (Bergsland 1997, p. 123)

Research history

The first contact of people from the Eastern Hemisphere with the Aleut language occurred in 1741, as Vitus Bering's expedition picked up place names and the names of the Aleut people they met. The first recording of the Aleut language in lexicon form appeared in a word list of the Unalaskan dialect compiled by Captain James King on Cook's voyage in 1778. At that time the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg became interested in the Aleut language upon hearing of Russian expeditions for trading.

In Catherine the Great's project to compile a giant comparative dictionary on all the languages spoken in what was the spread of the Russian empire at that time, she hired Peter Simon Pallas to conduct the fieldwork that would collect linguistic information on Aleut. During an expedition from 1791 to 1792, Carl Heinrich Merck and Michael Rohbeck collected several word lists and conducted a census of the male population that included prebaptismal Aleut names. Explorer Yuriy Feodorovich Lisyansky compiled several word lists. in 1804 and 1805, the czar's plenipotentiary, Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov collected some more. Johann Christoph Adelung and Johann Severin Vater published their "Mithridates oder allgemeine Sprachkunde 1806-1817", which included Aleut among the languages it catalogued, similar to Catherine the Great's dictionary project.

It wasn't until 1819 that the first professional linguist, the Dane Rasmus Rask, studied Aleut. He collected words and paradigms from two speakers of Eastern Aleut dialects living in Saint Petersburg. In 1824 came the man who would revolutionize Aleut as a literary language. Ioann Veniaminov, a Russian Orthodox priest who would later become a saint, arrived at Unalaska studying Unalaskan Aleut. He created an orthography for this language (using the Cyrillic alphabet; the Roman alphabet would come later), translated the [ Gospel according to St. Matthew] and several other religious works into Aleut, and published a grammar of Eastern Aleut in 1846. The religious works were translated with the help of Veniaminov's friends Ivan Pan'kov (chief of Tigalda) and Iakov Netsvetov (the priest of Atka), both of whom were native Aleut speakers. Netsvetov also wrote a dictionary of Atkan Aleut. After Veniaminov's works were published, several religious figures took interest in studying and recording Aleut, which would help these Russian Orthodox clerics in their missionary work. Father Innocent Shayashnikov did much work in the Eastern Fox-Island dialect translating a Catechism, all four Gospels and Acts of Apostles from the New Testament, and an original composition in Aleut entitled: "Short Rule for a Pious Life". Most of these were published in 1902, although written years earlier in the 1860s and 1870's. Father Lavrentii Salamatov produced a Catechism, and translations of three of the four Gospels (St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John) in the Western-Atkan dialect. Of Father Lavrentii's work, the Gospel of St. Mark was published in a revised orthography in 1959, and in its original, bilingual Russian-Aleut format in 2007, together with his Catechism for the youth of Atka Island. In 2008, the Atkan-dialect Gospel of St. John was also electronically published in its original bilingual format.

The first Frenchman to record Aleut was Alphonse Pinart, in 1871, shortly after the United States purchase of Alaska. Shortly after, in 1878, American Lucien M. Turner began work on collecting words for a word list. Benedykt Dybowski, a Pole, began taking word lists from the dialects the Commander Islands in 1881, while Nikolai Vasilyevich Slyunin, a Russian doctor, did the same in 1892.

From 1909 to 1910, the ethnologist Waldemar Jochelson traveled to the Aleut communities of Unalaska, Atka, Attu and Nikolski. He spent nineteen months there doing fieldwork. Jochelson collected his ethnographic work with the help of two Unalaskan speakers, Aleksey Yachmenev and Leontiy Sivstov. He recorded many Aleut stories, folklore and myth, and had many of them not only written down but also recorded in audio. Jochelson discovered much vocabulary and grammar when he was there, adding to the scientific knowledge of the Aleut language.

In the 1930s, two native Aleuts wrote down works that are considered breakthroughs in the use of Aleut as a literary language. Afinogen K. Ermeloff wrote down a literary account of a shipwreck in his native language, while Ardelion G. Ermeloff kept a diary in Aleut during the decade. At the same time, linguist Melville Jacobs picked up several new texts from Sergey Golley, an Atkan speaker who was hospitalized at the time.

John P. Harrington furthered research into the Pribilof Island dialect on St. Paul Island in 1941, collecting some new vocabulary along the way. In 1944, the United States Department of the Interior published "The Aleut Language" as part of the war effort, allowing World War II soldiers to understand the language of the Aleuts. This English language project was based on Veniaminov's work.

In 1950, Knut Bergsland began an extensive study of Aleut, perhaps the most rigorous to date, culminating in the publication of a complete Aleut dictionary in 1994 and a descriptive grammar in 1997. Bergsland's work would not have been possible without key Aleut collaborators, especially Atkan linguist Moses Dirks.

Michael Krauss, Jeff Leer, Michael Fortescue, and Jerrold Sadock have published articles about Aleut.

Alice Taff has worked on Aleut since the 1970s. Her work constitutes the most detailed accounts of Aleut phonetics and phonology available.

Anna Berge conducts research on Aleut. Berge's work includes treatments of Aleut discourse structure and morphosyntax, and curricular materials for Aleut, including a conversational grammar of the Atkan dialect, co-authored with Moses Dirks.

In 2005, the parish of All Saints of North America Orthodox Church, began to re-publish all historic Aleut language texts from 1840-1903. Archpriest Paul Merculief (originally from the Pribilofs) of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska and the Alaska State Library Historical Collection generously contributed their linguistic skills to the restoration effort. The historic Aleut texts are available on the parish's [ on-line Aleut library] .

External links

* [ University of Alaska Fairbanks, Aleut Collections List]
* [ Aleut Language (In Russian)]
* [ Ethnologue report for Aleut]
* [ Alaskan Orthodox Christian texts (Aleut)]
* [ Information on Aleut at the Rosetta Project]


*cite book
last = Berge
first = Anna
authorlink =
coauthors = & Moses Dirks
year = 2006
title = Niiĝuĝis Mataliin Tunuxtazangis: How the Atkans Talk (A Conversational Grammar)
publisher = Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska
location = Fairbanks, AK
id = [Forthcoming, Fall 2006]

*cite book
last = Bergsland
first = Knut
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1994
title = Aleut Dictionary = Unangam Tunudgusii: an unabridged lexicon of the Aleutian, Pribilof, and Commander Islands Aleut language
publisher = Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska
location = Fairbanks, AK
id = ISBN 1-55500-047-9

*cite book
last = Bergsland
first = Knut
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1997
title = Aleut Grammar = Unangam Tunuganaan Achixaasix̂
publisher = Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska
location = Fairbanks, AK
id = ISBN 1-55500-064-9

* Sadock, Jerrold M. (2000). "Aleut Number Agreement". Presented at Berkeley Linguistic Society [] 26th Annual Meeting.

*cite journal
last = Taff
first = Alice
coauthors = Lorna Rozelle; Taehong Cho; Peter Ladefoged; Moses Dirks; & Jacob Wegelin
year = 2001
title = Phonetic structures of Aleut
journal = Journal of Phonetics
volume = 29
pages = 231–271
issn = 0095-4470
doi = 10.006/jpho.2001.0142
doi_brokendate = 2008-06-20

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