close
close

Spoken sign: House Bill 26 makes three dead languages ​​“official” languages ​​of the state

A bill from Democratic Rep. Andi Story of Juneau adds three more native languages ​​to Alaska's list of official languages.

All three are dead languages.

House Bill 26, set for a third reading and vote in the Alaska Senate on Monday, would also change the name of the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council to the shorter title “Council for Alaska Native Languages.”

“This change would shorten the council’s name while emphasizing the council’s broader focus, which includes more than just language preservation, but also language restoration. The charter establishing the council, AS 44.33.520, states that the purpose of the council is “to recommend the establishment or reorganization of programs to support the preservation, restoration and revitalization of Alaska Native languages.”

The bill would also increase the council's membership from five to seven members.

The languages ​​added to the list of official languages ​​would be: Wetał (Ts'etsa'ut), Cup'ig, Benhti Kokhwt'ana Kenaga' (Lower Tanana) and Sahcheeg xut'een xneege' (Middle Tanana).

“This would change the total number of official languages ​​in Alaska from 20 to 23,” the sponsorship statement said. More specifically, there are 20 native Alaskan languages ​​that are considered “official.” And then there is English, so a total of 21 official languages.

The state spends more than $13 million annually on the language preservation program, which is currently based in the United States Alaska Department of Commerce at this link. However, the bill proposes to move the program to the Ministry of Education.

Of the new languages ​​to be made official, according to the First Alaskans Institute Magazine, there are no fluent speakers of Wetal, no data is available on Cup'ig (originated from Nunivak Island, population 200), 1 is fluent in Benhti and none fluent speaker speaker of Sahcheeg. In fact, the last known speaker of Benhti died in 2019 at the age of 94.

The official languages ​​of Alaska are English, Ahtna, Unangam Tunuu/Aleut, Alutiiq/Sugpiaq, Dena'ina, Deg Xinag, Eyak, Gwich'in, Haida, Han, Holikachuk, Inupiaq, Koyukon, Tanana, Tanacross, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Upper Kuskokwim, Upper Tanana, Central Alaskan Yupik and Siberian Yupik.

According to the Alaska Native Language Council's 2022 report (in English), a key goal of the group is to “decolonize” education in Alaska: “Recognize that Alaska Natives have a right to be educated in Alaska- “To be taught native languages, and pave pathways to education through Alaska Native languages ​​and to decolonizing education throughout Alaska.” The council wants a permanent committee in the Legislature dedicated to Alaska Native languages, and the languages to include Alaska Natives “in the regular work of the Alaska government.”

Read the 2022 Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council report and policy recommendations at this link.

Read the 2024 report here:

According to the Alaska Department of Commerce, Alaska native languages ​​and the number of proficient speakers in 2020 are as follows:

INUIT-UNANGAN LANGUAGE FAMILY

Inupiatun (Inupiaq): Estimated <2,500 highly skilled speakers in Alaska
Yupigestun / Akuzipigestun (St. Lawrence Island Yupik): Estimated < 1,000 highly qualified speakers.
Yugtun/Cugtun (Central Alaskan Yup'ik/Cup'ik): Estimated <10,000 highly skilled speakers.
Cup'y (Nunivak Island [Yupik]): Data not available
Unangam Tunuu (UnangaX Aleut): <80 highly qualified speakers
Sugt'stun / Alutiit'stun (Sugpiaq/Alutiiq [Yupik]): Approximately ~80 highly qualified speakers

NA-DENE LANGUAGE FAMILY

Dena'inaq' (Dena'ina): 5 highly qualified speakers.
Denaakk’e (Koyukon): Data not available
Holikachuk: 0 highly qualified speakers.
Deg Xinag: 2 highly competent speakers
Dinak'i (Upper Kuskokwim): <5 highly qualified speakers – maybe just one or none at all.
Benhti Kokhwt'ana Kenaga' (Lower Tanana): 1 highly qualified speaker (mentioned deceased above)
Sahcheeg xut'een xneege' (Middle Tanana): 0 highly qualified speakers.
Dinjii Zhuh K'yaa (Gwich'in): <250 highly qualified speakers
Han: 2 highly qualified speakers in Alaska
Dihthaad Xt'een Iin Aandeeg' (Tanacross): <10 highly qualified speakers?
Nooo' (Upper Tanana): ~7 highly qualified speakers; approximately 25 proficient second language speakers in Alaska
Koht'aene kenaege' (Ahtna): ~25 highly qualified speakers.
dAxhunhyuuga' (Eyak): 0 highly qualified speakers.
Lingit (Tlingit): ~50 highly proficient native speakers plus ~20 highly proficient second language speakers.
Wetał (Ts'etsa'ut): 0 highly qualified speakers.

HAIDA LANGUAGE FAMILY

Xaad Kíl (Haida): 3 fluent speakers in Alaska plus maybe 2 very proficient second language speakers

TSHIMSHIANIC

Sm'algyax: 4 highly qualified speakers in Alaska

In Alaska, more people speak Russian, Spanish, and Tagalog than all native languages ​​combined: a total of 23,629, or about 3.45% of the population, speak Spanish. Tagalog (including Filipino) is spoken by approximately 18,273 people; There are also 4,097 Hmong speakers and 3,811 Russian speakers.

The Native Language Council has created a list of demands that includes:

Declaration of an Annual Alaska Native Languages ​​Day.
Reaffirmation of the linguistic state of emergency (AO 300) declared by re-election campaigning Governor Bill Walker in September 2018, shortly before he lost re-election.
Funding for more ANLPAC positions and more council trips.
Establish Alaska Native Languages ​​as standing committees in the State House and State Senate.

Rep. Story represents the northern part of Juneau – Upper Mendenhall Valley, Haines, Klukwan, Gustavus and Skagway. Almost all co-sponsors of the bill are Democrats. These are: representatives Alyse Galvin, Sara Hannan, Genevieve Mina, CJ McCormick, Maxine Dibert, Jennie Armstrong, Cliff Groh, Andy Josephson, Calvin Schrage, Andrew Gray, Zack Fields, Daniel Ortiz, Rebecca Himschoot, Bryce Edgmon, Will Stapp, Mike Cronk, Craig Johnson and Donna Mears. Senate sponsors include Jesse Kiehl, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Forrest Dunbar and Loki Tobin.

The tax bill in the bill adds $10,000 to the state budget to cover the cost of two additional members being added to the Language Council while traveling to council meetings.

Anna Harden

Learn More →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *