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Figurative Lexicalization and Acculturation in Kodiak Alutiiq

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Title: Figurative Lexicalization and Acculturation in Kodiak Alutiiq
Authors: Fine, Julia
Issue Date: 05 Mar 2017
Description: In Kodiak Alutiiq, an endangered Eskimo-Aleut language spoken on Kodiak Island, the postbase -guaq ('kind of like an N') is ubiquitous in the names for modern objects. The word for 'ketchup', for instance, is tuumatuusaruaq ('tomato-like thing'), and the word for 'helicopter' is cilrayuruaq ('dragonfly-like thing'). While the widespread use of -guaq may seem whimsical, it attests to a serious situation: the experience of being Sugpiaq, 'a real person', in a world full of things that aren't real, genuine, or authentic. However, as opposed to simply borrowing the words for 'ketchup', 'helicopter', etc., this kind of figurative lexicalization reaffirms the primacy of Alutiiq strategies for conceptualizing objects and ideas. Although Alutiiq speakers are obliged to live in a world full of things that are foreign to their traditional lifestyles, they can and do talk about these things in quintessentially Alutiiq ways. As Rice (2012) notes in her study of Dene Sųłiné, figurative lexicalization is a feature of esoteric languages (Thurston 1988), and may also be motivated through the prestiging of linguistic creativity. The Alutiiq community is traditionally an esoteric one, and figurative lexicalization abounds in pre-contact words, occurring even in fundamental, basic terms like body parts (i.e. pagicuak, 'nostrils'; literally, 'gill-like things'). Kodiak has since experienced two devastating waves of cultural contact, one with Russian settlers from 1760 to 1867, one with American settlers from 1867 onwards (Crowell et al., n.d.). One might expect similar rates of borrowing versus figurative lexicalization during both periods of contact, resulting in approximately equal numbers of Russian loanwords and English loanwords. However, in this study of a sample of 709 nouns drawn from a picture dictionary used by Alutiiq language learners and teachers (Drabek et al. 2012), I find 174 Russian loanwords and only 19 English ones. This could be partially due to overlap in the types of objects introduced by English and Russian settlers– having a pre-existing Russian borrowing for 'stove', for example, probably prevented Alutiiq speakers from adopting the English word– but it is also due to Alutiiq speakers' greater awareness of and resistance to the influence of English, which is apparent in the Alutiiq language revitalization movement (Bach 2003; Counceller 2010; Counceller 2012). These findings make it clear that language contact is not in a direct causal relationship with the rate of figurative lexicalization, and highlight the importance of considering the language ideologies that undergird it. Works Cited: Bach, Michael James. 2014. Community space for decolonization and resistance: Kodiak Alutiiq language club participant perspectives. Doctoral dissertation. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK. Counceller, April. 2010. "Niugneliyukut (We are making new words)": A community philosophy of language revitalization." Doctoral dissertation). University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK. Counceller, April. 2012. A decade of language revitalization: Kodiak Alutiiq on the brink of revolution. Journal of American Indian Education: 15-29. Crowell, Aron, Dee Hunt, Amy Steffian, and Sonja Lürhmann. n.d. About the Alutiiq People. Looking Both Ways: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People of Southern Alaska. Retrieved March 6, 2016 from Drabek, Alisha and April Counceller (ed.). 2012. Qik'rtarmiut Alutiit'stun Niugneret Kraasiirkii ("Color Kodiak Alutiiq Words"): An Alutiiq Picture Dictionary. Native Village of Afognak, Kodiak, AK. Rice, Sally. 2012. "Our language is very literal": Figurative expression in Dene Sųłiné. Endangered Metaphors vi:376. Thurston, William. 1989. How esoteric languages build a lexicon: esoterogeny in West New Britain. VICAL 1, Oceanic languages: papers from the Fifth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, 555-579.
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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