Colonization, The English Language, and Alaska Natives: How English has Affected Alaska Native Culture

Pruett, Emily
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Marie Smith Jones died January 21st, 2008 in Anchorage Alaska. Jones was the last person in the world to speak the Alaska Native language, Eyak, and with her death the Eyak language has become extinct. There are 20 Alaska Native languages in Alaska today, and all of them are endangered. Michael E. Krauss, the premier linguist who, in 1991 at the Linguistic Society of America, drew attention to the fate of all American Indigenous languages asserts, “At the rate things are going, unless there’s some miracle or vast change takes place that we can’t foresee ... 95 percent of our languages will be gone by the end of the next century, or maybe just 90 percent if we’re lucky.” In the course of my research I will explore the effect that the English language has had on Alaska Native languages, and by extension the Alaska Native way of life. Through researching digital archives, interviewing those active in Alaska Native language revitalization, and reading Alaska Native writers and activists, as well as other writers from colonized nations around the world I argue that as a colonial tool English has done nearly irreparable damage to Alaska Native languages and cultural heritage by psychologically and systematically marginalizing indigenous language and culture. I will also examine how Alaska Natives are working to protect, preserve, and pass down their languages as part of their cultural heritage.
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