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Alutiiq and other Alaskan Languages

The language spoken by Alutiiq people belongs to what linguists call the "Esk-Aleut" language family (Woodbury 1984). This group of related languages covers a geographic area stretching from the Gulf of Alaska where Alutiiq is spoken, west across the Unangan speaking world in the Aleutian Islands, and then north.

Distribution of Esk-Aleut Languages

Map showing the distribution of Esk-Aleut Languages

 In western coastal Alaska, Native people speak the Yup’ik languages, and along the state’s far northern coast reside speakers of Iñupiaq. Beyond Alaska, across of Northern Canada and Greenland, indigenous people speak a variety of Inuit languages marking the eastern extent of the Esk-Aleut language family. All of these languages are closely related despite the geographic distance between them.

Relationships Between Languages in the Esk-Aleut Family

The language spoken in the Alutiiq region is most closely related to Central Yup'ik (Krauss 1982). Speakers of both languages report a significant amount of mutual intelligibility – they can understand much of each other’s speech. However, there are also misunderstandings between the two languages due to differences in word meaning. For example, to a Central Yup'ik speaker the verb qanerluni may mean "to speak, to utter." To an Alutiiq/Sugpiaq speaker, it means "to curse" (Leer 1978, Jacobson 1984). 


Jacobsen, S.
1984        Yup’ik Eskimo Dictionary. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Leer, Jeff
1978        A Conversational Dictionary of Kodiak Alutiiq. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Woodbury, Anthony C.
1984        Eskimo and Aleut Languages. In Arctic, edited by David Damas, Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 5, W. T. Sturtevant gen. ed., pp. 49–63. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.