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Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska

This map shows the indigenous language regions of Alaska. Related languages of neighboring Canada and Russia are also shown. The language boundaries represent traditional territories at approximately 1900, though some shifts in language boundaries have occurred since that time. Boundaries are defined based on the similarity of sound systems and the ability of speakers from different regions to understand each other.

The colors of the individual languages reflect their classification into language families, each of which share a common ancestral language. Eighteen of the twenty indigenous Alaska languages on this map belong to either the Eskimo-Aleut or the Athabascan-Eyak-Tlingit families. Tsimshian is a member of the small Tsimshianic family, while Haida is an isolate, not demonstrably related to any other language in the world.

The language names appearing on this map are the English names generally accepted by most speakers today. Alternate names are listed in the legend. A selection of modern and historic indigenous villages are labeled with both indigenous and English names, as are major rivers, lakes, and islands. A comprehensive inventory of indigenous place names, including village sites and geographic features, would number in the tens of thousands.

As of 2010 few indigenous languages in Alaska are still spoken by children, but significant revitalization programs exist for some languages.

Although based largely, including language definitions, boundaries, and insets, on Michael Krauss's 1974 and 1982 Native Peoples and Languages of Alaska map, this map differs in several ways from that map. This map does not indicate indigenous populations or speaker numbers; language status in each village or size of village; and dialect boundaries. Finally, several language names have been revised to reflect current usage.

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Alaska is home to two of North America's major language families, both of which have spread far beyond Alaska. As the small map above indicates, the Inuit-Yupik-Aleut family has spread across northern Canada to Greenland and west to Chukotka and the Commander Islands in Russia.

The Athabascan-Eyak-Tlingit family has spread through western Canada to the Pacific Northwest and the Desert Southwest of the United States.

The remaining Alaska languages, Tsimshian and Haida, are recent arrivals to the state from Canada.

Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska, compiled by Michael E. Krauss.

Digital map created by Gary Holton, Jim Kerr, and Colin West, with the assistance of faculty and staff at the Alaska Native Language Center and Institute of Social and Economic Research.
Indigenous place names compiled by Gary Holton.
Graphic design and layout by Clemencia Amaya-Merrill.
Interactive map programmed by Ben Saylor.
GIS datasets and a complete list of references and archival source materials available at www.uaf.edu/anla and www.alaskool.org.

Based on the maps Native Peoples and Languages of Alaska (Krauss 1974, revised 1982) and Inuit Nunait (Krauss 1995).

Funding provided by the Alaska Native Language Center; the Institute of Social and Economic Research; the Alaska Native Language Archive; the UAA Chancellor's Fund for Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity; Alaska EPSCoR; and the National Science Foundation.

Copyright © 2011