Asian Eskimo Language
General Information on the Language
The Main Ethnonym of the Ethnic Group
Bibliography on the Asian Eskimo language
Eskimo (originated from the name given to Eskimo by Athapascan Indians, literally meaning “eating raw meat, fish”).
Self-Ethnonym of the Ethnic Group
Yupiget (Йупигыт/юпигеты) (name deriving from Eskimo words йугыт, йуыт «people»).
The Main Name of the Language
The name “Eskimo language” was introduced into scientific use in the end of the XVIII century. The ethnonym of Asian Eskimo Language has been adopted by the Russian academic school since the 1920s. In scientific literature the name of Siberian Yupik is also spread as corresponding to American academic tradition of description of the Eskimo-Aleutian languages; in Russian academic tradition this ethnonym stands for Chaplinskiy dialect of the Eskimo language (Chaplinskiy language, according to another classification).
Previously Used Names
Yuit language (Russian: юитский язык) name was wide spread in Russian academic literature in the 1930-1940s originating from the self-ethnonym of the group.
Yugyt language (Russian: югытский язык)
Self-Name of the Language
The language of Asian Eskimo belongs to the Yupik group of the Eskimo branch of the Eskimo-Aleutian language family.
By the present day external genetic ties of the Eskimo-Aleutian family has not been found out so far. The traditional place of the Eskimo-Aleutian family in the world language system has been defined according to areal criteria. According to the tradition established in Russian linguistic literature, ascending to L. Shrenk’s classification published in the end of the XIX century, Eskimo-Aleutian family is related to palaeoasiatic languages. In American tradition it is either included in one of language families of American Indians or singled out as an isolated family.
Geographical Spread of the Language
Eskimo language is wide spread on the south-eastern coast of Chukotka Peninsula (Chukotskiy Autonomous District, Russia), on Alaska Peninsula and the adjacent islands, USA, in the Arctic zone of Canada, in Greenland, Denmark.
In the language of Russian Eskimo three main dialects are distinguished: Chaplino (it makes the basis of the written language), Naukan and the dialect of Sireniki Eskimo. There is also a classification considering these dialects as independent languages of Chaplino, Naukan, old Sireniki settlements.
Speakers of Chaplino dialect of Eskimo language (Chaplinskiy language, according to the other classification) live in Novoe Chaplino, Sireniki, Provideniya, Uelkal villages, Anadyr city (Chukotskiy Autonomous District), Russia. Here they count around 900 people (according to data of N.B. Vakhtin). Approximately 1300 Chaplino Eskimo (according to the data of Dorais 1992, 237-255) live in Gambell and Savoonga villages on St. Lawrence Island, USA; according to Russian sources, approximately 1100 Chaplino Eskimo live in the USA.
Native speakers of Naukanskiy dialect of Eskimo language (Naukanskiy language, according to the other classification) live in villages Lorino, Lavrentiya, Uelen and Provideniya (Chukotskiy Autonomous District), Russia. Total number of Naukan language speakers approximates 400-500 people with about 100-200 people having command of the native language (according to the census of 1989).
Native speakers of Eskimo Sireniki dialect (old Sireniki language, according to the other classification) populated the eastern coast of Chukotka Peninsula in the beginning of the XX century. At that time their number equaled to 100 people, at the most. In 1992 only two native speakers of the language of Sireniki dialect of Eskimo representing the old generation were registered in Sireniki village (Chukotskiy Autonomous District, Russia). In 1997 the last native speaker of Sirenikskiy language died (according to the data of N.B. Vakhtin).
Number of Native Speakers
According to 2002 census, 1750 Eskimo altogether live in Russia, 410 of them have a command of the native language while they are, mostly, represented by the old generation. Practically all presently living Russian Eskimo are bilingual.
According to N.B. Vakhtin’s opinion, real number of Eskimo living on Chukotka Peninsula approximates 1200 people. They form the group of Chaplino Eskimo, their language, in practice, is identical to the language of Eskimo living on St. Lawrence Island, USA.
Approximately 45 thousand people speak Eskimo in Greenland, 22 thousand – in Canada, 37 thousand – in Alaska, 1300 people – in USA
Russian and Chukchi languages. Historically, the ethnic group had contacts with English native speakers reflected in the presence of numerous English loan words in Eskimo language.
Due to territorial isolation, a number of dialects of Eskimo language developed autonomously and acquired features of separate languages (i.e, the language of Sireniki Eskimo).
The Yupik branch of Eskimo languages is formed by several closely related languages. Those are Chaplinskiy and Naukanskiy languages in Chukotka and central Alaska language and Alyutic – in Alaska. Sirenikskiy language represented the third branch of Eskimo languages. There are four sub-dialects singled out within Chaplino: Unazik, Avan, Imtuk and St. Lawerence’s (USA) sub-dialects. Naukanskiy language has no dialects. According to some data, Sireniki language had around two sub-dialects (according to the data of N.B. Vakhtin).
The mentioned above languages are closely related with dialectal differences pertaining, mostly, to the vocabulary and phonetics. The grammatical structure in its essence is universal for all the languages. The written language of Russian Eskimo was based on Chaplinskiy language.
From Greenland to Mackenzie River, Canada variations of Eskimo dialects are minor, except for Alaska dialects significantly distinct from the rest of the dialects. Siberian dialects of Eskimo language adjoin those spread in Alaska.
There are 4 vowel phonemes and 22-24 consonants in the language of Asian Eskimo (Меновщиков, 1990; 1994; 1997). The language is characterized by two types of stress – dynamic (in closed syllables) and quantitave (in open syllables). The stress is placed relatively freely depending on the number of syllables in a word. Ten parts of the speech are distinguished in the language. The noun possesses the categories of number (3 numbers: singular, double and plural), case (6 cases), possessiveness, while the categories of gender and animation are lacking. Verbs agree in five tenses and persons and are divided into transitive and intransitive. There is a developed system of conjugations and aspects. The language is characterized by agglutinative-syntactic morphonological structure. The main morphonological means is suffixation. The word-form is right-sided with the root always taking the left position. The language is characterized by ergative syntactic structure.
Legal Status, Present Day Situation of the Language
Legal status of the language of Asian Eskimo is that of a language of a numerically small people of Russian Federation.
The present day situation of the Asian Eskimo language has been impacted by a number of factors. First, drastic change of traditional way of life of the ethnic group, prohibition of the sea animal hunting in the 1970-1980s lead to the diminished role of the language in the life of the ethnic group. Moreover, a semi-sentential break of traditional contacts of Russian Eskimo with the Eskimo of St. Lawrence Island, USA altogether forming the single social, cultural and linguistic continuum had a negative effect. The contacts broke in the Cold War period (starting from 1948), and have been restored since 1988. However, the modern situation of the language was, mainly, caused by the state policy of Russification of the educational system enforced in the 1950s, which led two thirds of Eskimo to the loss of the native language. The middle age (40-45 year old) people completely shifted to Russian or have a poor command of the native language. The tradition of translation of the language from one generation to another one was broken. According to some researchers, active grammatical and lexical interference of Eskimo and Russian languages is taking place, while in some cases researchers tend to consider it the initial stage of the language creolization.
According to 2002 census, 1750 Eskimo in total live in Russia, 410 of them have a command of the native language while they are, mostly, represented by the old generation. The rest of the people can only understand the language. Practically all presently living Russian Eskimo are bilingual.
There are 500 native speakers left among Chaplino Eskimo, and 100-200 remaining native speakers of Naukanskiy dialect (language). According to N.B. Vakhtin’s opinion, with the total loss of the native language of Eskimo the perception of the universal ethnic and linguistic continuum is still preserved.
Writing and Orthography
The language of Asian Eskimo is a newly created written language. The language is characterized by a low degree of standardization. Its stable norm has not been established so far.
According to one opinion, the appearance of the Eskimo written language is dated back to 1721 when Hans Egede conducted an adaptation of the Latin alphabet to Eskimo language in Greenland.
In Russia writing of Asian Eskimo was developed in 1933 on the basis of the Latin alphabet. Chaplinskiy dialect was laid in the basis of the written variant of the language. In 1937 Latin graphics was substituted with the Cyrillic graphical basis including additional diacritic graphemes. Nowadays the Cyrillic alphabet is used. In the USA and Canada writing was developed in the mid-70s of the XX century (on the basis of Latin graphics).
Degree of Activity of Folklore in Everyday Life
Eskimo folklore is rich and diverse. All types of folklore include fairy tales, myths and legends. The music is, mostly, vocal. Dancing music is inseparably linked with poetry and choreography.
Social Functions of the Language
At present functional development of Asian Eskimo language is limited. Thus, the language of Asian Eskimo is taught in the elementary grades of two schools of Chukotka as a subject required for Eskimo children, and as an elective subject in the 5-11 grades of the same schools. At present the tradition of language continuity in the family is almost lost, which hampers the attempts of preservation of Eskimo language through its introduction in the school education. Moreover, teachers themselves, as a rule, don’t have a level of command of their ethnic group’s language necessary for teaching it. Professionally, the language is studied at the department of the native language and literature of Anadyr pedagogic training school and Russian State Pedagogical University by A.I. Hertsen in St. Petersburg.
The language of Asian Eskimo is functioning in the sphere of educational and methodological literature. For instance, numerous educational literature for elementary school was published in the language including ABC books, textbooks, books of the native language (for elementary school) written in Russian. There are two methodological manuals for teachers of the native language (in the elementary school) written in Russian. There are no textbooks for students written in Eskimo language. Since the 1930s the overwhelming majority of educational manuals in the Asian Eskimo language have been published due to the joint efforts of Russian linguists, researchers and teachers of the Eskimo origin including L.I. Aynan, V.I. Analkvasak, F. Kiyap, G.A. Nakazik, M.I. Sigilnyk and others. Textbooks for high school are lacking. Two methodological manuals for teachers were published (in Russian).
There are only few pieces of fiction in Eskimo including a book of short stories, mostly, for schoolchildren, and several books of poetry. There are about 10 publications of folklore (fairytales, myths, legends). A number of folklore texts (recorded as scripts) is represented in the works of W.G. Bogoraz and devoted to the studies of Eskimo language. The process of the publication of literature in the ethnic language has been fluctuating in time. The main body of texts of different genres was published in the 1930-1950s. In the 1960-1970s the publishing process halted and was renewed only in the second half of the 1980s. The functioning of Eskimo language in the sphere of mass communication is also limited. In 1933 in Anadyr village the publication of district newspaper «Советская Чукотка» (“Soviet Chukotka”) was launched in Russian, however, also including materials both in Chukchi and Eskimo. Nowadays periodicals in Eskimo are restricted to one-page publications in two district newspapers of Chukotskiy Autonomous District - «Чукотка» and «Мургин Нутенут». During the 1990s nine issues of repertoire series «Айвэрэттэ» («Evenings») were published in the languages of indigenous peoples of the North including Eskimo; however, by present the publication of this series stopped. Chukotka State Television and Radio Company has 2-3 hour broadcast in the Asian Eskimo language per week. At present the language of Asian Eskimo is used by the older generation representatives, mainly, in family communication, in every day life and, partially, in traditional economic sphere.
Due to the small number of the ethnic group, rapid assimilation of Chukotka Eskimo in Russian-speaking environment, weak functioning of the language, the degree of vitality of the Asian Eskimo language is extremely low. According to N.B. Vakhtin, one of possible measures for the rescue of the language is the development of contacts between Yupigets of Chukotka and St. Lawrence Island; the latter speak the same language as Chaplino Eskimo, with their native language fully preserved. Another important measure is abolishment of out-dated textbooks and methods of teaching Eskimo language at school. According to one opinion, it should be taught rather a foreign than as a native language, with the application of modern methods of teaching foreign languages. The rise of nationalism and cultural revival are accelerated by public organizations: Eskimo Society “Yupik”, national cultural center «Киягныг» (“Life”), Union of Sea Animal Hunters.
History of Studies of the Language
The Eskimo language has been studied from the beginning of the XVIII century. In 1785-1793 I. Billings and G. Saryev gathered ethnographic and linguistic materials among Eskimo which were published in 1811. In the second half of the XIX century Eskimo language was studied by N. Gondatti who later became an author of the first classification of three dialects of Eskimo language. Afterwards, phonological structure of the language based on this material was examined by V. Miller. In the beginning of the XX century scientific study of the Asian Eskimo language continued in the works of W.G. Bogoraz. Later grammatical and lexical study of the language was carried on by E.S. Rubtsova, G.A. Menovschikov, N.M. Emelyanova, N.B. Vakhtin and other researchers of the Institute of Linguistics of Leningrad Branch of USSR (presently, Russian) Academy of Sciences.
The following sources were used for collecting this information
Translated into English by O.A. Povoroznyuk
© IEA RAS, 2005
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