Native Languages of the Bering Strait: The Changing Conditions of Interaction and Endangerment

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: Booth 62
Oral Presentation
Evgeny GOLOVKO , Russian Academy of Science, St. Petersburg, Russia

A characteristic quality of the area under consideration is the variety of distinct groups inhabiting it.  If one only counts broad ethnic and linguistic categories, Chukchi, Siberian Yupik (including St. Lawrence Island Yupik), Naukan Yupik, Inupiaq, and, to a lesser degree, Central Alaskan Yupik have to be considered. The native groups in question have always been in close contact, communicating with each other in both native languages, as well as in English, Russian, and pidgins, both locally designed and maritime ‘jargon’.

The paper is based on interviews collected by the author in the late 1990s – early 2000s on both sides of the Bering Strait – in Alaskan and Chukotkan communities, as well as on archival sources. The paper presents a diachronic study (from late 19th century to the present) of how changing political contexts influenced the prestige of languages in question and their use in interethnic communication at different periods of time. The focus is on individual sociolinguistic perception that comes from the memories collected. At the same time, the analysis takes into account that personal memories are obviously prompted by later political and social events, and sociolinguistic and political boundaries make a projection on a personal language map. In conclusion, at attempt has been made to link socio-political changes to the degree of language endangerment.