It should be noted that the spread of English and suppression of aboriginal languages by American authorities are not the only reason for the decline of the Eyak language. The northward migration of the Tlingit people around Yakutat in precontact times encouraged the use of Tlingit rather than Eyak along much of the Pacific Coast of Alaska. Eyak was also under pressure from its neighbors to the west, the Alutiiq people of Prince William Sound, as well as some pressure from the people of the Copper River valley. Eyak and Tlingit culture began to merge along the Gulf Coast, and a number of Eyak speaking groups were absorbed by the Gulf Coast Tlingit populations. This resulted in the replacement of Eyak by Tlingit among most of the mixed groups after a few generations, as reported in Tlingit oral histories of the area. This process was however entirely voluntary, in stark contrast to the coercive efforts of the U.S. government during the territorial era.
The displacement effect of this orderly advance of Latin on the previous languages of what was becoming Europe was devastating: it is calculated that in the five centuries from 100 BC to AD 400 the count of known languages in lands under Roman administration fell from sixty to twelve, and outside Africa and the Greek-dominant east, from thirty to just five: Latin, Welsh, Basque, Albanian, and Gaulish—among which Gaulish was already marginal and doomed soon to die out totally. The very names of the lost languages, crossing southern Europe from west to east, sing an elegy of vanished potential: Lusitanian, Celtiberian, Tartessian, Iberian, Ligurian, Lepontic, Rhaetic, Venetic, Etruscan, Picene, Oscan, Messapian, Sicel, Sardinian, Dacian, Getic, Paeonian.
She drank too much, but gave it up; she smoked too much, coughing her way through interviews in a room full of statuettes of the Pillsbury Doughboy, in which she said her spirit would live when she was dead. Most outsiders were told to buzz off. But one scholar, Michael Krauss of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, showed such love for Eyak, painstakingly recording its every suffix and prefix and glottal stop and nasalisation, that she worked happily with him to compile a grammar and a dictionary; and Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker was allowed to talk when she brought fresh halibut as a tribute. Without those two visitors, almost nothing would have been known of her.
« Older Detroit Public Schools Book Depository | Give Your Brain a Workout Newer »
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments