Tlingit - Language Resurgent

I've been interested in Tlingit, the language of Southeast Alaska's longest-surviving inhabitants, ever since I first heard it in elementary school. I am extremely glad that while I was growing up, programs supported by the Johnson-O'Malley Act (originally passed in 1934) provided students all over Ketchikan with annual instruction in Native language and culture. I've heard that these visits from Native instructors at elementary schools may not be going on any more, which is extremely disappointing if it's true. In any case though, my interest was piqued; at least a few of my summers when I was young were filled with going to Native Culture Camp, where I had even more fun playing traditional games, going on field trips, and even doing complicated art projects like basket weaving.

Through middle school, my language acquisition shifted with the available curricula as I took Japanese for two years and then went on Ketchikan's long-time exchange program to Kanayama, Japan in the summer after my 8th grade year. In high school things shifted yet again as the only foreign languages offered were French and Spanish. I enjoyed learning French from my aunt and took her classes for all four of my years, and I even took Spanish for a year as well. The end result, however, was that I experienced the full gamut of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District's extremely inconsistent program of language instruction.

Now I have again returned to my interest in Tlingit, largely because of the resources available to me in the bookstores where I work. Just a few weeks ago I set up our display for the first ever published children's book written entirely in Tlingit. The event was so notable that The Guardian of London even put out an article on it. In the title, Tlingit is referred to as a "dying language." Those words probably sound a little too serious for many Alaskans; personally, I was a bit indignant that we might be seen by the rest of the world as letting a language die here. Considering the facts, however, the situation really is dire: Only several hundred fluent speakers remain, and young Southeast Alaskans need to become more engaged in carrying on their home's linguistic heritage, regardless of their ethnic background.

I have begun doing my own part by exploring many of the resources that are already available to prospective learners of Tlingit. One of the best places to start is with the alphabet. This alone shows a few of the many things that make Tlingit unique and amazing among all the world's languages: it possesses many sounds not only not found in English, but in no other spoken tongue. At this point I can say only a few words and not even a full sentence, but I'm eager to learn more.

More than just linguists should be interested in learning Tlingit: Revitalizing the culture of this great land is a project for everyone who lives here.

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