Re-centering the Alaska Native Language Center: Challenges and opportunities for language centers in a new linguistic era
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractAcross the world language centers have emerged as local responses to continuing language loss. The Alaska Native Language Center (ANLC) was founded in 1972 by state legislation which also mandated bilingual education in state-operated schools where children spoke a Native language. The Center was initially given a five-fold mission: “(1) study languages native to Alaska; (2) develop literacy materials; (3) assist in the translation of important documents; (4) provide for the development and dissemination of Alaska Native literature; and (5) train Alaska Native language speakers to work as teachers and aides in bilingual classrooms to teach and support Alaska’s twenty indigenous languages” (Krauss 1974). Early efforts focused on basic language documentation and the development of classroom materials. Dictionaries, primers, readers, and other pedagogical materials were produced. A publications program was set up to disseminate these materials. Literacy and orthography development were seen as crucial parts of these efforts. Four decades later the linguistic landscape of Alaska is greatly altered as language shift has progressed. Whereas in the early 1970’s many children started school as bilingual or even monolingual speakers of Alaska Native languages, today only a very few children learn A Native language at home. Most Alaska Native languages have few or no speakers under 60 years old, and the roles originally envisioned for ANLC have necessarily changed. This new landscape requires new responses from those involved with language maintenance in Alaska. In this presentation we review the history of ANLC and describe some of the new initiatives being undertaken to support language revitalization. A centralized, one-size-fits-all approach can not work, Since different language situations require different responses. In Southwest Alaska ANLC has been working with local school districts to educate teachers of Yup’ik language. In Southcentral Alaska ANLC has partnered with a local cultural center to repatriate hundreds of hours of archival recordings. These various initiatives share a community-based genesis. What counts as language revitalization may vary greatly from one community to another. Language centers such as ANLC must respond to a variety of needs, sometimes stretching the bounds of their expertise and resources. With these challenges come new opportunities. Language revitalization in the 21st century may not look like anything envisioned in 1972, but ultimately its success depends on the re-center of revitalization efforts within the communities themselves.