Native Peoples and Languages of Alaska
Distributed for Alaska Native Language Center
None of the Alaska native languages were written before the coming of the Russians. The first written Alaskan language was Aleut, using a Slavonic alphabet. The first Aleut books were printed in 1834. By now, good writing systems have been developed for all Alaska native languages, and books have been printed in most of them.
Each Alaska native language has its own intricate beauty, a highly complex and regular grammar and enormous vocabulary. This has been developed by the people over the thousands of years they have lived in this area.
Recently the history of these languages has been tragic. From about 1900 until the 1960s, native languages were severely suppressed. Children were punished for speaking their native language in school. They were forced to abandon their language, in order to speak English only. In 1972, the Alaska State Legislature passed the Bilingual Education bill, giving children the right to use and cultivate their native language in school, and also established the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Many important developments are taking place now to maintain for future generations of Alaskans the precious heritage of their native languages and cultures.