Website Aims to Help People Learn Eyak Language

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A new website launched on January first seeks to help people learn the Eyak language through weekly words and help from linguistic experts. The language of the Eyak people of the Cordova area is considered extinct. The last fluent speaker, Chief Marie Smith Jones died in 2008. Alaska Native linguistics expert Dr. Michael Krauss documented the language in such meticulous detail that it was possible for someone to learn Eyak. The question became would people do so?

The website’s project director Laura Bliss Spaan says she first met Chief Marie 20 years ago and was struck by the story of the disappearing Eyak language. Bliss Spaan worked with Chief Marie and Dr. Krauss, helping to document the sound and inflection of the Eyak language. When they put together language kits, they had an unusual request for one from a young man in France, who became fascinated by the Eyak language at age 12. Bliss Spaan says the young man, Guillaume Leduey now speaks Eyak fluently and last year came to Alaska.

Chief Marie’s granddaughter Sherry Smith says her grandmother said the language would come back through the children or through a person from afar. Smith says she’s working to make sure her 18-month-old daughter carries out the first part of that vision.

Smith says the young Frenchman Guillaume, will be helping out with lessons on the new website, assisting with difficult pronunciations.

Smith says it’s crucial to use the language and modernize it for relevant use today, developing words for computer, cell phone and other present day items.

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