Central Alaskan Yup'ik:

A Linguistic Research Project

The Process

In the summer of 2008 I flew up to a remote part of Alaska to gather audio and video recordings of native speakers of Central Alaskan Yup'ik, a language spoken by approximately 10,000 people.1


As part of my research, I spent three weeks in Alekgnagik, AK, gathering recordings, and one week in Anchorage, AK, going to Yup'ik-related art exhibits, cultural museums, speech archives, etc. After that, I returned to Los Angeles to digitize the footage.



For the data collection part of my project, I stayed with my second cousins in the small village of Aleknagik, a name which means "Wrong Way Home," in Yup'ik.2


Aleknagik is located on Lake Aleknagik at the entrance to the Wood Tikchik State Park, the largest state park in the nation.3 It is accessible only by boat or plane from "Outside," as the rest of the United States is referred to by Alaskans.4







From my base in Aleknagik, I had access to the nearby town of Dillingham, which is connected to Aleknagik by a 25-mile road. This was convenient, as my informants were evenly split between the two cities.





Most of my time in Aleknagik was spent making connections with people who might be willing to speak with me in Yup'ik, then meeting with them and recording them. I also spent a significant amount of time learning as much as I could about the language from the dictionary and grammar textbook which I had purchased beforehand and sent up ahead of me.






From these three weeks, I was able to record six tapes of four different native speakers of Yup'ik (not all of this footage appears on this site). I asked each of my informants to sign permission forms to make sure they understood what the research project was about and how the recordings would be used and making sure they were aware that their participation was voluntary and they could stop at any time.




Upon returning to Los Angeles, I enrolled in the two-semester Senior Thesis class in the Honors in Multimedia Scholarship program as a Junior. Working with my advisors, I began digitizing, logging, and cutting my footage into clips; designing my website; building the dynamic video player; and finally putting it all together to create this project.








Tools

Sony DCR-HC96 Video Camera

5

Audiotechnica ATR-35S Lavalier Microphone

6

Yup'ik Eskimo Dictionary compiled by Steven A. Jacobson (1984)


A Practical Grammar of the Central Alaskan Yup'ik Eskimo Language by Steven A. Jacobson (1995)


Future of the Project

Ultimately, I hope that this project will grow into a larger research tool that will make the documentation and preservation of endangered languages more accessible. I foresee myself working on this project further, expanding on the section about the Yup'ik language with more "value-added content," which will make the technical linguistic jargon much more interesting for people who have no background in Linguistics.


Ideally, I would like to see the dynamic video player become even more useful by adding in transcriptions of the footage that include not only time-stamped translations, but also transcriptions in English, Yup'ik, and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). This is a massive endeavor, and will require the help of native speakers of the language and trained linguists.


I foresee this project becoming a starting point for a graphical user interface which will allow anyone with minimal training to conduct a similar project or to add to the work others have done. With the help of a broad base of contributors with wide-ranging levels of experience, the documentation and preservation of endangered languages could quickly become a much simpler and more feasible endeavor than it currently is.

Recommendations

I highly encourage anyone interested in the topic to consider conducting a research project of their own.


I recommend reading through E-MELD's information for Best Practices before beginning.

Awards

This project was awarded first place in Social Sciences at USC's Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work on April 15, 2009. (See the Institute for Multimedia Literacy's blog write-up about it.)

Thanks

Thank you to the following:


  • All of my informants (Adam Chythlook, Martha Nerguson, Molly Chythlook, and Phyllis Westcoast) - for being so patient with me and willing to help me with this endeavor
  • My relatives up in Alaska (Carolyn, Geneva, Ivy, and Mark Smith and the Mershon family) - for taking care of me and treating me like I was part of the family
  • Bruce Zuckerman - for instilling in me a love for research, and for believing in my ability to follow through on this project
  • Dave Lopez - for painstakingly working with me on all of the technical aspects of this project
  • Peggy Weil - for pushing me to plan this project in 346
  • Anne Bray - for pushing me to make this project happen in 440/444
  • Joyce Perez - for being amazing and supportive throughout all of my crazy ideas
  • Andrea Berez - for inspiring me with her field work in Alaska
  • Michal Temkin Martinez - for proof-reading my scholarship proposal
  • Daylen Riggs - for sharing his knowledge of Yup'ik and of transcribing with me
  • John Cacka - for providing comments about my website in an earlier version
  • The Institute for Multimedia Literacy - for providing me with training, access to software and equipment, and the help of many talented people
  • The Provost's Undergraduate Research Fellowship - for providing me with a small research stipend while I gathered my recordings

References

1 "Alaska Native Languages: Central Alaskan Yup'ik." UAF.edu Last modified: December 7, 2001. Accessed: May 14, 2008.

2 "Alaska Community Database Community Information Summaries" commerce.state.ak.us Accessed: March 25, 2009.

3 "Wood-Tikchik State Park." dnr.alaska.gov Last modified: February 10, 2009. Accessed: March 25, 2009.

4 Tabbert, Russel. "Terms for 'Not Alaska' in Alaskan English" American Speech, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Autumn, 1984), pp. 256-258 Duke University Press jstor.org Accessed: March 25, 2009.

5 Image of camera from: camera4less.co.il, Accessed 04/12/09

6 Image of microphone from: ciao.com, Accessed 04/12/09

Created as part of the University of Southern California's Institute for Multimedia Literacy Honors in Multimedia Scholarship Program || Supported in part by the Provost's Undergraduate Research Fellowship

Technical Supervisor: David Lopez || Research Advisor: Bruce Zuckerman || Academic Advisor: Joyce Perez || IML Advisor, 346: Peggy Weil || IML Advisor, 440/444: Anne Bray


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