Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Past, Present, Future

Jim Kerr keeps reminding me of how well Michael Krauss' 1980 monograph, Alaska Native Languages: Past, Present, Future serves as a companion reference to the Map, but until I reread the text today I didn't realize how right Jim was. The appendices are a bit out of date, but the main text, based on lectures given by Krauss in Leningrad on May 29, 1979 and in Albuquerque on October 16, 1979, remains very relevant. I especially like the first sentence:

    Alaska is the homeland or birthplace, perhaps better the "cradle of civilization," of two great North American language families: the Eskimo-Aleut and the Na-Dene.

What wonderful imagery! The modern world tends to view Alaska as a backwater, existing on the edge of civilization (a situation exacerbated by the Iron Curtain and its lingering effects). But nothing could be further from the truth. Elsewhere Krauss has used the phrase "crossroads of continents," reflecting the fact that not only did Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dene spread across Alaska to the far edges of North America, but presumably many of the other 50 or so indigenous language families of North and South America also once passed through Alaska. In a very real sense, all indigenous peoples of the Americas were once Native Alaskans. The linguistic history of Alaska's Native peoples is a rich and varied one.

A full-text pdf scan of Past, Present, Future can be downloaded from ERIC. I wonder if it would be worth trying to do OCR on this so that the text could be made available in searchable, indexed format online. This would also make it possible to add in little updates here and there.

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