Guide to the Upper Kuskokwim Athabaskan Language Collection

Abstract

All materials in the Upper Kuskokwim collection are either written in or about the Upper Kuskokwim language.  The earliest documents date from the mid- to late 1800s; they are primarily reports of expeditions with place name information and some word lists. Most of the collection dates from 1960s and 1970s, with a focus on bilingual educational materials in the Upper Kuskokwim language, much of which was published through the Alaska State Operated Schools in Anchorage.  Fieldnotes by Collins and Krauss also form an important part of the collection and tend to focus on dialects,  phonology and verb forms.  Work on grammars and traditional texts are less well represented.  The collection also includes research papers.  Photocopied material occassionaly represents original material held by other repositories and certain reproduction and use restriction apply.

Language Information

Upper Kuskokwim Athabascan was identified as a distinct language by Krauss in 1961.  In earlier literature, it was included as a dialect of Ingalik (e.g. Osgood); Hosley calls it Kolchan.   It is spoken in the Alaska villages of Telida and Nikolai, and McGrath, in the Upper Kuskokwim river drainage, with only minor dialectal differences between the villages.  It is most closely related to the Tanana language.  Of a total population of 160, about 40 people still speak the language.  Much of the linguistic documentation has been the work of Raymond Collins, who began linguistic work at Nikolai in 1964, when he established a practical orthography, and Betty Petruska, with whom Collins worked to create educational materials. 

Scope and Content Note

The scope of the Upper Kuskokwim language collection is quite broad in that it strives to include all material written or published in or about the Upper Kuskokwim Language.  Dr. Michael Krauss made an effort to collect all things Upper Kuskokwim, and has developed a nearly comprehensive collection. There are currently about 100 items in the collection.  Generally, the collection contains materials relating to linguistic fieldwork, academic research, and educational materials for schoolchildren. Comparatively little material concerns religious texts in the Upper Kuskokwim Language, and only a handful of traditional stories can be found in the collection. 

There was very little linguistic documentation of Upper Kuskokwim prior to 1959, and there are only two items from this early period, both largely ethnographic in nature.  Linguistic documentation essentially begins with Herbert Zimmerman’s collection of words and phrases in 1959, and fieldwork by Hosley and Krauss on the Upper Kuskokwim sound system and lexicon in the early 1960s.  The most prolific contributor to fieldwork on the language is Raymond Collins (18 items), whose work spans the period from 1964 to 1979 and includes studies of the lexicon, phonology, place names, and grammar, as well as his work on developping educational materials.  There has been noticeably less documentation of the language during the 1980s and 1990s; most has been ethnographic or sociolinguistic in nature (e.g. attitudes towards language).  From 1997, new linguistic research on tone, dialects, and sociolinguistics has been undertaken by Andrej Kibrik.  Athough there are some originals, many of the fieldnotes are photocopies provided by the author or field researcher.

By far the largest part of the collection pertains to educational materials, most of which are elementary readers and children’s literacy exercises (ca. 50 items), produced from the 1960s to the 1970s and published by either the National Bilingual Materials Development Center in Anchorage or the Alaska State Operated Schools.  Many are translations of primary readers for children developed by Yupik and Inupiaq authors, or of templates of primary readers developed by the Alaska State Operated Schools; Betty Petruska and Raymond Collins did much of the work of translation and adaptation into Upper Kuskokwim.  Petruska also translated a number of traditional Deg Xinag stories.  The 1980s to the present have seen less activity on language materials development; there is some student work from 1983-1984 (3 items) and some songs for teaching the language were developped in 1998.
Extent:  4 manuscript boxes and books covering 2 linear feet.

Languages: Collection languages are both Upper Kuskokwim and English, with one work in Russian.  Some documents offers Upper Kuskokwim words in comparison to other Athabaskan languages in Alaska.
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