Guide to the Unangan (Aleut) Language Collection


All materials in the Aleut collection are either written in or about the Unangan (Unangam Tunuu, Aleut) language.  The earliest documents date from the late 1700s, and contain ethnographic accounts and journals of expeditions; these most frequently contain word lists and information on personal and place names.  These continue into the 19th century, at which point linguistic works, including comparative studies of Eskimo-Aleut, grammatical sketches, and religious and ethnographic texts are increasingly found.  Much of this work is either in published form of photocopies of materials held by other repositories, and certain reproduction and use restrictions apply.  Materials from the 20th century include especially original manuscripts by Marsh, Bergsland, Dirks, and many others, in addition to published and copied works.  The Aleut collection is largely organized as one large collection, although dialectal information is coded in the identification numbers, as explained under “collection organization”; however, materials pertaining to the Aleut dialects spoken on the Commander Islands and to the Aleut presence in the Kuriles are organized as subseries within the collection.  In addition to field notes, manuscripts, and published works, the collection also includes a significant number of educational materials prepared during the 1970s.

Language Information

Aleut, preferably known as Unangam Tunuu among native speakers, is the sole representative in the Aleut branch of the Eskimo-Aleut language family.  In Alaska, it is spoken on the Alaskan Peninsula west of Stepovak Bay; along the Aleutian Islands; and on the Pribilof Islands.  There is also a significant population of speakers in Anchorage.  It is also spoken on the Commander Islands and in Kamchatka in the Russian Far East.  It has been relatively well documented by both Russian and American linguists, including Veniaminov, Jochelson, Bergsland, and others.  An orthography based on Cyrillic was created by Veniaminov in the early 1800s, giving rise to a solid literary tradition among speakers.  A Roman-based orthography was developed in the 1970s, largely replacing the Cyrillic, and there have been active and continuing efforts to develop educational materials in the language since this time.


Scope and Content Note

The scope of the Aleut language collection is quite broad in that it strives to include all material written or published in or about the Aleut Language.  Dr. Michael Krauss made an effort to collect all things Aleut, and has developed a nearly comprehensive collection.

The earliest records in the collection, comprising about 25 folders, pertain to the discovery of the Aleutian Islands by the Russians from the mid-18th century and to subsequent expeditions and the colonization and trade activities of that period, to the mid-19th century.  Many folders of this part of the collection include copied extracts of various publications of expedition accounts; the extracts pertain specifically to mention of the Aleut language, including wordlists, place or personal names, and so forth. Notable language information comes from Peter Simon Pallas, the publications of Martin Sauer on the Billings Expedition, and many others.

With the arrival of Ivan Veniaminov in the early 1820s, Aleut documentation increased dramatically; Veniaminov developed an orthography, a grammatical sketch, numerous translations of Russian Orthodox religious texts in addition to his own writings (including especially the Pathway to the Kingdom of Heaven, in the Aleut language, 1840).  The collection includes some 15 items, in more than 20 folders, of copies, or, in some cases, of original publications, of Veniaminov’s work. 

There are few items (perhaps 12 folders) between the 1840s and the 1890s, reflecting the departure of Veniaminov and the transition from Russian to American control of the Aleutian Islands and consequent departure of Russian infrastructure.  These items pertain to wordlists or religious texts. 

The next significant influx of work on Aleut dates from the early 1900s, with the ethnographic work of Jochelson.  Jochelson’s papers are the most extensive Aleut documentation up until Bergsland’s work of the second half of the 20th century.  The Aleut collection includes copies of his field notes (originals held in the New York Public Library Manuscript Collection), photographs, inventories of his notes, recordings, transcriptions of traditional texts, publications, etc. (originals held in various Russian state archives), and copies of his various publications.  Many of the ca. 25 items also contain Krauss’ notes on the acquisition of these copies, the significance of the items, and the linguistic information contained therein.

The mid-20th century is marked by prolific research and documentation on various aspects of the Aleut language, with important work by ethnographers, priests, linguists, and educators.  The Aleut collection comprises about 60 items from this period, including Elizaveta Porfir’evna Orlova’s educational work on Bering Island Aleut, Jay Ellis Ransom’s ethnographies and Aleut texts, Takeshi Hattori’s notes on the phonology and comparative lexicon of Aleut and Eskimo, and Gordon H. Marsh’s linguistic studies of Aleut.  Many of these, in particular Marsh’s papers, are original manuscripts.

By far the largest number of items by a single author in the Aleut collection are those authored by Knut Bergsland.  There are over 50 items by Bergsland alone, including his earliest fieldwork in the 1950s; various publications through 1997; work on the development of a Roman alphabet-based orthography for Aleut and of bilingual school materials in the 1970s; his collaborative work with Moses Dirks from the 1970s to the 1990s, including especially text collection, transcription, and translation, as well as literacy materials; and his ongoing correspondence with Krauss.  Many of these items are copies, the originals of which are found in the Bergsland Collection; however, these items are often annotated and may contain important notes.

Another increase in documentation efforts for the Aleut language stems from the 1970s and continues to the present.  Materials from this period, more than 200 items, include Krauss’s notes on the Jochelson cylinder recordings and comparisons of Aleut with other languages; the works of Vakhtin, Golovko, and Liapunova on the Russian Aleut dialects; Taff’s work on Aleut phonetics, phonology, and intonation, as well as school materials; Dirks’s transcriptions and translations of Aleut narratives, school materials, and phrases; Philemonof’s modern Aleut translations of Veniaminov’s religious works; journals of Aleut speakers; Mensoff’s school materials; Black’s ethnographies and histories; Minoru’s fieldnotes on ethnography and linguistics; and many others.  Most recently, contributions have come from the Association of Unangan/Unangas Educators and from the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association. 

Extent: 56  manuscript boxes, 3 3x5 card file boxes, 2 oversize boxes, and 2 feet of books, covering 18 linear feet.

Languages: Collection languages are primarily Aleut, English, and Russian, with some materials in German, French, Spanish, Japanese, and other languages. Some documents offers Aleut words in comparison to other Eskimo languages in Alaska and Siberia.


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