Guide to the Knut Bergsland Special Collection


The Bergsland collection housed in the Alaska Native Language Archive represents Knut Bergsland’s work on the Eskimo-Aleut languages, and can roughly be subdivided into three series:  his materials pertaining to Greenlandic; his materials pertaining to comparative Eskimo-Aleut, and his materials pertaining to Aleut.  The collection is still only partially processed, and only the Aleut and part of the Greenlandic series have been cataloged.  The materials represents Knut Bergsland’s work from the late 1940s to 1997 on Greenlandic (and to a small extent Alaskan Inupiaq), Eskimo-Aleut, Aleut and includes his own field notes, research notes, publications, and correspondence, as well as a large part of his library as it relates to these languages; many of the published works contain annotations by Bergsland.  The earliest materials date from the 1700s, and there are a number of rare books from the 18th and 19th centuries, although the bulk of the collection represents original work by Bergsland from the 1940s to 1997.

Within the Aleut series especially, there is extensive documentation of the close professional relationship between Bergsland and Michael E. Krauss of the Alaska Native Language Center, as shown by the large numbers of materials photocopied by Krauss from his own collection activities, sent to Bergsland, and consequently found in the Bergsland Collection.  Many of these are copies of original material held by other repositories, and certain reproduction and use restriction apply.

Collection Creator

Knut Bergsland (1914-1998) was a Norwegian descriptive linguist and professor of Finno-Ugric languages at the University of Oslo from 1947 until his retirement in 1980.  He started his career with historical studies of the Sami language, and his extensive collection of work on Sami is held elsewhere.  Already in the late 1940s, he began research on Greenlandic; his grammatical sketch of Greenlandic, although never published, is nevertheless still widely cited by scholars of Greenlandic today.  From 1950, he began work on Aleut which would span almost four decades and result in the most authoritative materials on the language available today, including a dictionary noted for its historical and dialectal information, a grammar, a book of traditional Aleut names, and a book of traditional narratives co-edited with Moses Dirks.  Bergsland conducted fieldwork on Atkan Aleut throughout the 1950s, partly in response to the relative lack of documentation on Atkan as compared to Eastern Aleut at the time.  Atkan remained the dialect of Aleut with which Bergsland had the deepest familiarity; he formed a close relationship with Moses Dirks of Atka, and together they produced some important Atkan educational materials for the bilingual education program of the 1970s.  Bergsland was instrumental in developing the Roman orthography and alphabet now standard for Aleut publications. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw another period of extensive fieldwork, during which Bergsland and Dirks recorded elderly speakers along the Aleutian Chain and transcribed and translated the results.  Bergsland was noted for his ability to work with enormous amounts of data, and his meticulous attention to detail. Throughout his career, he continued to work on both Eskimo and Aleut, resulting in a number of articles on comparative studies of Eskimo-Aleut phonology, lexicon, morphology, and syntax.  His work is enormously respected by both linguists and members of the native communities with whom he worked, and he remains one of the most influential scholars of Eskimo-Aleut today.

Scope and Content Note

The Bergsland collection contains the bulk of Bergsland’s materials on Aleut, Comparative Eskimo-Aleut, and Greenlandic; it does not contain his materials on Sami.  The materials are roughly divided into these three series, with the majority pertaining to his research on Aleut; these series are described separately. 

The Aleut series contains approximately 300 items dating between the late 18th century and 1997.  There are 43 manuscript boxes, 2 feet of books, 26 3x5 card file boxes, and 5 oversize boxes, or about 20 linear feet of materials.  Included in the series is Bergsland’s personal reference library of Aleut materials, including original rare books as well as copies of books and manuscripts from other collections, and reprints.  Many contain annotations by Bergsland, many of which pertain to his work on the dictionary, grammar, or place and personal names, and some of which are significant both in content and extent.  There is also a large number of pre-publication drafts of articles, manuscripts, and dissertations, sent to Bergsland for review or as courtesy copies by colleagues and students; some of these are annotated as well.  These materials have not been triaged during processing as yet.

Another significant source of reference materials within Bergsland’s Aleut series is the large number of materials on Aleut collected from various repositories in Russia and America by Krauss and sent to Bergsland.  As such, many of these materials are found in more complete form within the Aleut Collection of the Alaska Native Language Center Archive.  Both Collections also contain the correspondence between Krauss and Bergsland concerning these materials.

Perhaps most significantly, the Aleut series contains Bergsland’s field notes, research materials, drafts, and publications related to his work on the Aleut Dictionary, the Aleut Grammar, the Aleut Personal Names, the Aleut Tales and Narratives, as well as his collaborative work with members of the Aleut community to produce educational materials.  Most of these subject areas involve materials worked on and reworked over a period of decades for multiple projects.  For example, analysis of field notes dating from the 1950s which may originally have been used for morphological analysis may also show notations from the 1960s and 1970s for Bergsland’s comparative work. 

Many of the field notes are related to corresponding field recordings, which are held in the Alaska Native Language Center Audio Collection.  These notes include notebooks from language elicitations sessions, as well as post-session work involving transcription and translation.  Many of the transcriptions and translations from the 1970s were provided by Moses Dirks.  These transcriptions include a large number of both traditional and ethnographic texts; although some have served as the basis of publications, most are unpublished.

The Greenlandic series contains approximately 100 items, dating from the early 18th century to 1997, or about 10 linear feet.  The majority of the items are from Bergsland’s personal reference library of Greenlandic materials, including original books, some of which are rare, and reprints.  Many contain annotations by Bergsland, with comments in relation to his work on Greenlandic and comparative Eskimo-Aleut.  Most of these are dictionaries (e.g. Greenlandic-Danish; Greenlandic-German; Greenlandic-English), grammars, and academic articles on Greenlandic linguistics.  There are some Greenlandic language learning materials, none of which were developed by Bergsland, and comparatively few texts, most of which are published collections of traditional texts.  More importantly, the series includes some research notes, drafts, manuscripts, and conference and lecture materials pertaining to his studies of  Greenlandic.  Also included are manuscripts by his colleagues, e.g. Jørgen Rischel. 

Finally, there are about 8 linear feet of materials on Comparative Eskimo-Aleut, as yet unprocessed.  In general, they contain the same range of materials as the previous two series, and pertain in particular to his work on comparative phonology, lexicon, morphology, and to a lesser extent syntax of the Eskimo and Aleut languages.  There is some correspondence regarding the Comparative Eskimo Dictionary by Fortescue, Jacobson, and Kaplan.


Extent:  43 manuscript boxes, 26 3x5 card files, 12 ft of books, 8 feet of unprocessed manuscripts, covering 38 linear feet.

Languages: Collection languages are primarily Aleut, Greenlandic, English, Danish, and Russian, although some materials are in Norwegian, French, German, and other languages.