Guide to the Dena'ina Language Collection


All materials in the Dena’ina collection are either written in or about the Dena’ina language.  The earliest documents date from the late 1700s and early 1800s, and contain wordlists, dictionaries, and expedition or ethnographic reports; however most of the collection dates from the mid to late 19th century.   The bulk of the later materials consists of fieldnotes, representing research on vocabulary, grammar, placenames, and traditional, and ethnographic texts.  Originals and copies of fieldnotes by James Kari, the primary researcher on Dena’ina since 1972, form an important and large part of the collection.  Educational materials are also well represented, and the collection includes published materials pertaining to the ethnography of the Dena’ina.  Photocopied material occasionally represents original material held by other repositories and certain reproduction and use restriction apply.

Language Information

Dena’ina (earlier known as Tanaina) is the Athabascan language of the Cook Inlet area with four dialects:  The Upper Inlet, including the villages of Eklutna, Knik, Montana Creek, Susitna, and Tyonek; the Outer Inlet, including Kenai, Kustatan, and Seldovia (with no more speakers in the latter); Iliamna, including Pedro Bay, Old Iliamna, and Lake Iliamna; and inland areas, including Nondalton, Lime Village, and Stony River.  Of the total population of about 900 people, about 75 speak the language.  A practical orthography was developed in 1972, and since then, a considerable literary and educational literature has developed.  Much of the recent linguistic documentation has been the work of James Kari. 


Scope and Content Note

The scope of the Dena’ina language collection is quite broad in that it strives to include all material written or published in or about the Dena’ina Language.  Dr. Michael Krauss made an effort to collect all things Dena’ina, and has developed a nearly comprehensive collection, which has been greatly supplemented in recent years through donations by Kari.

Generally, the collection contains materials relating to linguistic fieldwork, academic research, and educational materials for schoolchildren.  By far the largest part of the collection relates to the fieldnotes of various reseachers, especially from the 1960s to the present.

The earliest records (ca. date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries and include extracts of expedition reports of English, Russian, and Spanish explorers with Dena’ina wordlists; these include relevant sections of reports of the expeditions of Cook and Lisiansky, among others.  There are a significant number of items from the mid to late 19th century on the lexicon, phonology, and comparative study of Dena’ina in relation to other Athabascan languages, including some works by Leopold Radloff, Stephan Wowodsky, and numerous others. Most of these early items (ca. 25 items) are photocopied from holdings in other repositories, and many consist of just the relevant pages of larger publications.

Lexical studies and ethnographic studies continue to dominate through the 1960s, although from the 1950s on, many of the holdings are original manuscripts and typescripts, and there is a significant increase in the range of linguistic documentation, including the first documentation of various dialects (e.g. Gordon Marsh’s collection of Inland dialect vocabulary) and studies of phonology and phonetics (e.g. Michael Krauss).  A number of holdings are the result of the work of people from the Summer of Institute of Linguistics (SIL), such as David Shinen. 

A majority of the collection (ca. 150 items) consists of the fieldnotes and publications pertaining to linguistic documentation from the 1970s to the present; important contributors include especially Joan Tenenbaum, James Kari, and Peter Kalifornsky, among others.  Joan Tenenbaum contributed fairly extensive materials on lexical and grammatical studies, traditional texts, and a dictionary from 1973 to 1977 (ca.11 items).  James Kari has been the primary researcher on Dena’ina since 1972. Though many of the fieldnotes are originals, some are photocopies of originals still in use by Kari.  The materials include research and analyses of traditional and ethnographic texts (including songs), grammar (including verb and noun stem classifications, notes on aspect, and more), semantically-based wordlists, place names, comparisons with other Athabascan languages, and language contact.  In addition, Kari’s contributions include a large subset of educational materials, including especially papers and notes pertaining to literacy workshops, primers for children, and language learning materials.  Much of his work on literacy occurred in the 1970s.  Two other authors important to the Dena’ina collection are Peter Kalifornsky (ca. 30 items) and Shem Pete (4 items), native speakers with whom Kari worked closely over several decades.  Kalifornsky’s materials include stories, songs, religious materials, correspondence, and work on literacy and language learning materials; Pete’s materials include especially traditional and ethnographic stories.  Finally, both Kari and Priscilla Russell Kari (8 items) have contributed ethnographic studies, with Dena’ina terms for plants, animals, places, etc.

Educational materials (ca. 34 items, excluding Kari’s work) form another significant part of the Dena’ina collection.  Many native speakers took part in the development of language learning materials, often published through the National Bilingual Materials Development Center in Anchorage; one of the more prolific authors was Albert Wassilie.  Although the vast majority of the work was conducted in the 1970s, there have been recent efforts to produce new language learning materials, and some items date from 2003 and 2004 (3 items).

Extent: 24 manuscript boxes and 0.5 ft. books, covering 8 linear feet.

Languages: Collection languages are primarily Dena’ina and English; a number of early documents are in Russian, German, or French; one document is in Spanish. Some documents offers Dena’ina words in comparison to other Athabaskan languages in Alaska.