Overview of the Eyak Language

Eyak is not an Athabaskan language, but a coordinate sub-branch to Athabaskan as a whole in the Athabaskan-Eyak branch of the Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit language family. Eyak was spoken in the 19th century from Yakutat along the south central Alaska coast to Eyak at the Copper River delta, but by the 20th century only at Eyak. It is now represented by about 50 people but no surviving fluent speakers. With the passing of Marie Smith Jones (pictured above with linguist Michael Krauss) on January 21, 2008 Eyak became the first Alaska Native language to become extinct in recent history.

The name Eyak itself is not an Eyak word but instead derives from the Chugach Eskimo name (Igya'aq) of the Eyak village site near the mouth of Eyak River (Krauss 2006:199). The Chugach word Igya'aq is a general term referring to 'the outlet of a lake into a river.'

Comprehensive documentation of Eyak has been carried out since the 1960s by Michael Krauss, including his edition of traditional stories, historic accounts, and poetic compositions by Anna Nelson Harry.

In the early part of the 21st century there was a growing interest in Eyak langauge revitalization. More information on these efforts can be found at the Eyak Language Project .


Eyak Language Project.

Key Documents

History of Research

  • History of Eyak Language Documentation (Item EY961K2006)
    A comprehensive survey of all research and records of the Eyak language.


  • The Eyak Indians of the Copper River Delta, Alaska (Item EY933BD1938)
    The first and most thorough description of Eyak culture, based on 17 days of accidental field work conducted in 1930.
  • Eyak (from Handbook of North American Indians vol. 7) (Item EY933D1990)
    A more concise overview of Eyak culture.

Several key Eyak language documents are being retranscribed in digital format as part the NSF-funded project Completion of Eyak Grammar, Dictionary, Texts, PI Michael Krauss.


  • Eyak Grammar [draft] (Item EY961K2015)
    Since 2007 Michael Krauss has been compiling a comprehensive reference grammar of Eyak, greatly expanding on his 1965 article, Eyak: a Preliminary Sketch.


  • Eyak Dictionary (Item EY961K1970b)
    This massive 1970 dictionary is currently being converted to digital format. As of November 2011 approximately one third of the dictionary has been converted. PDF files can be downloaded as item EY961K2011.


Austerlitz Eyak Recordings, 1961

Austerlitz Eyak Recordings Robert Austerlitz (b. 1923, d. 1994) did field work in Situk and Cordova for approximately one month in 1961. At least eight recordings, made on 3 inch reels, survive from this time.



Krauss Eyak Recordings, 1963-1975



song and legends

Song and Legends: Alaska Native Oral Literature Project

Karen McPherson recorded Anna Nelson Harry in 1975 as part of the Alaska Native Language Oral Literature. Two recordings are available.


  • Parlez-vouz Eyak? [YouTube]
  • More than Words..., a film by Laura Bliss Spann

NSF Support for digitization, enhancement, and completion of Eyak language reference materials is provided by a grant from the US National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs, Arctic Social Sciences Division (#1003160, PI Michael Krauss).