UAF to offer two new Athabascan language courses this fall

Faculty David Engles headshot
Photo provided by David Engles
David Engles will teach Lower Tanana-Benhti Dene/Athabascan.

The Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks will offer two new Native language courses for the fall 2024 semester.

The center will offer Lower Tanana-Benhti Dene/Athabascan, which has not been taught at UAF in more than 20 years. The beginning-level class will allow students to explore one of the Athabascan languages spoken in Alaska. Instructor David Engles of Minto learned the language from his elders and remembers speaking and listening to it daily as a child.

The second language, Upper Tanana Dene/Athabascan, will be offered via two courses this fall. The language was offered for the first time in 20 years with an introductory course in the spring 2024 semester. A new fall course will add the next level of language instruction and is designed for students who complete the introductory course. Bruce Ervin, assistant professor of language and culture, will teach the class. Ervin is originally from Northway, where he learned the language from his elders. He has taught at UAF since 2022 and incorporates traditional crafts and visuals into his teaching.

Headshot of Bruce Ervin
Photo provided by Bruce Ervin
Bruce Ervin will teach Upper Tanana Dene/Athabascan.

ANLC was established by state legislation in 1972 as a center for research and documentation of Alaska’s Native languages. The center is dedicated to motivating and creating new language learners, educators and lifelong speakers, and strives to raise public awareness of the gravity of language loss worldwide, particularly in the North.

The new courses represent two of the 11 Athabascan languages spoken in Alaska. Of the state's 20 Native languages, only one — Yup'ik in southwestern Alaska — is spoken by children as the first language in the home.

ANLC recruits instructors from many different backgrounds and communities across Alaska. Many learned the language from their elders or are themselves second-language learners, all with a passion for teaching language.

"Our languages are still alive, and our languages are learnable," said Sam Alexander, ANLC department chair. "Come to the ANLC. We will help you on that journey, and you will be successful."

ANLC is part of UAF’s College of Community and Rural Development. For more information and help with registration, visit the ANLC website or call 907-474-7874.