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Central Alaskan Yup'ik language

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Title: Central Alaskan Yup'ik language  
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Language: English
Subject: List of steamboats on the Yukon River, Chevak Cup’ik language, Nunivak Cup'ig language, Languages of the United States, Alutiiq language
Collection: Agglutinative Languages, Indigenous Languages of Alaska, Yupik Languages
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Central Alaskan Yup'ik language

Central Alaskan Yup'ik
Native to United States
Region western and southwestern Alaska
Ethnicity Central Alaskan Yup'ik people
Native speakers
19,000  (2006-2010)[1]
  • Eskimo
    • Yupik
      • Central Alaskan Yup'ik
Yup’ik (Yukon-Kuskokwim)
Cup’ik (Chevak)
Cup’ig (Nunivak)
Latin, formerly the Yugtun syllabary
Language codes
ISO 639-3 esu
Glottolog cent2127[2]

Central Alaskan Yup'ik or just Yup'ik (also called Yupik, Central Yup'ik, or indigenously Yugtun) is one of the languages of Yupik family, in turn a member of the Eskimo–Aleut language group, spoken in western and southwestern Alaska. Both in ethnic population and in number of speakers, Central Alaskan Yup'ik is the largest of the languages spoken by Alaska Natives. As of 2010 it was also the second largest aboriginal language in the United States in terms of numbers of speakers.[3]

Central Alaskan Yup'ik lies geographically and linguistically between Alutiiq ~ Sugpiaq and Central Siberian Yupik. The use of the apostrophe in Central Alaskan Yup'ik, as opposed to Siberian Yupik, denotes a long p. The word Yup'ik represents not only the language but also the name for the people themselves (yuk, 'person,' and pik, 'real'.)

Of a total population of more than 23,000 people, more than 14,000 are speakers of the language.[4] Children still grow up speaking Yup'ik as their first language in 17 of 68 Yup'ik villages, those mainly located on the lower Kuskokwim River, on Nelson Island, and along the coast between the Kuskokwim River and Nelson Island.

The difference between Yup'ik and Iñupiaq is roughly the same as the difference between Spanish and French.[5] Yup'ik should not be confused with the related language Yupik.

The Yup'ik language, like all Eskimo languages, is a suffixing language made up of noun and verb bases to which one or more postbases and a final ending or enclitics are added to denote such features as number, case, person, and position. The Yup'ik category of number distinguishes singular, plural, and dual. Yup'ik does not have a category of gender and articles.


  • Writing and literature 1
  • Orthography 2
  • Phonology 3
    • Vowels 3.1
    • Consonants 3.2
  • Dialects 4
  • Yup'ik language education 5
  • Morphology 6
    • Syntax 6.1
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • External links 10

Writing and literature

A syllabary known as the Yugtun script was invented for the language by Uyaquq, a native speaker, in about 1900, although the language is now mostly written using the Latin script.[6] Early linguistic work in Central Yup'ik was done primarily by Russian Orthodox, then Jesuit and Moravian Church missionaries, leading to a modest tradition of literacy used in letter writing. In the 1960s, Irene Reed and others at the Alaska Native Language Center developed a modern writing system for the language. Their work led to the establishment of the state's first bilingual school programs in four Yup'ik villages in the early 1970s. Since then a wide variety of bilingual materials has been published, including Steven Jacobson's comprehensive dictionary of the language, his complete practical classroom grammar, and story collections and narratives by many others including a full novel by Anna Jacobson.


While several different systems have been used to write Yup'ik, the most widely used orthography today is that adopted by the Alaska Native Language Center and exemplified in Jacobson's (1984) dictionary.

bilabial alveolar lateral post-
velar uvular
nasal m /m/, ḿ /m̥/ n /n/, ń /n̥/ ng /ŋ/, ńg ̊/
plosive p /p/ t /t/ c /tʃ/ k /k/ q /q/
fricative vv /f/, v /v/ ss /s/, s /z/ ll /ɬ/, l /l/* y /j/* gg /x/, g /ɣ/
w /xʷ/, u͡g /ɣʷ/
rr /χ/, r /ʁ/

* l and y are not fricatives phonetically, but l behaves as one phonologically, while y is a fricative in other Eskimoan languages.

The three main vowels a i u, also occur long, aa ii uu. There is also a schwa spelled e.

Consonants may also occur long (geminate), but their occurrence is generally predictable by regular phonological rules. Where long consonants occur unpredictably they are indicated with an apostrophe following the consonant. For example, the p in the words Yupiaq and Yup'ik is long. In Yupiaq length is predictable because the p follows a short vowel and precedes a long vowel. In Yup'ik the length is not predictable and so must be indicated with an apostrophe.



The three full vowels occur long and short, /a aː i iː u uː/. The schwa /ə/ does not. The vowel qualities /i(ː) u(ː)/ lower to [e(ː) o(ː)] before a uvular consonant such as /q/ or /ʁ/, or the back vowel /a(ː)/.


Labial Alveolar Post-al.
Velar Uvular
Nasal m n ŋ̊ ŋ
Stop p t k q
Affricate [ts]
j [w]

The voiceless labialized uvular fricative [χʷ] occurs only in some speech variants and doesn't contrast with its voiced counterpart /ʁʷ/. The voiceless alveolar affricate [ts] is an allophone of /tʃ/ before the schwa vowel. The voiced labiovelar approximant [w] is a realization of /v/ between vowels other than the schwa.

/l/ is not phonetically a fricative, but behaves as one phonologically. /j/ is pronounced /tʃ/ in the Hooper Bay-Chevak and Nunviak dialects. Fricatives (and /l/) devoice immediately before or after a plosive, while nasals devoice only immediately after a plosive or a voiceless fricative.[7]


The dialect that holds the largest majority within Yup’ik is General Central Yup’ik, which is spoken in Nelson Island, the Yukon, the Bristol Bay regions, and Kuskokwim.[8] There are four other dialects within Central Yup’ik: Norton Sound, Nunivak, Egegik, and Hooper Bay-Chevak.[8] Differences in pronunciation “(or accent)” and lexicon exist across these dialects and between them and General Central Yup’ik.[8] In fact, speakers may be reluctant to take on another dialect’s lexicon or spelling because they “often feel proud of their own dialects,” which has led certain Yup’ik groups to call themselves “Cup’ik” (Chevak) or “Yupiaq” (Kuskokwim).[8]

The main dialect is General Central Yup'ik, and the other four dialects are Norton Sound, Hooper Bay-Chevak, Nunivak, and extinct Egegik. In the Hooper Bay-Chevak and Nunivak dialects, the name for the language and the people is "Cup'ik" (pronounced Chup-pik). All four dialects of the Central Yup'ik language are mutually intelligible, with some phonological and vocabulary differences.[9]

The Yup'ik dialects, subdialects and their locations:[10]

  1. Norton Sound or Unaliq-Pastuliq dialect
  2. Unaliq subdialect by spoken Unalirmiut (= Atnegmiut, Kuuyuŋmiut, Eŋlutaleġmiut etc.) tribes: Elim (Neviarcaurluq), Golovin (Cingik), St. Michael (Taciq),
  3. Kotlik subdialect by spoken Pastulirmiut tribe: Kotlik (Qerrulliik)
  4. General Central Yup'ik dialect
  5. Mixed dialects
  6. Nelson Island & Stebbins subdialect: Chefornak (Cevv’arneq), Newtok (Niugtaq), Nightmute (Negtemiut), Stebbins (Tapraq), Toksook Bay (Nunakauyaq), Tununak (Tununeq)
  7. Nushagak River subdialect: Ekwok (Iquaq), Koliganek (Qalirneq), New Stuyahok (Cetuyaraq), Portage Creek
  8. Peripheral dialects
  9. Yukon or Lower Yukon subdialect: Alakanuk (Alarneq), Emmonak (Imangaq), Holy Cross (Ingirraller), Marshall or Fortuna Ledge (Masserculleq), Mountain Village (Asaacaryaraq),Nunam Iqua or Sheldon Point (Nunam Iqua), Pilot Station (Tuutalgaq), Pitkas Point (Negeqliim Painga), Russian Mission (Iqugmiut), St. Mary's (Negeqliq), Scammon Bay (Marayaarmiut)
  10. Upper or Middle Kuskokwim subdialect: Aniak (Anyaraq), Chuathbaluk (Curarpalek), Crooked Creek (Qipcarpak), McGrath, Sleetmute (Cellitemiut), Stony River
  11. Lake Iliamna subdialect: Egegik (Igyagiiq), Igiugig (Igyaraq), Iliamna (Illiamna), Kokhanok (Qarr’unaq), Levelock (Liivlek), Naknek (Nakniq), South Naknek (Qinuyang)
  12. Core dialects
  13. Lower Kuskokwim subdialect: Akiachak (Akiacuaq), Akiak (Akiaq), Atmautluak (Atmaulluaq), Bethel (Mamterilleq), Eek (Ekvicuaq), Goodnews Bay (Mamterat), Upper Kalskag (Qalqaq), Lower Kalskag (Qalqaq), Kipnuk (Qipnek), Kongiganak (Kangirnaq), Kwethluk (Kuiggluk), Kwigillingok (Kuigilnguq), Napakiak (Naparyarraq), Napaskiak (Napaskiaq), Nunapitchuk or Akolmiut (Nunapicuar), Oscarville (Kuiggayagaq), Platinum (Arviiq), Quinhagak (Kuinerraq), Tuluksak (Tuulkessaaq), Tuntutuliak (Tuntutuliaq)
  14. Bristol Bay subdialect: Aleknagik (Alaqnaqiq), Clark's Point (Saguyaq), Dillingham (Curyung), Ekuk, Manokotak (Manuquutaq), Togiak (Tuyuryaq), Twin Hills (Ingricuar)
  15. Egegik dialect (extinct): Egegik (Igyagiiq)
  16. Hooper Bay-Chevak dialect: The only significant difference between Hooper Bay and Chevak dialects is the pronunciation of the initial y- sound as c- (pronounced “ch”) in Chevak in some words. Yup'ik in Hooper Bay but Cup'ik in Chevak.
  17. Hooper Bay subdialect: Hooper Bay (Naparyaarmiut)
  18. Chevak subdialect: Chevak (Cev’aq),
  19. Nunivak Island dialect: Mekoryuk (Mikuryar). Nunivak Cup'ig is distinct and highly divergent from mainland Yup'ik dialects.
  20. The comparison of some words in the two subdialects of General Central Yup’ik (or Yugtun).[11]

    Yukon (Kuigpak) Kuskokwim (Kusquqvak) meaning
    elicar- elitnaur- to study (intrans.); to teach someone (trans.)
    elicaraq elitnauraq student
    elicari- elitnauri to teach (intrans.)
    elicarista elitnaurista teacher
    aiggaq unan hand
    ikusek cingun elbow
    ayuqe- kenir- to cook by boiling
    cella ella weather, outside, universe, awareness
    naniq kenurraq lamp, light
    uigtua- naspaa- to sample or taste, attempt, try

    Yup'ik language education

    Small changes have been made towards teaching Yup’ik to the native Alaskan Yup’iks. In 1972, the Alaska State Legislature passed legislation mandating that if “a [school is attended] by at least 15 pupils whose primary language is other than English, [then the school] shall have at least one teacher who is fluent in the native language”.[12] Then, during the mid-1970s, educational programs emerged in order to revive and sustain the Yup’ik language: MacLean notes that “In 1975, an Alaska State statute was enacted directing all school boards to ‘…provide a bilingual-bicultural education program for each school…which is attended by at least 8 pupils of limited English-speaking ability and whose primary language is other than English’”.[13] However, “the statute addressed all languages other than English, and thus expanded bilingualism equally to immigrant languages,” meaning that although the statute welcomed non-English languages into schools, its primary “aim” was to “promote English proficiency,” not to keep Yup’ik alive.[13]

    Later, during the 1987-8 school year, three organizations, including members of the Alaska Native community, “initiated a process to establish an Alaska Native Language Policy for schools in Alaska,” which “states that schools have a responsibility to teach and use as the medium of instruction the Alaska Native language of the local community to the extent desired by the parents of that community”.[13] This proposal for the Alaska Native Language Policy comes three years after Steven A. Jacobson’s “Central Yup'ik and the Schools: A Handbook for Teachers,” a guide for teachers which exemplifies differences and similarities between English and Yup’ik so that Yup’ik or English-speaking teachers might successfully engage English-speaking Eskimo Yup’ik students in a “bilingual-bicultural education” that teaches their native language.[14]

    The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers Bachelors degrees in Yup'ik language and culture and in Yup'ik Eskimo, as well as Associates Degrees in Native Language Education, with a concentration in Yup'ik, and in Yup'ik Language Proficiency.[15]


    A Yup’ik word carries as much information as an English sentence due its rich manner of suffixing; therefore, Yup’ik words are often quite long and highly agglutinative. A Yup’ik word may have up to four sections, where the first must be the stem, which carries the core meaning of the word, then “zero, one, or more postbases,” which “serve somewhat the same function as suffixes in English,” then an ending, which “shows grammatical relationships of case or mood, person and number,” and then, possibly, an enclitic (Reed 18). An enclitic follows at the end of the word with a hyphen or an equals sign and it usually “[indicates] the speaker’s attitude towards what he is saying such as questioning, hoping, reporting, etc.” [16]

    Suffixing additionally works in Yup’ik to show noun and verb alignment. Irene Reed states that “Yup’ik word endings are either intransitive or transitive,” and that “most verb bases can take either type of ending through some take only one type of ending and must first be modified by certain postbases before the other type of ending can be used on them” (49). In addition, Yup’ik uses ergative/absolutive alignment. For example, the sentence “Angyaq tak’uq” means “The boat is long” and shows how “the absolutive case can function as the subject of an intransitive verb” (Angyaq is the noun) (64). Comparatively, the sentence “Angyaq kiputaa,” or “He buys the boat,” shows the absolutive case in regards to a transitive verb, where the object is once again “Angyaq”.[17]


    This concept of suffixing is shown in Example 1:

    (1) Angya -liur -vig -pa -li -ciq =uq
    Boat -to:work:on -place -big -build -FUT =3sg
    “he will build a big place for working on boats.” [18]

    Another example of how Yup’ik includes additional morphemes in order to create a word is shown in Example 2:

    (2) Angya -li -ciq -sugnar -quq =llu
    Boat -make -FUT -PROB -3S =also
    “also, he probably will make a boat” [16]

    where “Angya” is the stem, “li,” “ciq,” and “sugnar” are postbases, “quq” is the ending, and “llu” is the enclitic.

    See also


    1. ^ SupplementaryTable1_ACSBR10-10, US census 
    2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Central Yupik". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
    3. ^ US Census Bureau. 2011. Native American Languages Spoken in the Home, 2006-2010
    4. ^ Yupiugukut
    5. ^ Jacobson 1984, p. 5
    6. ^ The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing SystemsEntry in
    7. ^ Jacobson 1995, pp. 7–8
    8. ^ a b c d Jacobson 1984, p. 6
    9. ^  
    10. ^ E. Irene Reed, Steven Jacobson, Lawrence Kaplan, and Jeff Leer (1985). Alaskan Eskimo Languages population, dialects, and distribution based on 1980 Census. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks 1985.
    11. ^ Yup’ik Eskimo Grammar, Irene Reed and all.(1977)
    12. ^ Krauss, Michael E. 1974. Alaska Native language legislation. International Journal of American Linguistics 40(2).150-52.
    13. ^ a b c MacLean 2004, p. 13
    14. ^ Jacobson 1984, p. 1
    15. ^ University of Alaska Fairbanks catalog
    16. ^ a b Reed et al. 1977, p. 18
    17. ^ Reed et al. 1977, p. 64
    18. ^ Jacobson 1984, p. 9


    • Jacobson, Steven A. (1984), Central Yup’ik and the Schools: A Handbook for Teachers 
    • Jacobson, Steven A. (1995), A Practical Grammar of the Central Alaskan Yup'ik Eskimo Language, Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center,  
    • MacLean, Edna Ahgeak (2004), Culture and Change for Iñupiat and Yupiks of Alaska 
    • Reed, Irene; Miyaoka, Osahito; Jacobson, Steven A.; Afcan, Paschal; Krauss, Michael (1977), Yup'ik Eskimo Grammar, University of Alaska 

    External links

    • Alaska Native Language Center: Central Alaskan Yup'ik
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