Alutiiq

Elder Kathryn Chichenoff lighting an oil lamp at Dig Afognak Camp with Fayd Johnson.

KODIAK — Learning another language, especially one that includes unfamiliar sounds, can be very intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be, particularly if you break the task down into bite-sized pieces and practice speaking aloud to reduce performance anxiety, as well as build body memory. 

This issue of the Erinarpet Column is dedicated to sharing some great first Alutiiq words to practice, which will instantly help you along your path as a developing Alutiiq speaker. You can find audio clips for all the Alutiiq words repeated in this article’s footnote.

While most people will ask for phonetic pronunciations, the reality is that if you learn the sounds for the 26 letters in the Alutiiq alphabet you will see that Alutiiq is already phonetic. In fact, you don’t find 12 Alutiiq letter sounds in English. Because of this, phonetic guides are usually misleading. However, a good rule of thumb is that most (not all) Alutiiq words place the emphasis on their second syllable. The footnoted list does show the breakdown of the words into syllable and where the stress is located within each word. 

As a further help, the words featured here are among the easiest words for English speakers to say in Alutiiq. In fact, only two of the uniquely Alutiiq letters appear in this word list: c (ch sound in English), and g. Alutiiq g is pretty close to English h, only a little further back in your throat, and not as far back as the guttural Alutiiq r letter. 

Elder Kathryn Chichenoff lighting an oil lamp at Dig Afognak Camp with Fayd Johnson.  

Elder Kathryn Chichenoff lighting an oil lamp at Dig Afognak Camp with Fayd Johnson.  

Once you’ve got these two words, it’s hard to only learn Quyanaa without wanting to also say Quyanaituq (You’re welcome. Literally: “It’s not thankworthy”). These paired phrases become endlessly valuable, particularly for those who live the Alutiiq value of Sharing. 

Next on the list is the paired duo Aa’a (Yes) and Qang’a (No). Regardless of what language someone is speaking to you, if you just swap out these two words with a nod or a shake of the head, they will probably understand you—even if they have never heard of the Alutiiq language. I test this out regularly when I travel so as to keep a little bit of home with me wherever I go. And when I’m home on Kodiak, it helps me feel more grounded in this place to respond to all yes/no questions even in English with the echoes of this land. 

Now if you want to just stop at knowing five words in Alutiiq that’s your choice. But the next five on my list are kind of fun to add to the mix. 

Being able to talk about “when” things will happen is pretty helpful in life. And just as we say in English, the Alutiiq word Ataku (Later) is also used as a salutation or slang way of saying “goodbye.” For those of us who like to live more in the moment Nutaan (Now) is a great word to get your point across with emphasis. It’s important to note that t in Alutiiq in the middle of a word is said more like a soft d in English. 

Being able to motivate your friends and family “to get a move on it” is the next paired duo of common first Alutiiq words. 

Kita (Let’s go) and Tai-gut (Come here) are often said together, particularly to our loved ones who may straggle a bit. It always tickles me to hear my husband shout these phrases out to our kids as we attempt to mobilize. 

And last but not least is the first step toward being able to introduce yourself in Alutiiq. Gui (I am...), also (Me), is the first pronoun that everyone should learn. 

With these top 10 words under your belt, you can honestly call yourself a Novice Alutiiq speaker. 

 

Top 10 Alutiiq Words

Ca-MA-‘i - Hi

Qu-YA-naa - Thank you

Qu-ya-NAI-tuq - You’re welcome

AA’a - Yes

Qa-NG’a - No

A-TA-ku - Later

Nu-TAAN - Now

Ki-TA - Let’s go

Tai-GUT - Come here

GUI - Me or I am... 

 

Listen to audio clips of these and others beginning Alutiiq words on the First Words page at www.alutiiqlanguage.org/html/first-words.php.  As an additional learning tool, this site also includes links to American Sign Language for most of these words. Using sign language with a new word in any language can help better integrate the new word into your mind and body, as well as teach you two languages at once!

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