Twitchell, X̲ʼunei Lance
X̲ʼunei Lance Twitchell is Associate Professor of Alaska Native Languages
Haa Dachx̱ánxʼi Sáani Kagéiyi Yís: Haa Yoo X̱ʼatángi Kei NaltseenThe Tlingit language has experienced drastic losses over the past two decades in terms of total number of speakers and places where the language is used. This steady decline in speakers was drastically accelerated as the last generation who grew up in a time when Tlingit was the primary language of homes and communities reach their sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. The youngest first language speakers are in their 60s, although most of them are in their eighties because intergenerational transmission severely declined in the second half of the 1900s, and has only recently returned with a few families who have committed to speaking with their children. Recent estimates have determined that the Tlingit language has about 80 birth speakers of various levels, and 50 second language learners that could be considered at the “intermediate” level or higher according to ACTFL scales. There are probably only 10 speakers remaining who could be considered fully fluent and capable of higher forms of speaking, and most of them are over 70 years old. This combines to create an unprecedented crisis for the Tlingit language, which will require massive shifts in cultural values, ways of living, institutional cultures, and educational practices if the language is going to survive the next 50 years and have more than a handful of speakers. Instead of merely surviving, or preserving, the goal of the Tlingit Language Continuity Movement1 is to have 3,000 speakers of the language by 2050. The current population of the Tlingit people is about 20,000 and of Tlingit territory is around 100,000. This means that 3,000 speakers would be 15% fluency among the Tlingit people and 3% within Tlingit territory, rising from 0.65% and 0.13% respectively. This dissertation documents some of the events that have led to massive language decline, and proposes a series of interconnected methods that would result in language revitalization. In particular, increasing adult fluency, creating safe acquisition environments, mending a people and their language, and following a 30-year action plan is the proposed method to revitalizing the Tlingit language. These chapters are based upon the following research methods: reviewing published Tlingit language materials and recorded Tlingit language, documenting Tlingit language speakers and their thoughts on language learning and use, and incorporating theories from sociolinguistics, language revitalization, and post-colonial decolonizing methodologies.