Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Unangan (Aleut) Kayak Terminology

Unangan kayak terminology has been set down in an article written by Knut Bergsland, Norwegian linguist, now dead, in Contributions to Kayak Studies, Eugene Arima, editor. I think that's the most commas I've ever put in a sentence.
I've been wanting to do an illustrated version of that article for some time, but what has discouraged me is the messy nature of the information in Bergsland's article.  The information is messy because there was never just one official way of naming kayak parts in the Aleutians.  For one thing, Unangam Tunuu, the Aleut language had multiple dialects, at one time, probably as many dialects as there were tribal groups, something like nine, possibly more.  Along came the Russians, consolidated settlements and moved people around and a number of dialects disappeared.  The documented dialects remaining were the Eastern Aleut, the Atkan and the Attuan dialects. Then during WWII, the Japanese invaded Attu and moved the Aleut community there to Japan while the US moved the remaining Aleut population to the Alaskan mainland.  After WWII, Aleuts were repatriated, Attuans moved to Atka and so the only two dialects that were still alive were the Atkan and the Eastern Aleut. 
So when Bergsland collected his list of kayak terminology, he had some historical sources available that documented Attuan terms and speakers of both the Atkan and Eastern Aleut dialects. Not surprisingly, documented Attuan terms are fewer in number than for the other two remaining dialects at the time that Bergsland did his compilation. 
And terminology varied over time so that some kayak part may have been called one thing in the 19th century and then something else in the 20th.  Keeping all of this straight is not an easy thing. 
On top of that, we have to deal with Bergsland's dense and sometimes cryptic writing style.  I give one example here.
"On top of the taamx^aax^, on the right side in front of the hatch, there was a hook for holding the paddle when not used, made of wood or baleen, or sometimes ivory (Atka 1952), possibly in the shape of a sea otter (Jochelson 1952:131), called in western EA (1909, 1950) x^aach(a)g^iilux^, in AA (1840, 1952) haachachag^iilux^, derived with the suffixes -g^i- + -alug^- 'place for having -' from the above-mentioned term for paddle, EA (1778-) x^aasi-x, AA Au hassi-x."  inhale.  and so on he goes.  So you rub your eyes, go back to the start of the paragraph, try to match up the English with the Aleut term the two of which are invariably separated by a string of parenthetical phrases and hope you don't miss the period that lets you know that you have finally arrived at the end of the sentence.  By the way, the AA, Au and EA sprinkeled liberally around the sentence are abbreviations for the dialects respectively, Atkan Aleut, Attuan Aleut and Eastern Aleut. 
You get the idea.  I thought it might be nice to have a version of this that puts the Aleut term right with a picture of what it is referring to. 
I might put the pictures and words in this blog if I can make that work, the problem being that the blog software controls the size of the pictures, (small) and the layout of the text. Stay tuned.

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