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Decolonial Vitalities: Kodiak Alutiiq Language Revitalization as Cultural Reclamation


Although Indigenous communities and outside institutions have increasingly recognized the need to document and revitalize endangered languages (Hale et al. 1992; Krauss 1992; McCarty et al. 2006; Watahomigie 1998), revitalized languages themselves remain underdocumented and understudied. Purist discourses delegitimize revitalized languages as less valid than their predecessors, implying that authentic Indigeneity is consigned to the past rather than relevant in the present (Davis 2017; Hill 2002). To counter these misconceptions, I consider Kodiak Alutiiq language revitalization in the broader context of cultural reclamation in the face of colonialism. Drawing on participant observation, ethnographic interviews, and interactional analysis conducted between 2014 and 2020, I examine linguistic practices that are sometimes disparaged as inauthentic or impure, with a primary focus on translanguaging practices such as code-switching, calquing, and literal translation. I argue that these practices are not passive, involuntary responses to colonial influences, but agentive strategies for reasserting Alutiiq epistemologies in the contemporary world while continuing cultural traditions of humor and language play. I then draw on interview and survey data to examine Alutiiq language activists’ social and emotional experiences of speaking Alutiiq in specific contexts, showing how these situated experiences benefit community well-being, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, I illustrate how the Alutiiq language movement transmits environmental values and knowledges that are of key importance in light of the ongoing climate crisis. These results challenge purist discourses that devalue revitalized languages, offer insights into the use of translanguaging as a means of sustaining Indigenous language vitality, and demonstrate the relevance of Indigenous language revitalization to environmental and climate justice.

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