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Dobrieva, Elizaveta A., Evgeniy V. Golovko, Steven A. Jacobson and Michael E. Krauss (compilers), 2004 Naukan Yupik Eskimo Dictionary, edited by Steven A. Jacobson, Fairbanks, Alaska Native Language Center, 421 pages.

  • Louis-Jacques Dorais

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This is the English version of the dictionary of the Naukan Yupik language, also published by the Alaska Native Language Center in a Russian edition. Naukan is an Eskaleut language formerly spoken in the village of the same name at East Cape (Nuvuqaq), the easternmost tip of Russian Chukotka, facing Bering Strait. In 1958, Naukan was closed by the Soviet authorities—at the same time the government of Newfoundland terminated some Labrador Inuit communities—and its residents dispersed throughout the area. Nowadays, due to schooling in Russian, only about 60 middle aged and elderly individuals, out of a total population of about 450 Nuvuqaqmiit, are still fluent in the language. Linguistically speaking, Naukan Yupik is interesting in that it stands midway between Central Alaskan Yup’ik, on the one hand, and Central Siberian Yupik on the other. It may thus be considered a living testimony to Beringia, that land and sea area at the geographical, natural and anthropological crossroads between North America and Asia.

The dictionary opens on a general introduction by Michael E. Krauss, on the geographical situation of the language, its history, its lexicography, and the history of the present dictionary. This is followed by a section—authored by Steven A. Jacobson, who edited the volume—on the organization and format of the book, and by an exhaustive bibliography of lexicographic, linguistic and anthropological works on the Naukan language and its speakers.

The dictionary itself was compiled by a Russian-American team, on the basis of already existing (collected in part by Nina Emel’yanova) and new materials. Team members included the linguists Steven A. Jacobson, Michael E. Krauss, both of them from the Alaska Native Language Center, and Evgeniy V. Golovko (from Saint-Petersburg, Russia), as well as Elizaveta A. Dobrieva, a native speaker of Naukan. Among other accomplishments, they devised a Latin (Roman) orthography for the language—inspired by the Central Siberian Yupik standard used on Saint Lawrence Island, Alaska—and they refined the Cyrillic spelling originally devised by the Russian linguist Georgiy A. Menovshchikov.

The dictionary is divided into four sections. The longest one, by far, includes over 5500 Naukan bases listed in alphabetical order. Each entry in the Latin orthography is followed by its transcription in the phonetic alphabet and in the Cyrillic script, its English translation and, as the case may be, some ethnographic or linguistic remarks, the entry’s plural form, an analysis of its morphology, and/or its Proto-Eskimo or Proto-Yupik form.

Shorter sections list “Highly Questionable Words” and “Unverified Words from Old Sources,” i.e. lexemes found in various written sources, but whose form and/or meaning are not readily recognizable to contemporary speakers. A longer section includes some 280 postbases, presented in a format similar to that of the bases, plus some examples of their usage. The book ends on an English-Naukan index, and on a remarkable section on place names, presented and analysed (with etymological, geographical and anthropological commentaries, as well as maps) by Michael E. Krauss.

This book is the most complete source in existence on Naukan Yupik lexicography, even if its compilers consider it as preliminary. It constitutes a unique undertaking, and its authors should be congratulated for their achievement. It is worth noticing that they had it translated into Russian—under the same format as the English edition, except that Cyrillic transcriptions come first—so that it can be used by native speakers and by those who wish to relearn their ancestral language. The cover picture, a group of Naukan children photographed in the 1920s, contributes bringing hope and optimism to users of a language that might otherwise be considered as bound to disappear.