Friday, 04 March 2011 13:15

Siberian Yupik

A conversation with Daria Morgounova (Part 2)

Many interesting facts about the use of an indigenous language can be observed in Chukotka. The use of Siberian Yupik by the young generation was one of the areas that attracted Daria Morgounova’s attention. Primarily she got concerned with how and in which situations young people use their ancestral Yupik language.

Undoubtedly, when the young generation is becoming more interested in Siberian Yupik, it is a part of the process of revitalization of the language that has been going on since 1980’s. As Daria observed, the language is commonly used in daily conversations:

“When I visited people in their homes, for example, I realized that they started the conversation in Yupik, and then they switched to Russian.”

Regarding the young generation, she noticed an interesting phenomenon:

“They use the original Yupik words to tease each other or to make fun of each other. They, actually, use Yupik words to tease older people, their parents, for example. Sometimes, they only use the Yupik stress or tone, in order to imitate the way in which older people used to speak. In this way, they distance themselves from the old generation, and mark the identity of their own generation. Many people around the age of 30 consider themselves as Yupik speakers, but actually their use of the language is limited to singular identity markers.”

Yet, at the same time, despite of their minimal conversation skills in Yupik, they still wish to emphasize their relationship with the traditional Yupik culture.

Also, among the Yupik population in Chukotka, a phenomenon called intergenerational transmission - a striking example of how people try to maintain and revitalize their language - can be observed: “We can talk about intergenerational transmission, when grandparents, who themselves never taught their children to speak Yupik, begin teaching Yupik to their grandchildren, and the grandchildren then, in their turn, begin teaching their own parents.”

Daily language use and frequent conversation in Siberian Yupik are essential to the revitalization process. This is all the more so, because Yupik language school classes are very few nowadays. In 2005, the Russian government adopted a resolution making English compulsory foreign language teaching in the education system. As a result, the number of Siberian Yupik classes had to be drastically reduced.

Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat
Fram Centre, Postboks 6606 Langnes, NO-9296 Tromsø, Norway