In 1997 Russian linguist Mira Bergelson was in Alaska studying an Alaskan native dialect, when she received an email from a group of Native Alaskans who were trying to preserve their language. When she and her husband visited the group, in the village of Ninilchik, they discovered that the language spoken there wasn’t an undiscovered language; it was Russian.
Fast forward to October 2012; and Bergelson, now a professor of linguistics at Moscow State University, and Andrey Kibrik, a researcher for the Institute of Linguistics at the Russian Academy of Sciences, have completed an expedition to Alaska. Their mission was to bring back video and audio recordings of this rare dialect which has survived for almost 100 years in isolation, and to verify the data collected in 1997 in order to complete a dictionary.
Alaska was formerly part of Russia, and was bought by the USA in 1867. When Alaska was sold off, ties between Russia and Ninilchik were severed. The people in the village had little, if any, contact with other native Russian speakers until the 1960s. Only 20 elderly residents of the village still speak the dialect, which incorporates words from the English, Inuit and Athabaskan languages and words which originate from a Siberian dialect. The Ninilchik dialect does not use the neutral gender, and feminine word endings are replaced by the masculine word endings in many words.
Bergelson and Kibrik’s dictionary is due to be completed next year. You can hear audio samples collected below.