Yupik language

Akuzipik/St. Lawrence Island/Central Siberian Yupik

There are four mutually unintelligible languages on the Yupik branch of the Inuit-Yupik-Unangan language family: Sugt’stun/Alutiit’stun (Alutiiq/Sugpiaq/Pacific Gulf Yupik), spoken in south-central Alaska; Yugtun/Cugtun (Yup’ik/Central Alaskan Yup’ik), in western Alaska; Naukan, in Chukotka; and Akuzipik/Yupigestun (St. Lawrence Island Yupik/Central Siberian Yupik), which is further described below.

St. Lawrence Island Yupik, or Central Siberian Yupik, is an endangered language spoken by 800-900 people in the Bering Strait region. The language is also known as Yupik, Yupigestun, or Akuzipik; and in Russian-language literature, it is referred to as Masingkestun or Chaplinski Yupik. For simplicity’s sake, we will refer to it as ‘Yupik’.

Most Yupik speakers currently live on St. Lawrence Island, but there are also some speakers on the Russian Chukotka peninsula and on the Alaskan mainland. Most, if not all, Yupik speakers who live on St. Lawrence Island and in Alaska are English-Yupik bilinguals and/or English-dominant with different levels of proficiency in Yupik. Up until the 1980s, nearly all St. Lawrence Islanders spoke Yupik at home. Nowadays, however, most children and teenagers learn Yupik at school as a second language. Therefore, there has been some influence from English on Yupik. Likewise, the Chaplinski Yupik dialect, spoken in the Chukotka Peninsula, has been influenced by Russian.

Although there are lexical differences between the St. Lawrence Island and Chaplinski dialects, they are still very similar and mutually intelligible. Since most of our fieldwork takes place on St. Lawrence Island, more specifically in the village of Sivuqaq (Gambell), our research focuses on the dialect spoken there.

About the Yupik Language

Yupik is a polysynthetic language. There are noun and verb “bases” (roots) to which “post-bases” (affixes – almost entirely suffixal) attach. There is an extensive system of demonstratives, as well as many “particles” (mostly adverbial, but sometimes prepositional), more than 600 derivational suffixes (“post-bases”), and enclitics.

There is a great deal of morphophonological changes at morpheme boundaries: when derivational morphemes attach to a root or to another morpheme, there are often sound changes that are also reflected in the orthography of the words.

As for the phonology of the language, there are seven vowel phonemes, / ə a a: i i: u u: /, as well as other possible allophones that are currently being studied. As for consonant sounds, there are voiceless stops, voiced and voiceless continuants, and voiced and voiceless nasals. Click here to see a chart that lists all the Yupik consonants in Latin orthography, Cyrillic orthography, and corresponding IPA symbols. There are no tautosyllabic consonant clusters in Yupik; basic syllable structure is (C)V(C) in word-initial position and CV(C) elsewhere.

There are some phonological processes, such as voicing assimilation of consonants, that take place across syllable boundaries: when a voiceless and a voiced consonant are next to each other, they tend to assimilate in voicing (usually they both become voiceless).