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Alaskan Russian Through the Prism of the Ninilchik Russian Dictionary Project: “Archaeological” Approach to Language Documentation

Bergelson M., Kibrik A. A.
The paper describes the ongoing research project on Ninilchik Russian as a unique variety of the Russian language. We believe it is a remnant of Alaskan Russian – a language that emerged at the end of the 18th century as a result of Russian colonial presence in Alaska and served as a means of communication in Russian America until the end of the Russian period in 1867. By that time Alaskan Russian became the native language for the people of mixed Russian/Native origin residing in various parts of Alaska. Ninilchik was one such place and, due to many factors combined, became a major location where this linguistic variety kept developing and serving as a means of communication, creating and maintaining cultural identity, and holding together the community of brave, persistent, and self-sustained people. Thanks to the people of Ninilchik, Alaskan Russian is still alive in the 21st century. The paper deals with two aspects of this multifaceted linguistic phenomenon. One is a theoretical problem of the “archaeological approach” to the language data which reflects a rather short but diverse history of Alaskan Russian and involves contact studies. Another is the Ninilchik Russian Dictionary project that allows to record both items and concepts, s well as the sociocultural narratives together making up the special story of the linguistic and cultural community