Bill Poser sent me a link to Our Ninilchik Language, “an online dictionary of the old language of Ninilchik, Alaska”—said old language being Russian! From the Introduction by
Andrej Kibrik Wayne Leman [thanks, Peter!]:
In 1847 Gregorii Kvasnikoff, a Russian Orthodox Church missionary, brought his wife Mavra of Kodiak Island, half Alutiiq and half Russian, and their large family, to Ninilchik. They settled into the valley at the mouth of the what is now called the Ninilchik River and stayed. Not long after Kvasnikoffs arrived, Oskolkoff sons came with their mother and stepfather. Oskolkoff sons married Kvasnikoff daughters and all the old families of Ninilchik descend from these unions.
The Kvasnikoffs and Oskolkoffs brought the Russian language to Ninilchik. Russian continued to be spoken in the village long after Alaska was purchased by the U.S. from the Russians in 1867. There was a Russian school in the village which taught basic Russian literacy to the children and probably schooled them some in the Old Church Slavonic language used in the Russian Orthodox Church services in the village church…
This dictionary is an attempt to preserve some of the language of the people of Ninilchik. Our village language was mostly Russian, reflecting the vocabulary of Russian spoken by the Kvasnikoffs and Oskolkoffs in the late 1840s. It is Russian unaffected by the changes which have occurred in the Russian language (in its various dialects) in Russia through the tumultuous years of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Communist era, modern technological advances, and the fall of Soviet Communism. Our village language also included some words from southern Eskimo dialects as well as borrowings from Athabaskan dialects…
I grew up in the 1950’s hearing Russian spoken a great deal in Ninilchik. Villagers regularly spoke Russian to each other. My father spoke Russian to his mother and siblings. Some of my cousins spoke some Russian if they came from families where Russian was spoken in the home. I did not; my mother had come to Ninilchik from California. But I learned a number of Russian words and could understand some of what I heard of conversations.
Then, suddenly, in the mid 1950’s, Russian stopped being spoken in public. My father stopped speaking Russian to his siblings and his mother (until just before she died).
I have done my best to spell and record the words of our village…
What a remarkable find! Once again my hat is off to someone who took the time and trouble to record an obscure and “useless” form of language, this one of particular interest to me. I should add that the words are spelled phonetically: “So the word for ‘dog’ is written in this dictionary as sabaka, which is how it is pronounced in Ninichik as well as in Moscow.” Here‘s the A section of the dictionary, from which we learn that initial y- gets dropped (az’ík ЯЗЫК. n. tongue, language). I had no idea Russian Alaska had left this heritage behind. Thanks, Bill!
Update (March 2014): The links in the post are now dead, but for the moment the site is archived here.