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Tlingit language changing as new words coined for modern era

November 18, 2018

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Tlingit language is still changing, as new words are coined for the modern, technological age.

The Capital City Weekly reports that newly coined words need to be spread and catch on to be widely used.

Often, words are created out of necessity.

Hans Chester, an elementary teacher in Juneau, said he has come up with words for recess, reading and daily schedule. He said he also likes to translate pop songs into the Alaska Native language.

“Sometimes there aren’t words for the music I like to listen to,” he said.

Florence Marks Sheakley, a fluent Tlingit speaker who attended a recent language summit in Juneau, said that in coming up with a name, people often think of a description of what the object does.

One commonly used work for cellphone literally translates to pocket thing through which someone talks. A word for bicycle translates literally to the thing you kick yourself around on, said Lance Twitchell, an associate professor of Alaska Native Languages Arts and Sciences at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Physical descriptions also are sometimes used. The Tlingit language also includes sound-alike words and words borrowed from or influenced by other languages.

While there is no formal process for approving new words, there are efforts under way to develop one, Twitchell said.

Chester said he doesn’t like when new words are coined that don’t fit with the Tlingit world view.

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