As a girl in the 1950s, I tried to talk Grandma into helping me write an Aleut dictionary so I could learn the language. Despite my persistence, she refused to discuss my request, having been punished as a child for speaking the language. In Unalaska, she and many of her generation shielded their children from such mistreatment by speaking only English with them. One day in a moment of unexplained weakness, Grandma sat down at her kitchen table when she saw me come in with my little tablet and pencil. “Okay,” she said, “I’ll help you. What do you want to know?” Stunned, I opened the tablet and stammered, “uh, apple.” Her eyes squinted up and she started to smile. Then, she laughed so hard she cried. When she stopped laughing she told me why we didn’t have a real Aleut word for apple. I was unaware of many things at that age. (A Russian loan for apple is yaavluka{ E or, brilliantly, the lesser-known crafted word, hlyangam qaayungin E (tree berries). Grandma and I talked about it. It was a touching moment and the time I began to realize that we were losing more than words by not holding on to our language. Shortly after that Grandma had the first of several heart attacks and we all moved away from Alaska. We never made my dictionary. Grandma (Alice Merculieff Hope) died young. It was nearly two decades later before my mother and I learned that we call ourselves Unangan. Grandma would have delighted in this book.

You may not read the Aleut Dictionary/ Unangam Tunudgusii, as I do, with the feeling that it honors the discussions Grandma and I could have had. Once you begin to use it, however, you will realize that it is a valuable and unprecedented resource. Ugutada, enjoy!



How to Use the Aleut Dictionary/Unangam Tunudgusii
By Barbara Carlson

In the 1800s Ivan Veniaminov worked with Unangam tunuu speakers, Ivan Pan’kov, chief of Tigalda, and Iakov Netsvetov, priest of At{a{ collaboratively to produce the first instances of Unangam tunuu written as literature. Unangam tunuu was an oral language, so it was written down in the orthography of Veniaminov, a Russian Orthodox priest later canonized as Saint Innocent. He was an exceptional scholar and dedicated journal keeper who helped preserve history and cultural information that would otherwise not have been recorded. Netsvetov wrote a dictionary in the Nii}u{ (Atkan) dialect. (Nii}u{ is the short form of the singular Nii}u}is.) Read more about these greatly significant contributions in the history and introductory sections of this text.

In 1994 the Alaska Native Language Center (ANLC) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks published Knut Bergsland’s eagerly anticipated Aleut Dictionary/Unangam Tunudgusii. Knut Bergsland of Oslo, Norway, developed the new standard orthography for Unangam tunuu after a vote in the early1970s to allow the people themselves to decide whether it was necessary to provide a version in the alphabet of this country. In the history and introductory sections of this book, Bergsland exegetically chronicled a detailed listing of the speakers of Unangam tunuu with careful descriptions of the fieldwork in which Native speakers participated.

To pronounce words in Unangam tunuu, the Native language of the people of the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, one must learn several sounds that are not produced in the English language. Use the Sound System for Unangam Tunuu in the Appendix for help. In Unangam tunuu there are two characters, { and }, that use a diacritical mark to distinguish them from x and g. The syntax or word order of the language is not the same as English. For information on that subject, one may refer to the definitive reference grammar of the language, Aleut Grammar/Unangam Tunuganaan Achixaasi{, by Knut Bergsland.

A treasury of untapped information, this text pulls together several centuries of recorded language information by diverse scribners and decades of exegetical work done by Dr. Bergsland and his partners in the region and at ANLC. Knut Bergsland was a perfectionist in the best sense of the word and users will learn a number of linguistic tools with which they might not have otherwise become familiar. This is not an English/Aleut dictionary; that is, you do not simply look up the word in English and go straight to its corresponding word in Unangam tunuu. The reason for this is that to include as much information as possible, a different format was used.



Entries are listed with the stem of the word followed by a hyphen and another letter(s). Many Unangam tunuu words are used as either nouns or verbs. If the word is used as a noun, the ending follows the pattern below:

-{ = 1
-x = 2
-n = 3 or more (Eastern dialect)
-{ = 1
-x = 2
-s = 3 or more (Western dialect)

So, if the entry looks like this: quma-{ , one white thing, write quma{, E; quhma{ W. If you want to write two white things, write qumax E; quhmax W. To write three or more white things in Eastern, quman; in Western, quhmas.

If a word is used as a verb, it will look like this: quma–lix (to turn white), and should be written as qumalix E; quhmalix W.

Remember, write quma{ E or quhma{ W, not quma-{, and qumalix E or quhmalix W, and not quma-lix.

Note: While the word for white is basically the same in Eastern and Western dialects, the Western word quhma{ retains the “h” that has been dropped in some words in Eastern.


HOW TO: The Dictionary is set up so that it is easiest to find what an Aleut word means in English.

1. To find the Unangam tunuu, or Aleut equivalent of an English word, look up each entry listed under it in the index. You need to find the most appropriate time period, place, and meaning for your desired use.

The format presents each attested word (in the English Index) that matches the desired listing, in any dialect and time. Some words are archaic and no longer in popular use an any dialect. You must, then, look up each entry under a heading and read it to find the word you want.

It will be easy if the word for which you search is in the index. If not, try to think of a synonym. For example, if you are looking for “respond” and find nothing, try “answer.” Often you will find many listed words for those you seek. You must then look each one up (the page number is conveniently listed right beside the Unangam tunuu word in the index listing).

If you do not look up each word, you might end up with a word that has not been used since 1772 when you want a current word. You might end up with a word for En, the Eastern dialect speakers of Nikolski, when you wanted one for A, the Western speakers of Atka. Or, you might find a word that means something entirely different where you live than the word under which it was found in the index. You have to look up each word and read the entry to find the word you need. (There may be times when you will want to seek out archaic words!)

When you look up a word, you will find where it was attested or recorded. See page vii of the Dictionary for how to read this information. You probably will not want to use a word that is shown as attested in Atka if you are in King Cove (formerly from Belkofski) if another word can be found for your place.

2. Learn the significance of the symbols in the front of the book. The more tools you use, the more you will understand.

3. Refer to the following alphabetical order (Dictionary General introduction, p xii): This order allows for the different combinations of words that have h vs. the dropped h being listed in a systematic way. Similarly, it allows for an orderly way to find g and x as opposed to { and }.

a/ha/aa/haa b ch d/hd f g/x }/{ i/hi/ii/hii k l/hl m/hm n/
hn/ ng/hng p q r s/z t tr u/hu/uu/huu v w/hw y/hy

A. Use bookmarks and paper stickies to crosscheck similar words.
B. When you find a desired word, write it in a log and note the page number on which you found it. You will want to find it again and may forget how you found it as sometimes words can be located in a round-about way. You will not regret this method.
C. Double check spelling and the correct use of diacritical marks. The meanings and pronunciations of words change without the marks.



This is an interesting introduction, and you will find helpful background information in addition to numerous explanations. If you do not have time to read the whole thing right away, it is useful to scan the content pages so that you will be able to find information when you need it. Some examples of things you may find useful follow:

Abbreviations and Sample Entries: pp vi – vii,

This section references all abbreviations telegraphically. You can easily learn on page vi the following and much more:

Eastern Aleut
E of Belkofski (now moved to King Cove)
E of Akutan (formerly Akun and other of the Krenitzin Islands)
E of Unalaska
E of Nikolski, Umnak Island
Atkan Aleut
Attuan Aleut
Atkan of Bering Island
Attuan of Copper Island (Mednyy)

  • This is important when you want to know the origin of a word. A word spoken in one location may vary or be totally different from its counterpart in another place.
  • It tells you the Aleut word classes, such as noun, verb, and where to read more about them. (General Introduction 0.4)
  • It tells what abbreviations in the entries mean, for example, lit. stands for the literal meaning of an Aleut word while relig. means that the word is found in religious text translations.
  • It lists the sources of material cited so that you can sometimes determine in what circumstances and by whom information was documented.
  • Page vii neatly shows sample entries with labels pointing to what they represent. You will find this extremely useful.

History: Describes the work of more than two centuries of contributing linguistic scholarship and documentation and chronicles events that led to this publication.

General Introduction: A complete description of format, order, academic linguistic devices employed. You might find this hard going, but it is replete with information necessary for the full utilization of all that is contained here.

Familiarizing yourself with the headings will enable you to locate specific help. These will be the most useful to new users. Get what you need and come back for the rest later.

  • Dictionary format
  • Alphabetical order
  • Entries and subentries
  • Attestation: locations and dates
  • Historical Survey: An explanation of the distribution of the eight original sub-groups of Unangan/Unangas. These are the origins of some of the “federally recognized tribes” of which you may have heard.
  • Aleut consonants and vowels
  • Stress and related features of pronunciation
  • Aleut treatment of Russian words
  • Sources: It is amazing to think that the very words in this dictionary can be traced to specific collections and in some cases to individuals. It has been interesting for me to learn who attested words in certain places and then to discuss that with an Elder. On one occasion my Elder friend confirmed a recorded person’s knowledge of the language and told me it would have been good if I could have listened to him. It allowed us to have conversations that we otherwise would not have had and talk about subjects that might not have arisen. This text is full of touchstones.
  • Main Entries and Subentries: The main section begins with an interjection of surprise in Attuan, “A!” and the heading on the first page is “A, HA, AA, HAA”.
  • Appendices: 10 appendices contain rich materials from various sources that would otherwise be difficult to locate.

After you have become used to finding the basic information you need, re-read the history or introductory sections. Gradually, your understanding of this invaluable tool will increase and your mastery will help you unlock its treasures. Ukudagada, good luck!




7 Return to Appendices7 Return to Table of Contents