These poems are about Aleut words, Unangan tunun in the Aleut language, Unangam tunulix.
For this book, my main resources have been
Aleut Grammar: Unangam Tunuganaan Achixaasix̂ by Knut Bergsland,
and Aleut Dictionary: Unangam Tunudgusii compiled by Knut Bergsland.
I have read these books for clues about the lives of Aleuts
before the disruptions caused by the Russians and the Russian Orthodox Church.
For that reason, I have largely avoided words that were borrowed from the Russian language.
I am not a linguist nor an ethnographer, but as a poet I think I have constructed
something from words that is objective and sympathetic.
Alternatively, consider this book as a story that I imagine of a culture that ancestral Aleuts once made, inspired by its words.
The Aleut words are first; the English words are only rough equivalents.
I have preferred variants from the Eastern dialect.
The eastern islands of the Aleuts are adjacent to and can be seen as
an extension of the Alaska Peninsula.
The Aleutian islands and the peninsula are the result of the same geological processes.
The state of Alaska is named from the Aleut word alaxsxix̂, meaning the mainland,
which makes sense since Russian explorers were the first Europeans in Alaska
and they arrived via the Aleutian Islands.
The image on the cover is my pen and pencil drawing
based on a satellite photo of the town of Unga, on Unga Island, Alaska.
This is the town where my mother’s father was born.
Aleut has some sounds that are not in English, so here I try to describe them.
Aleut has no diphthong vowels, which are common in English.
It has only six vowel sounds, three short (written with single letters, i, a, and u)
and three long (written with double letters, ii, aa, and uu).
In the table cells for each Aleut vowel, the format is “x [y] zee,”
where the x is the Aleut vowel, [y] is the IPA symbol for its sound,
and zee is a word pronounced in American English with the intended sound.
The vowels u and uu are pronounced with rounded lips.
A vowel with a double letter is vocalized a bit longer than either of the vowels with a single letter.
These are approximate sounds, closer to the Eastern dialect of Unangam Tunuu. In speech,
they are affected by their contexts.
Of the consonants, only a few represent a different sound from English, in particular: d and q,
and a few represent sounds that are not in English: hy, g, ĝ, x, x̂.
- voiced dental fricative like the th in father.
- voiceless y sound. It sounds something like an y and h pronounced together.
- voiceless uvular stop, like k in kill, only pronounced farther back in the throat.
- voiced velar fricative. Unlike the g in girl, the air is not stopped.
- voiced uvular fricative. It is like g but farther back in the throat.
- voiceless velar fricative, like the ch in German ach.
- voiceless uvular fricative, similar to x but farther back in the throat.
Ancient Aleutian sayings can tell us about the people’s root culture.
Here are Aleut sayings with their meanings in English followed by literal translations.
- Tayaĝux̂ inaqaadaam txin iidnidaĝulux.
Literally: Never think nothing, never cry inside, and not outside.
Meaning: A man never feels sorry for himself.
- Tayaĝum uyminaa txin chulal slaaĝax̂taguu slachxizax̂ masxazax̂.
Literally: When a vigorous man dresses himself and goes outside, nice weather happens.
Meaning: When a healthy man puts on his clothes and goes out, the weather will be fine.
- Slax̂ aqaaĝan aquun malikuum, sinigix̂ quinganax̂ agdachx̂idax̂.
Literally: When divining if a storm will come, one has a cold passing continuously inside.
Meaning: When determining if it will storm, one has cold feelings inside.
- Slax̂ chiĝanaĝulux, txin atxiiĝan saĝanax̂.
Literally: A wind is not a river; it stops to sleep.
Meaning: A wind is not a river; eventually it calms.
- Qunglugim idigagan usuganulux ilaan chinguudĝim idigaa twin agudax̂.
Literally: Not out of every sweet root does there grow a sweet flower.
Meaning: A sweet flower doesn’t grow from every sweet root.
Alphabetical word list
- landing, harbor, haven
- to laugh
- ocean wave
- March, the second month of famine
- continuously passing
- to accompany
- the other
- sea urchin
- to grow
- the mainland, Alaska
- to hunt land animals inland
- January, the month of young cormorants
- beach exposed at low tide
- to overcome
- sea, breakers, salt
- old man, hard rock
- fishing place in the ocean
- healing plant
- spring season
- Amlim tugidaa
- May, the month of spring
- mother, sheath of grass
- living being, human being, way of life
- breath, voice, soul
- soapstone for making a seal-oil lamp
- oil lamp
- stake in the ground, star
- to start coming, to approach
- family name
- to want to die
- to stop
- big basket
- wife, woman, female
- Chaĝaligim tugidaa
- July, the month of seal pups
- young seal, sea otter, or sea lion
- hunting amulet, a small carved sea otter
- cat’s cradle
- to be hairy, shaggy
- sea otter
- Chngulim tugidaa
- October, the month of shedding
- to be complete, to have enough
- to be peaceful, to keep quiet
- to dress
- bird down, bird nest, cradle, blanket
- to heal, to be healed
- growing plants
- to come out, to grow
- to be sweet
- Iguuĝum tugidaa
- June, the month of pulling out birds
- to be sorry
- near, out of
- to swim like a duck
- to love, to add to
- place where one lives
- grass bag
- head or tip of a harpoon or paddle
- February, the first month of famine
- Kiimadgim tugidaa
- November, the month of fall
- to divine, to have a presentment
- to occur, to set in, to become
- to dance
- to be loved
- to feast, to party
- to be glad, to be grateful
- to eat
- to snow steadily
- small spirit, amulet
- shaman’s assistant spirit
- being cold
- the root of a plant
- king eider
- cow parsnip, wild celery
- means of catching birds
- Sadignam tugidaa
- August, the month of fat seal pups
- to sleep
- April, the month of little sleep
- to catch birds
- dance mask
- bird-skin parka
- bird, duck
- the inside of a person
- to go outside
- nice weather
- family, lineage, generation
- bundle of grass
- to tie, bind, swaddle
- land, earth
- to gather, call together
- man, adult male
- to tear or pluck out
- December, the main month
- himself, itself
- out there on the sea
- spit, channel, part of a whole
- warmed (sheltered)
- Ugnam tugidaa
- September, the month of the skinny mammals
- to have a home, to have a ring around it
- not every
- to be humorous, healthy, vigorous
Links and shortcuts
In any page, you can click on or touch links
to jump around in this book.
- Each entry in the contents links to the poem.
- The title for a poem links back to the contents, highlighting the entry for the poem.
- Words in the headers and footers link to the index,
a listing of books by the author,
to this page, and to the previous and next poems in the book.
You may find the following keyboard equivalents to be convenient.
Here I use the symbol ⌥ for the option key on Mac/OS
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Arrow keys are ◄ (left), ► (right), ▲ (up), and ▼ (down).
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Tom Sharp is a Native American of Aleut heritage,
a member of Seldovia
Village Tribe. He is the author of numerous books, including
Spectacles: A Sampler of Poems and Prose, Taurean Horn Press (ISBN 0-931552-10-9),
a novel, Hans and the Clock (ISBN 979-8580172484),
The book of science,
SciFi (ISBN 979-8694935210),
Things People Do (ISBN 979-8687425568),
The book of beliefs (ISBN 979-8683553593),
The I Ching (ISBN 979-8573510620),
Images (ISBN 979-8577560515),
Aleut Artifacts (ISBN 979-8575608998),
and First Nations (ISBN 979-8682924769).