Celebrated linguist of Alaska Native Languages Michael Krauss dies

 Courtesy of Laura Bliss Spaan
Courtesy of Laura Bliss Spaan (KTUU)
Published: Aug. 13, 2019 at 10:14 PM AKDT
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A celebrated linguist who made immeasurable contributions to documenting Alaska Native languages passed away on Sunday, Aug. 11 near his son’s house outside of Boston, according to a family friend.

Friend and documentarian Laura Bliss Spaan says Dr. Michael Krauss literally and figuratively put Alaska Native languages on the map to make sure they weren't forgotten.

According to a University of Alaska Fairbanks article, Krauss is credited with founding the Alaska Native Language Center, after convincing legislators to take up the idea in 1972.

Dr. Krauss taught at the university for forty years, after retiring in 2000. He originally arrived in 1960 to teach French, but soon realized the dire nature of Alaska Native languages, and in 1963 was able to dedicate his work entirely to the field. At this time there were six remaining speakers of the Eyak language. He worked on a complete grammar and lexicon at least through the 2010s, well after the last speaker of Eyak died, according to UAF.

Spaan says he was among the very first in Alaska academia to understand the value and need of documenting indigenous languages. She says he focused on Eyak, a now extinct language spoken by people of the Copper River area, both as a profession and a passion.

So far, a service has not been announced, but plans are underway for a gathering in fairbanks to honor his life and work.

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