Pronunciation of Alaskan words

June 6, 2007 at 2:30 pm (Alaskan language)

I’ve noticed that a lot of my blog hits are people who came looking for guides to pronouncing Alaskan words. So without further ado, here’s one lifelong Alaskan’s guide to the standard pronunciation of Alaskan words (as pronounced in English, mind you – these are not correct pronunciation in the Alaska Native languages these words came from, where applicable).

place names

  • Denali [dəˈnæːli] – rhymes with valley, not folly.
  • Talkeetna [tælˈkit.nə] – first syllable rhymes with Al and gal. Tal-KEET-nuh.
  • Valdez [vælˈdiːz] – rhymes with geez and knees, so it’s val-DEEZ. That’s right, it’s a mangled Spanish surname. Even so, the town is not pronounced as if Spanish.
  • Seward [su.ə˞d] – until I had a tourism job, I wouldn’t have thought you could get this one wrong. It’s just pronounced like sewer with a d tacked onto the end
  • Yakutat [ˈjæk.ə.tæt]- yak, like the animal. YAK-uh-tat.
  • Chugach [ˈtʃuː.gætʃ] – the name of the mountain range that surrounds Anchorage, as well as a state and national forest. Pronounced CHEW-gatch.
  • Tongass [ˈtʰɑŋ.gəs]- TONG-iss. Growing up, I was always taught to pronounce this Tsongass, which matches the spelling ts. However, now I see Tongass in media sources more often. The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States and the world’s largest non-tropical rainforest. Since I don’t speak Tlingit, I don’t what it really should be, but Alaskans say TSONG-iss or TONG-iss. [If the correct Tlingit pronunciation begins with [t] and not [ts], then this would be a neat example of hypercorrection in a loan word.]
  • Wasilla [wa.ˈsɪl.ə] – wah-SILL-uh. Now infamous for being a certain Alaskan governor’s hometown. I believe it derives from the Russian name Vasily, but I don’t have an etymological dictionary handy at the moment.

names of Alaska Native peoples

  • Tlingit [ˈklɪŋ.kɪt] – KLINK-it. One of the Alaska Native peoples of Southeast Alaska, and also the name of their language. I believe it’s pronounced [ɬɪŋkɪ́t] in Tlingit itself, but everyone I know who is Tlingit says [ˈklɪŋ.kɪt], so great is the influence of English.
  • Aleut [ˈæl.i.ut] – AL-ee-oot. Called Unangan in their own language, these are the indigenous people of, not surprisingly, the Aleutian peninsula.

other

  • cheechako [tʃiˈtʃɑk.oʊ] – chee-CHAWK-oh. This is the word for someone new to Alaska. Not always flattering, as in ‘fresh off the turnip trunk’. The opposite of a cheechako is a sourdough, someone who’s lived in Alaska a long time.
  • ulu [ˈuː.lu] – OOH-loo. A semicircular knife used by Eskimo women. Found – in much fancified form – in tourist traps statewide.

That’s all that comes to mind at the moment. Feel free to ask about any others I haven’t listed.

If you’re interested in indigenous Alaskan place names rather than how Alaskan place names are pronounced in Alaskan English, there’s a nice article by James Kari and James Fall here. It focuses mainly on Dena’ina names – and therefore southcentral Alaska – but it’s chock-full of place names and the meanings behind them.

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64 Comments

  1. David Loftus said,

    Linda–

    I was Googling around for a site that would help me with pronunciation of Alaska place names and was brought here. Since my Dad was born in Fairbanks (1929) and his parents had been one-third of the registrants on the day the College of Mining and Agriculture opened there, I’ve been to Alaska a few times, have relatives in my generation living in Wasilla area, and am familiar with the basic terms mentioned in your June 6 blog entry. However, I am preparing to record some Jack London stories and have encountered place names and terms I do not recognize, and would like to know how to pronounce correctly. Do you know of a Web site that covers pronunciation of Alaska and Yukon place names, or may I direct inquiries to and through you? I don’t think we’re talking about a lot of names and words — perhaps a dozen or two.

    David Loftus
    Portland, Oregon

  2. tulugaq said,

    Hi David,

    I can’t think of a website off-hand, but that’s probably just because I don’t often search for sites on how to pronounce Alaskan place names. However, you’re welcome to ask me the names. I’m sure you’re not the first Jack London fan to wonder how to pronounce them, so I can add them to my blog post. If I don’t know how to pronounce them myself, I’m sure I know someone who does.

  3. kathleen said,

    we are adopting a stray American Eskimo dog – and want to name him – need help
    since he was rescued from the SPCA we want his name to reflect that – help

  4. tulugaq said,

    Exactly what is it that you want help with? I’m not in the business of naming dogs in my spare time, and you didn’t really say what it is you want help with. Translating? If so, to what language?

  5. Steve said,

    Linda —

    Okay, here’s a weird one. I was born and raised in Alaska (Anchorage) and now live in Oklahoma. I recently returned from a visit to Anchorage and one of my co-workers asked me what a (slightly) derogatory term for Alaskans might be. Apparently, he wants a playful word with which to refer to me. Like “redneck” or “hillbilly” or “yankee” in various parts of the Lower 48. Well, I’m caucasian, so none of the words that might apply to Native Alaskans or Eskimos would apply to me.

    Any ideas?

  6. tulugaq said,

    That’s a tough one, Steve. Nothing comes to mind. I even asked my mom, who’s lived here nearly 60 years, and she can’t think of anything.

    There’s cheechako, but that only applys to newcomers. Sourdough, but that’s more a badge of “I’ve been here a long time” honor, and I can’t think of anyone that would find it derogatory. Let me know if you think of something.

  7. Misty said,

    trying to figure out how to pronounce Iyaroak?

  8. tulugaq said,

    Well, I’ve never heard of that word, but Google tells me it’s Inuktitut. I’m afraid I don’t know how it would be pronounced in Inuktitut, sorry (it’s not one of the languages of Alaska, nor a language I know much about).

  9. James Crippen said,

    Growing up in Anchorage and Southeast Alaska, I always heard “Tongass” as [ˈtʰɑŋˌgəs]. That’s how I pronounce it today. Whether it is a Tlingit word is somewhat mysterious. The Tsimshians, who have an /m/, pronounce it [tamgas]. Tlingit essentially lacks bilabial consonants, so [tangas] is a reasonable approximation, and that’s how I’ve heard and read it. But I have no idea what it means or whether it was originally Tlingit or Tsimshian.

  10. tulugaq said,

    Thanks, James! Good to hear from someone who knows. I’m guessing the [ts] probably shouldn’t have ever been in the English pronunciation. Plus, thanks for pointing out the aspiration. I’m so used to broad transcription that I forget it should be there.

    (By the way, I’m also an Alaskan who went to UH Manoa. Small world! But I was on the third floor (EALL) instead of the fifth.)

  11. James Crippen said,

    BTW, “cheechako” comes from Chinook Jargon, the trade language spoken throughout the Pacific Northwest. It’s a compound, with “chee” meaning “new” and “chako” meaning “come”. I think both are originally from a Wakashan language, but they might be Chinookan.

    This is one of the few CJ words in common use still in Alaska. CJ came north with the gold rushes, but never stuck as well as it did in BC, Washington, and Oregon. So only a few vestiges of it are left in Alaska and the Yukon, which is too bad in my opinion.

  12. James Crippen said,

    As for aspiration, David Stampe has pounded into my head his belief that aspirated stops are the default form of stops in English. Working on a language which has a phonemic contrast between aspirated and not, the difference is all the more salient to me. So my transcriptions of English always include aspiration, although I’m not making any serious phonological claims about English.

    I think Coast Tsimshian has an aspiration contrast but I don’t know off the top of my head. I didn’t give it there because I wasn’t sure. Tsimshianic is even less related to Tlingit than Haida is, so I don’t pay attention to it much, to my detriment I’m sure.

    Misty: I think that “r” in orthographies of Eskimoan languages usually represents a voiced uvular fricative, similar to the “r” in French. So “iyaroak” might be pronounced something like [ʔi.jaʀ.o.ak] or the like.

  13. tulugaq said,

    Yes, ‘r’ is usually a voiced uvular fricative in Eskimo-Aleut languages, but this is written ġ in Iñupiaq (and ‘r’ in Iñupiaq orthography is not uvular). Proponents of a unified writing system for Eskimo languages (that is, all members of Eskimo-Aleut except Aleut) get caught up on this one – and with good reason.

    Aspiration gets me in trouble in the Iñupiaq distance ed course I’m taking right now. The instructor keeps telling me to make my [t] “somewhere between English ‘t’ and ‘d’.” I’m guessing she means that I need to kick the aspiration habit. A hard one to break.

  14. David Marjanović said,

    “somewhere between English ‘t’ and ‘d’.”

    Well… where? There’s a lot of space between these two.

    Is it the /t/ of French/Russian/Japanese/southeastern German? Or is it the /t/ of Spanish = /d/ of most Chinese languages, lots of native North American languages (click on what is transcribed /tota/ on this page), and several Germanic languages, including southern (but not northern and central) German? The latter is used utterance-initially in English by some native speakers, but not all; it is also used as the unaspirated allophone of the otherwise aspirated series behind /s/ by many Americans, such as this one who pronounces “skills” so that I hear “sgills”.

    But maybe it doesn’t matter. Somewhere online I found audio files where two native speakers say a lot of Tlingit words. One of them uses one version (also for the other plosives), the other uses the other…

  15. David Marjanović said,

    Incidentally, if that’s any consolation, I have a hard time of getting into the aspiration habit. Occasionally I still forget it in English, and I caught myself forgetting it in Mandarin when I was in China, even though the Mandarin aspiration is much louder than the English one.

  16. Jessica said,

    I want to name my new husky “Tikaani”, Alaskan for wolf. How do you pronounce it in English?
    Thank you!

    Jessica

  17. Wendy said,

    While growing up in Anchorage, I recall some TV and print marketing with the words Kiana, an Alaskan Hello. Would you be able to confirm that Kiana means hello? Thank you for your time.

  18. tulugaq said,

    Jessica: Tikaani is an Ahtna word, and I don’t really know anything about that language. I’m guessing tikaani is pronounced tee-KAH-nee, but I’m no expert.

    Wendy: I haven’t seen that before, I’m afraid. Maybe something with a memory better than mine will pop in and help us out. All I can think is that it’s a misspelling of quyana ‘thank you’ in Yup’ik (with similarly spelled cognates in other Eskimo languages). I’ve heard it used to mean something like ‘welcome’ in Yup’ik but I’m not sure. In Iñupiaq it’s quyaanna ‘I thank you (singular)’ (it takes different form if you’re thanking two people or more than two).

  19. Gabbie said,

    Hey, my uncle was looking up words and found a word for “frostbite” I think. Ilguq? Well, he’s wanting to know how to pronounce it and maybe a site with Alaskan pronunciation for other words as well, if you know about any site…?

  20. Kim said,

    I have looked everywhere and am unable to find the pronunciation of Amaguq, the trickster god of Inuit folklore. Do you how how to say it? -KIM:)

  21. Pat said,

    I’m hoping someone can tell me how to pronounce ANGUJJUAQ (great big bear) I have a print called this and would like to know how to say it, Thanks

  22. tulugaq said,

    Amaġuq is pronounced [amaʁuq], at least in Iñupiaq.

    Angujjuaq isn’t an Alaskan word (it’s Inuktitut), but phonetically it’s [aŋuj:uaq].

  23. N. Holiber said,

    Hello all,

    I’m hoping you can help me with an Alaskan word that I have been searching for. The word appears in Jack London’s, Call of the Wild as “Sol-Tek”, the name of a sled dog, meaning “Angry One”. I can’t find this translation or the word anywhere online and I was wondering if this is in fact a real word/meaning. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks
    -N. Holiber

  24. Charis said,

    Hi, this site could be an answer to my prayers!! I’m a children’s author writing a book about international ghosts and I’m desperately trying to find out how to pronounce “ahkiyyini” the Alaskan/Inuit skeleton ghost that dances and uses its bones for a drum. Can you help?

    many thanks

    Charis

  25. Shelia said,

    I am doing family research for my aunt, that married into the family, who is Aleut. She said her mother was Aleut, but her father was Russian. Her sister said different-they were both full Aleut, but her father carried a Russian surname. Anyway, they pronounce it like: “Comma-Caw”. Sorry for my phonetics, but I can’t find any surnames that look like they may be pronounced this way. I know this could be a Russian word, not Alaskan, but I was hoping maybe it was popular or better known by locals.

  26. Marcus said,

    Recently, in the news, one of the major off shore lease holders in the Eastern Beaufort announced that it will attempt to begin drilling a oil well at a location they are calling “Sivulliq”. Would you happen to know what the translation is and how it is pronounced?
    Thanks!

  27. tulugaq said,

    Charis and Shelia: I’m sorry, but I don’t know.

    Marcus: Sivulliq is an Iñupiaq word that means “the first” (i.e., it’s an ordinal number). By semantic extension from “first,” it can also mean “leader” or “beginning” depending on context. I wasn’t able to find anything about why that particular location was dubbed Sivulliq, but I can only guess that they mean it’s the first of the wells they hope to set up.

  28. Cheryl said,

    Hi, I just came upon this website. We have a Shiloh Shepherd, her background is that she is a mix of GSD (German Shepherd Dog) with a Malimute & at this point she is considered a rare breed–her short name it Tika. I recently found out that the Eskimo word for wolf if tikanni and we want to lengthen her name to Tikanni. What is the correct pronunciation of Tikanni?
    Thank you…Cheryl

  29. tulugaq said,

    I’m afraid Tikaani isn’t an Eskimo word at all. See this post:
    http://tulugaq.wordpress.com/2008/04/04/tikaani/

  30. Anchorageite said,

    Hi,

    I think the closest thing to a derogatory term for Alaska rednecks sought by a reader above might be “Valley trash” or “Mat-Su Valley trash.” Not that I advocate using it.

    Have you noticed that national news outlets are pronouncing the first syllable of Wasilla as “wuh” rather than the correct “wah”?

  31. sue said,

    We are getting an Alaskan Malamute Puppy and found a few names that we might be able to name him, and we wanted to see how to properly pronounce them and if the translations were correct.

    Pamiiruq Wags Tail
    Pamiiyok Curled Tail
    Pikatti Companion
    Pukulria Bone Chewer

    Thank-you for your time and assistance.

    Sue

  32. Pauline said,

    Hi.
    We are adopting a sweet little boy. His family tribe of origin is Inupiaq (New Hope Village). We would like to give him a middle name from that language. We like the meaning behind Asik (dear one) and Tuvaaq (hunter). Can you help with the english pronounciation of these?
    Thanks a bunch.

  33. Kep said,

    OK, so I have a student named Cingarkaq, and when I asked her to pronounce it she said “Jane” – I thought, OK, she wants to go by “Jane,” no problem. I was recently introduced to another woman named Jane, and the nameplate on her door said “Cingarkaq” – what gives? Coincidence or in Cingarkaq over-anglicized into a normal English name?

  34. tulugaq said,

    Anchorageite: I think you’re right about Valley Trash, and yes, I’ve noticed that the national media are saying WUH-silla or wuh-SILL-uh. Just goes to show English stress rules and their effect on vowel quality is alive and well. Annoying, though – learn to pronounce the name right, please!

    Sue: I suggest looking at the Alaska Native Language Center’s dog names page. It’s an absolutely reliable source for information on dog names in various Alaskan languages.

    Pauline: Congratulations on your new family member! Neither can be pronounced “in English” because they contain sounds that English doesn’t have. The pronunciation of Asik differs from dialect to dialect, but “ah-seek” or “ah-sick” is common. In some dialects it will sound more like “ah-sheek” instead. Tuvaaq is roughly “two-VAWK” but the second syllable is long and the /q/ is a uvular stop, which English doesn’t have. Check an IPA chart to see where it’s pronounced in the vocal tract.

    Kep: Sorry, I don’t know the meaning behind that name. It’s a Yup’ik name, if I’m not mistaken, and I don’t know anything about it. My guess is that it’s either a coincidence or possibly Cingarkaq has the same meaning as Jane (which comes from Hebrew, by the way). You’d need to check in a Yup’ik dictionary to be sure.

  35. Brandi said,

    I am one of the group leaders for a scout troop (girls). This semester, we are studying Native American Indians. This coming Monday, October 20, 2008, we are studying the Tlingit. I’m concerned about how to pronounce some of the words in our lessons. I have seen varying pronunciations on the web. Some of the words I would like to be able to pronounce correctly are Tlingit, potlatch, and Chilkat.

  36. tulugaq said,

    Brandi, I only know how to pronounce those the way they’re commonly pronounced in English in Alaska, not in correct Tlingit or Chinook Jargon. You might want to ask James Crippen, a Tlingit linguist (i.e., he’s a linguist who works on Tlingit and he’s Tlingit himself). His blog is http://zeromorph.blogspot.com/.

    In Alaskan English, we usually say Tlingit “KLINK-it” (see above). Potlatch is just “pot” and “latch” pronounced like usual in English but with no pause between (POT-latch). Chilkat is “CHILL-cat” basically. Again, that’s how they get pronounced in English, but not necessarily correct in the source languages. Best of luck with your scout project.

  37. N. Holiber said,

    Any progress on Sol-Tek?

    Thanks!

  38. Becky said,

    I lived in Anchorage for 12 years and to be honest my pronunciation on Native Alaskan names is quite rusty. Could you please tell me how to pronuce the following names correctly?

    Sakri
    Amaguq
    Sheesh
    I appreciate your help. Thank you.

  39. Steph said,

    Hi.
    I’m doing a book report on Julie and the Wolves. I was wondering what the girl’s name, Miyax, means. I also want to know what the phrase Ee-lie means?

    Thanks,
    Stephanie

  40. Holly K. Rauser said,

    Wonderful website. Thank you for the different pronunciations for Alaskan words. I will be doing presentations on the Women of the Iditarod for Royal Caribbean and I have found your website helpful.

  41. tulugaq said,

    As far as I know, Miyax isn’t a real Eskimo name, at least not for the areas where the book is supposed to be set. I haven’t ever read the book, but I gather she’s supposed to be Iñupiaq from around Barrow, but grew up on Nunivak Island? If so, she should speak Iñupiaq Eskimo, which has no x. She might have also learned Yup’ik Eskimo on Nunivak, but again, it has no x. I have no idea where that name would have come from, sorry.

  42. Basil Sands said,

    Enlightening blog. As an Alaskan novellist and performer (ie I am an Alaskan who writes and performs thriller novels & audio books set in Alaska) I have a great use for the information you’ve got here. Being able to properly pronounce something dialectic is crucial for the setting, and your work here is very helpful.

    Thanks.

  43. Lauren said,

    I was wondering how you pronounce “suka” meaning fast? Is the u more like an oo or like in the word suck?

  44. suzi said,

    hello, i have a alaskan malamute husky puppy, who has one white foot, like a sock, i wanted to give a alaskan name that means white sock or something alike, would anyone able to help me with the translation and pronounce in Tlingit?

  45. Lina Fitzner said,

    Hi there,
    I am a dance teacher trying to find some themes for our show on Mythology. Rather than do the usual “go for Greek” thing, I thought I’d try and find some less popular and circulated myths to teach the kids about. I stumbled upon Ahkiyyini, can you tell me how to pronounce this??
    Thank you very much!
    Lina

  46. Anelle said,

    How would you pronounce the word ‘maguyuk’ which, if I understand it correctly, means howler.

  47. Claire Heritage said,

    Hi, i was just wondering if you cud help me. I would like to know how you pronounce the word amaguq the Inupiaq meaning of wolf. Thankyou very much for your help.

  48. David Peters said,

    Hi, I was wondering if anyone can help me translate the word Boxer or boxing as in pugilist into any of the Alaskan dialects. We have just inherited a puppy that is a cross between an Alaskan Malamute and a Boxer and would like to name him with an original Alaskan name that means boxer or fighter or pugilist.
    Looking forward to your replies.

  49. vince said,

    hey
    i was wandering how to pronounce the eskimo word sura with means the green leaf or new life. i hope you can help me and if not thanks anyway.

    vincent
    curitiba,brazil

  50. vince said,

    hi agin i forgot to ask some thing ;)
    how do you pronounce atka-gardien spirit

    thanks a lot

  51. marilyn said,

    My friend is trying to find the spelling for a the word she remembers as a little girl for sled. It sounds like AH KE O.

  52. Al said,

    I’m trying to pick out a new name for my Husky puppy. I’ve been on several web sites that have a variety of names, but no indication how to pronounce them. Many end with a “Q” and I'[m not sure how to handle that ending? Here are a few of my choices: Kinguyakkii; Tiritchiq; Amaguq; Arrluk; Akiak. Please help with the English interpretation. Thanks.

  53. Sue Galloway said,

    Hello, and thanks for the resource. My son just built a Baidarka kayak and I’m wanting a worthy name. Found the spelling (I think) for sea otter in Aleut and would like to know how to pronounce it. The Spelling I have is “acht-nak”. Hope I have it right. Thanks for any help you could give. Regards, Sue G. Portland, Oregon.

  54. Josie said,

    found this and thought it might be helpful

    http://www.greatlandofalaska.com/reference/pronounce.html

  55. Wendy Z said,

    Wow, what a great site! I work for a weather office, and I was surfing around trying to find an Alaska Town/Village Pronunciation Guide. I am training in a new person, and want him to be able to correctly say all the town and village names throughout the state so that when someone calls for weather he can;
    A. locate the place they are talking about, and
    B. Say it correctly.

    Thanks for posting!

  56. Cath Barton said,

    Hi – I’ve included a couple of inuit names/words in a short story which I now need to record. Any help with pronunciation would be much appreciated. They are Sinaaq and Piqagigikpi. Thanks!

  57. Damien said,

    Hello
    I am trying to find some traditional names to consider for my new husky, any suggestions?

    Thank you for you time

  58. Alec said,

    I found a site with a word “Pakak” according to the site it means “one who gets into everything”. How would you pronounce that properly?

  59. fmej said,

    how do you pronounce the name Aghanashini?

  60. Torngasuk said,

    How do you pronounce torngasuk? Or tornatik? I want to name my new dog after this god (brings healing power), will call him Teegee for short,but would like proper pronunciation.

  61. Duane said,

    I have recently purchased a Siberian husky and named him Arrluk meaning killer whale. What I am asking for is the proper pronunciation in Eskimo. Can someone help me?

    Here is the link where I found the name;

    http://www.fundognames.com/meaning-of-arrluk.html

    Thank you for your time.

  62. Don said,

    Good evening,

    I was wondering if the name our Alaskan Malamute we had, really translated to it’s meaning of ‘Snow Queen’? I may have the spelling wrong but it was pronunced with a long A as Laco or Lako. I’m not sure how my parrents discovered the name but we were often told of its meaning.

    Thank you,
    Don

  63. Alison said,

    Hello,

    I’m looking for the pronunciation of “Tyone”, as in the Tyone river, Lake Tyone, and Tyone village. Thanks for any help you can provide!

    Alison

  64. Cookiemonsterrina said,

    Hi there,

    I’m trying to figure out how to pronounce “Akiak,” I heard from a website that it means brave and I’m planning on naming a polar bear in a myth I’m writing Akiak but I don’t know how to pronounce it.

    Thanks for any help!

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