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Professor aims to reinvigorate Tlingit language studies

Twitchell returns to Juneau for UAS assistant professorship

Posted: September 3, 2011 - 11:07pm
New University of Alaska Southeast professor Lance Twitchell is bringing his Tlingit language skills to campus as the university beefs up its Alaska Native Studies program.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
New University of Alaska Southeast professor Lance Twitchell is bringing his Tlingit language skills to campus as the university beefs up its Alaska Native Studies program.

Twitchell returns to Juneau for UAS assistant professorship

The University of Alaska Southeast is opening its new school year with a new addition to one of the Juneau-based institution’s growing strengths, its Alaska Native Studies program.

Lance Twitchell, a new assistant professor of Alaska Native Languages will be teaching Tlingit language and other classes this year.

“Right now our beginning Tlingit class is just about full, and it is very exciting to see that many students interested in our language,” Twitchell said.

Twitchell was born in Skagway and grew up mostly in Anchorage before getting undergraduate degree in Minnesota.

He’s previously worked as the tribal president in Skagway and taught at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School in Juneau. He was recently at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Twitchell said grew up hearing Tlingit from his grandfather, a native speaker, and after his passing Twitchell kept up his interest in the language.

“It was a connection to my grandpa, it became my way to stay connected to him,” Twitchell said.

Juneau has the highest concentration of speakers, probably in the world, of Tlingit,” Twitchell said.

“This is the place to be if you want to be teaching and studying this language,” he said.

In addition, Tlingit scholars Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer live in Juneau, expanding the available resources for Twitchell to draw from.

“The Dauenhauers are here, and the work they’ve done is fantastic,” Twitchell said.

Twitchell said take a Southeast Regional approach, including possibly drawing on Tlingit communities in Yukon and British Columbia in Canada.

Twitchell said he’s encouraged by UAS’ commitment to the language program, and its support for serious study of Alaska Native Cultures.

They’re also interested in Tsimshian and Haida, and is especially concerned about the Haida language, which he called particularly endangered.

What Twitchell said all three languages need is clusters of young speakers who can take them into the next generations.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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