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Contact and semantic shift in extreme language endangerment

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Abstract

This paper examines the effects of contact with English on the directional system of Ahtna, an endangered Athabascan language of Alaska. The Ahtna directionals reference direction and location in the geographic landscape, but contact with the dominant English system is causing changes in lexicon and possibly the replacement of the entire semantic basis of directional reckoning in Ahtna. I present conversational evidence showing that the conflation of the Ahtna concept of <i>upriver</i> with the English concept of <i>north</i> is leading to the breakdown of the entire Ahtna cognitive directional basis. Although Ahtna is so endangered that we are not likely to witness the full replacement of its directional system, we can still see the processes of contact-induced change at work.

References

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