The Aleut language, currently spoken along the Aleutian chain and the Pribilof and Commander islands, is the only language in its branch of the Eskimo-Aleut language family, and traditional methods of linguistic reconstruction have neither satisfactorily explained its relationship with languages on the Asian continent nor its development from Proto-Eskimo-Aleut. Linguistic reconstruction has always been important in understanding the prehistory and history of the Aleuts, and new approaches in comparative linguistics, more comprehensive information on typological features of neighboring languages, and continuing language documentation allow us to propose a rich and continuous history of contact with various groups of people. I evaluate evidence that the Aleut language may have been shaped by contact with neighbors in Asia and Alaska, eventually giving rise to its differentiation from the Eskimo languages. I look at dialect differentiation along the Aleutian chain and what this differentiation reveals about the migration trends of the Aleut along the chain. I look at the colonial expansion of the Aleut-speaking area and resulting additional varieties of Aleut in the historical period. Finally, I review the effects of the Russian and American colonial periods on the Aleut language and the severe endangerment that the language faces today as a result. I conclude that there is evidence of possible Aleut contact with both neighboring peoples; however, much of this evidence has not yet been subjected to systematic comparative reconstructions. Linguistic evidence supports theories of at least two westward expansions of Aleuts along the island chain, but it is not yet clear what motivated the dialect differentiations. Finally, I offer some thoughts on directions for future dialect studies and the continuing documentation of Aleut.
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Berge, Anna (2010) "Origins of Linguistic Diversity in the Aleutian Islands," Human Biology: Vol. 82: Iss. 5-6, Article 5. Available at: http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/humbiol/vol82/iss5/5