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Anchorage man hopes to revitalize Ahtna language with new children’s book

By Heather Hintze 9:32 PM December 17, 2014

It all starts with a story.

“Ndoxe Tiziyaas?” asked Grant Rebne.

That’s half of the title of his new children’s book, with the other half translating to English as “Where are you going?” Rebne hopes the book will inspire people to learn and preserve his native language, Ahtna.

“Our language shows our culture,” Rebne said. “It’s who we are. It teaches so much more than just how to speak in Ahtna. It tells about our people and where we’ve been and how our people think.”

The book is just in the beginning stages. Rebne still needs to find an artist to bring his story to life. He also has a Kickstarter page to raise $9,000 for publishing.

“Ndoxe Tiziyaas” would also come with an audio CD. Rebne worked with three elders to make sure the pronunciations were perfect.

“We wrote out how it would sound in Ahtna. They let me record it,” he said. “I spent time trying to translate it going back and forth, and this is the result of it.”

The Ahtna language isn’t easy on English speakers, and that goes for Rebne’s Native name as well.

“C’edahwdełdiixen,” he said. “It’s got a couple of guttural stops, the barred ł, the x in there, the hw.”

A lot of the letter combinations — dz, dl, tl — can’t be found in many of the romance languages.

“We have 39 different sounds in Ahtna and 19 of them are not found in English. It’s very different.” Rebne said.

Rebne is a new father; his 6-month-old daughter, Hadley, stars in his Kickstarter video. For him, the book is about taking the language of his ancestors and passing it on to a new generation.

“Yidi ts’ilaen?” he asked. “Who will we be after we lose our language?”

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