Exploring the Stylebook for Alaska

Stylebook
Photo taken at the Research Room of the Alaska State Library

This week’s post focuses on the Associated Press Stylebook for Alaska.

First thing’s first: some readers might be wondering what a stylebook is. Essentially, a stylebook is a writing manual used primarily by journalists that focuses on grammar, proper nouns, and parts of speech, among its contents. For instance, journalists rely on the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook for unified writing across newspapers and periodicals.

Alaska is the only state that has its own stylebook, a fact that has prompted me to delve into its contents that have been used by writers and journalists since its inception in 1991.

According to its author, inconsistency among several newspapers around Alaska over such terms as “dog-sled race” or “sled-dog race”, or when to use “Native Alaskan” or “Alaska Native”, made a unified stylebook necessary.

Upon searching through the contents of the 2nd edition this volume (most recently published in 2000), I found several interesting entries:

People of Alaska

The term “Alaskan” (p. 12) is not to be used as an adjective, unless it is in a proper name. Instead of “Alaskan”, it states, “Alaska” should be used instead: “Alaska cruise vacation” or “Alaska glacier”. (Some readers seem to take issue with this designation, however.)

“Gwich’in” (p. 39) provides correct spelling and punctuation for the Athabascan language and people of Northeast Alaska and Yukon Territory, and includes the Anglicized “Kutchin” only as an outdated term “based on English speaker’s perception of the word and does not reflect the Native [use] in the language” (p. 32). This distinction provides a refreshing and much-needed correction in that it restores linguistic agency to the Athabascan people.

Additionally, “Native” (p. 47) capitalized, used in “Alaska Native”, can only refer to Indigenous people of Alaska, whereas “native” lowercase, as in “native of Alaska”, can be used for any person born in Alaska.

“Yupik” (p. 70) represents three Eskimo languages and the Stylebook entry points out an important grammatical distinction between “Yupik” versus “Yup’ik”, the latter of which is correct for Central Yupik in Southwest Alaska only.

Animals

Unlike the “lower 48”, the term “brown bear” (p. 43) is used interchangeably to include “grizzly bears” as well as Kodiak bears (which do not have an entry in the Stylebook). The Alaska Zoo in Anchorage clarifies that Kodiak brown bears are found only on Kodiak Island, which grow to be the largest bears in Alaska due to the abundance of fish. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center makes the distinction between Alaska brown bears (which are called “Coastal Bears”) and grizzly bears based on location and size: grizzly bears are found in the Interior, as well as throughout Canada and the contiguous United States. Interestingly, they tend to be smaller than Coastal Bears, which are located only in Alaska. Variations in the coat color of black bears (which can range from black, gold, cinnamon, and gray) gives Glacier bears their very own distinction.

The Stylebook states that a “dog sled” (p. 24) is used in Alaska’s official state sport of “sled dog races” (P. 58), not “dog sled races”. “The dogs race pulling sleds. The sleds do not race,” the Stylebook dryly asserts.

Land

The Stylebook instructs readers to use the following nicknames for Alaska in direct quotes only: “Far North” (p. 28), “49th State” (p. 29), “Great Land” (p. 31), “Last Frontier” (p. 40). The “Outside” (page 50), Stylebook notes, carries a pejorative implication when referring to the contiguous United States.

One colorful expression singled out by the Stylebook is the so-called “termination dust” (p.62) which is referred to as the first sign of snow on the mountains to signify the end of summer.

The Stylebook shows its age in its entry for “Mount McKinley” (p.46), in that the book was published long before its name was restored to Denali. Interestingly, at the time of its publication, the state Geographic Names Board officially listed the mountain as Denali in 1975, but goes on to state that any potential federal name change “is greatly resisted especially by the people of William McKinley’s home state of Ohio.” In spite of this, Alaska went ahead with the name change to Denali in 2015 (a move that was, predictably, met with disappointment from Ohioans).

Words matter. That’s the overall message the Stylebook for Alaska offers. It captures unique expressions and useful delineations of grammar that sets Alaska apart. Though out of date by seventeen years, it remains in continual use by journalists and writers, and acts as an interesting linguistic representation of the state itself. Who knew that you might learn a thing or two from an old grammar guide?

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