December 19th, 2011

90% of U.S. Aboriginal Languages are Dead; Half of the Remainder are on the Edge of Extinction.

After 500 years of European influence, most of the languages of America (Turtle Island) are dead, and this means that the cultures and world views they expressed are also dead to us,  Of the thousand or more languages spoken in what is now the United States; 139 (probably more, actually) remain and 70 of those are down to their last few elderly fluent native speakers.  I have asked myself whether the universal understanding of English is worth the life of even one of these precious cultural treasures and have reached the conclusion that it is not.  So English First or English only folks who think to approach me should not bother.  The cause that most grabs my few and untuned heartstrings is cultural survival which inevitably involves language survival.  North America is the place in the world where remaining indigenous languages are most endangered.

Tribal efforts to revive nearly dead languages are on the increase. An Algonquin language (sorry, i can't remember which one) seems to be rebounding with real force according to a recent documentary film.  Yuchi and Sauk (both non-spoken in Oklahoma) are undergoing promising resurrections according to the latest edition of Cultural Survival.  With lots of work, it even seems possible to bring languages back from the dead if linguists and university Anthropology departments take enough interest in it.

I am reminded of the novel and movie Fahrenheit 451, where a "fireman" (book burner) joins an underground community of people, each of whom memorizes a classic text, thus becoming a living book that can't be burned and passing the text on to a younger apprentice.  Though i have absolutely no skill with language, i have thought of "adopting" a dying language so that i could speak it in the event the people who ought to be speaking it should ever want to do so,