Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Eyak language dies with its last speaker--or does it?

From the Alaska Public Radio Network: Eyak language dies with its last speaker. "The last traditional speaker of the Eyak language died yesterday, making the language extinct. Eyak Chief Marie Smith Jones was 89 years old. She was the last person to have learned the language the traditional way, taught as a child from her parents." (click on the icon at the bottom of the story to listen to the full report).

The loss of native languages is of course by no means unique to the northwest. See this list of extinct languages, or even more heartbreaking this list of recently extinct languages with (in many cases) the date of death of the last speaker.

But as is often the case with these maudling media stories, there is more here than meets the ear. Marie Smith Jones spent some of her last decades working with linguist Michael Krauss to record and document the Eyak language, and the language is being taught to Eyak youth through The Eyak Language Preservation Project. This Seattle Times obituary has additional information about Marie Smith Jones and the Eyak.

(Most of the links above are lifted from this Metafilter post.)

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