This is rather sad but will be of interest to anyone who loves languages. The BBC reported today that the very last speaker of an Alaskan language called Eyak has died. Marie Smith Jones (picture above borrowed from the BBC story) was the mother of 9 children but none of them learned Eyak because when they were growing up it was considered wrong to speak anything but English.
Mrs Smith Jones, described as a “tiny, chain-smoking woman who was fiercely independent” devoted much of her energy in her later years to conservation and the rights of native Alaskans.
She also worked with linguist Michael Krauss to ensure that written records of the language were kept. He said of her:
“she was very much alone as the last speaker of Eyak” for the last 15 years.
“She understood as only someone in her unique position could, what it meant to be the last of her kind,”
(Alaska photo by Jim Hanus from Michigan Imaging www.michiganimaging.com/alaska/alaska.html )
Makes you think about what language really means to us doesn’t it. I think it would be brilliant if more people spoke more languages. The more we understand eachother across different cultures the better and every different language has its own music and special secrets. I love the English Language with all its history and variety and irregularities and believe that on the whole it has been the right choice as a common world language. But heaven forbid it should overwhelm other languages however few speakers there are.
Anyway, here’s the link to the BBC story about Marie Smith Jones. May she rest in peace. It also talks about other languages at risk of dying out and has links to a website for the preservation of Alaskan Languages.
According to UNESCO there are more than 3000 languages at risk of dying out in the world today. That is a shocking number! Imagine the poetry, song and tradition that will die with them.
Read about it here:
Comments on this story are very welcome. If we were asked in an exam to suggest what could be done to preserve these languages what kind of things could we recommend?