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Every 14 Days Another Language Dies, but Google Reverses the Trend

Updated on July 6, 2017
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish offers 25+ years successful experience in medicine, psychology, STEM courses, and aerospace education (CAP).

The Miami's Kee-món-saw or Little Chief in 1830.
The Miami's Kee-món-saw or Little Chief in 1830. | Source

Google In Space

The Genographic Project of the Smithsonian Institution partnership studies genetic links among world peoples and traces DNA markers in order to map and understand human migration since the beginnings of the human race. One part of this project is the Google Endangered Languages Project.

Language is an important part of culture and of the personalities of the members of that culture. When a language becomes extinct and the last of the native speakers of that language dies, an entire culture is lost to us. Some anthropologists and linguists feel that this is on the same level of importance as the extinction of a species and I agree. Certain concepts exist in only certain languages and other peoples may never imagine these concepts without discovering these languages.

The Smithsonian partners, including National Geographic and IBM, and Google want to prevent the loss of any more languages. To this end, Google, which has pioneered the launch of lunar landers and the mining of the moon and near-Earth asteroids, has instituted the Endangered Languages Project, which you can visit at the link below. The site allows anyone to contribute what they might have that is useful to the body of knowledge about thousands of endangered languages on Earth. If there is such a thing as a Universal Translator as depicted in the Star Trek® franchise, then this project is the first step. Google has planted itself firmly in the era of human migration across the globe and into outer space.

Many languages are considered extinct today, because no full-blooded individuals belonging to those language groups are living. The Ainu language of the Aboriginal Japanese people is extinct. The Eyak language of SE Alaska (related to Navajo) is extinct, although a Frenchman began teaching himself the language through books and traveled to Alaska as an adult to perfect his skills until the last Eyak speaker died in 2008. He is now the teacher of Eyak, but it remains a designated extinct tongue.

Many Native American languages are either endangered or extinct. A few of them are presented below.

The Myaamia Project

The Miami-Illinois language was spoken by many Native Americans in the Midwest, particularly in Ohio, and this fact has led to a special project in Southern Ohio to catalogue the knowledge of this language and to preserve it by teaching a new generation to speak it. This language is also known as Peoria and other names.

Google is working with Miami University in Oxford OH and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma to bring their native language back into use. This project for the Miami-Illinois language in the Algonquian group began back in 2001, but has expanded. The last full-blooded speaker of Miami-Illinois as a first language is thought to have died in 1962, half a century before this writing in 2012.

Adieu to the graves where my forefathers rest

For I must be going to the far distant west;

I’ve sold my possessions my heart fills with woe

To think I must leave them. Alas I must go.

— Anonymous

You can see on the map below how far the Miami Native American group was driven back toward the west in the 1700s and 1800s, sometimes after having sold their lands to white settlers. Ohio itself has no Indian reservations.

The United Remnant Band of the Algonquian peoples that stayed in western Ohio and organized themselves has attempted to purchase back some properties that once belonged to them, with a little success. Much of the land had been sold to white settlers under various treaties, but the United Remnant Band would like to have it back and are willing to pay for it.

One of the most important developments in the last 30 years is the living history farm there, run by the Ross family, of Native heritage. Mr. Ross was a Methodist minister for many years and each summer, he would perform the role of Algonquian Storyteller for state fair crowds around the Midwest. I am happy to have heard him speak those stories. Nearby Yellow Springs, Ohio is home to some other installations and events surrounding the lives of the Algonquians.

The Last Princess

Kil-so-quah (The Setting Sun) was last of the full blooded native speakers and last in the Miami line of chiefs' descendants. She died in or near the Maumee River Valley (Ohio/Indiana) in September 1915.

-- from Little Turtle (ME-SHE-KIN-NO-QUAH), The Great Chief of the Miami Indian Nation, by Calvin M. Young; 1917; Greenville OH.


The Miami Tribe, Migration to Oklahoma

show route and directions
A markerYellow Springs OH -
Yellow Springs, OH 45387, USA
get directions

B markerOxford OH -
Oxford, OH 45056, USA
get directions

C markerPeru IN -
Peru, IN 46970, USA
get directions

D markerNoonah WI -
Neenah, WI, USA
get directions

Fox River locations

E markerDetroit MI -
Detroit, MI, USA
get directions

F markerNiles MI -
Niles, MI 49120, USA
get directions

G markerPeroria IL -
Peoria, IL, USA
get directions

A state recognized group.

H markerMiami Tribe of Oklahoma -
Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma, Miami, OK 74354, USA
get directions

Thsi is the only us federally recognized group of Miamis.

Kanien'kehaka

Most of the languages of the Iroquois Confederation are severely endangered, with that of my related ancestors, Mohawk or Kanien'kehaka, only endangered.

The Google language project estimates that 50% of the spoken languages of the world in 2012 will disappear by 2100. If I am going to learn Mohawk, then it needs to be now. Let's look at all of the languages I know my ancestors learned, often after a move out of England (except the Mohawk):

  • Mohawk or Kanien'kehaka - severely endangered. A total of 4,040 native speakers of six dialects remained on July 1, 2012. In addition, all of the Six Nations group languages are endangered.
  • English - living language
  • Irish Gaelic - severely endangered
  • Scottish Gaelic - severely endangered
  • French - living language

Being able to read but not speak French and knowing only a handful of Mohawk words, I have already lost most the colorful cultures of my heritage. The Endangered Language Project may be able to restore what is lost.

Fascinatingly, evidence exists for a connection between at least one Mohawk dialect and the Zulu language (OSU, 1996). The Zulu peoples migrated from the Congo area to South Africa long ago. Their language is Isizuzu, a Bantu group language, and spoken by perhaps 10 million people.

Where tombs arise and harvest wave

Our children used to stray

We cannot find our fathers’ graves

Our fathers, where are they?

— Anonymous

Two Mohawk Governments

Complicating matters of culture and language preservation is the fact that aside from the US Federal Government, there are two separate tribal governments for Mohawk Nation on the Mohawk Reservation that spans land in parts of New York and Quebec. On the American side is the Traditional Mohawk Council and Kanien'kehaka People at Hogansville NY.

On the Canadian side is the Akwesasne, recognized by both Canadian and US federal governments. It is the second group that operates a casino close to the international border. However, it is the first group, the Kanien'kehaka, that has been active in Mohawk language preservation, along with some core individuals on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario. It is only the second group that is part of the Google project and this needs to be corrected -- Language is more important than a casino.

Mohawk Language Centers, Most Speakers to Least Speakers

show route and directions
A markerSt. Regis, Canada -
St Regis, QC J0S, Canada
get directions

St. Regis is a few miles north of the rival Traditional Mohawk Council at Hogansburg at letter F on the map.

B markerCaughnawaga -
Caughnawaga Rd, South Dundas, ON K0C 2H0, Canada
get directions

C markerOka, Canada -
Oka, QC, Canada
get directions

D markerGibson, Canada -
Gibson, ON L0L, Canada
get directions

E markerTyendinaga, Canada -
Tyendinaga, ON K0K, Canada
get directions

As of June 2012, only two (2) native speakers of the Mohawk Language were still living here.

F markerHogansburg NY -
Hogansburg, NY 13655, USA
get directions

This is the location of the Traditional Mohawk Council and its members are not included in the language count. See clsoe-up map below.

G markerSix Nations Reserve -
Six Nations 40, ON, Canada
get directions

Four Mohawk Kings, 1710

Four Mohawk Kings painted by Jan Verelst, 1710. From left to right: Etow Oh Koam (actually a Mahican), Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row and Tee Yee Ho Ga Row.
Four Mohawk Kings painted by Jan Verelst, 1710. From left to right: Etow Oh Koam (actually a Mahican), Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row and Tee Yee Ho Ga Row. | Source

Mohawk vs. Mohawk

Four decades, no Mohawk group at all was recognized at all by the US federal government, disallowing Mohawk individuals from benefiting from associated Native college scholarships (1/12 blood or more), possibly casino income, future reparations in remedy of the Indian Removal Act and related actions, and other benefits. The St. Regis group became recognized and a casino opened on the border.

In the mid-to-late 1990s, the media highlighted problems related to alcohol and drugs on the New York - Quebec reservation. Newspapers published photos of Native reservation police and Native state police struggling hand to hand. Mohawk people began migrating form the NY side of the reserve to the Canadian side, diminishing the already low numbers of Mohawk in the USA. In Canada, the Mohawk Nation is an active political entity, while in the US, it is vestigial but still manages to preserve the language.

Some have asked whether the political divide in the Mohawk peoples will lead to their extinction, however, the Mohawk on the Six Nations Reserve seem to operate above the fray.

show route and directions
A markerSt. Regis, Canada -
St Regis, QC J0S, Canada
get directions

B markerHogansburg NY -
Hogansburg, NY 13655, USA
get directions

This is the location of the Traditional Mohawk Council and its members are not included in the language count.

Eyak

Four distinct but related groups of First Nations or Native American inhabited Southeast Alaska anywhere from 10,000 - 20,000 years ago. These were the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian groups, the Eyak becoming extinct in 1962. Eyak is one of the Eyak-Athabascan group of languages that includes Navajo. Navajo is also a severely endangered language and if it becomes extinct, we will also lose the history of the Navajo Code Talkers whose Native language helped the Allies win WWII, because the Germans could not understand it nor break its "code".

Sitka Alaska Tribal Seal
Sitka Alaska Tribal Seal | Source

The Eyak People settled in and around Prince William Sound, northwest of the Alaskan Panhandle, as well as in the panhandle area itself (see map below).

Eyak are now considered extinct, but were apparently related in culture to the Alaskan Athabascan aboriginal groups. The closeness of relatedness by culture, language, and DNA is now in debate, since we have no native first-language speakers alive.

The Endangered Languages Project site already offers several documents and videos concerning the Eyak language and people.

show route and directions
A markerSitka AK -
Sitka, AK, USA
get directions

B markerPrince Willilam Sound -
Prince William Sound, Chugach National Forest, Alaska, USA
get directions

© 2012 Patty Inglish

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    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Wow! This hub is fantastic and you bring to light such an important issue. Did you see this month's National Geographic? They interviewed people and have extensive coverage of people whose languages are endangered. I learned about this through my anthropology classes in college. I love that Google - for all its ubiquitousness - is doing an Endangered Languages Project. I think this will help posterity so much when it comes to important lessons, cultural values and precepts. Bravo!

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      What a sensational article! Beautifully written, and the topic is just what I'm interested in, I have a fascination for what went before the arrival of Europeans to the New World. The problem of the extinct languages is also alive in Chile, as the groups that lived in the extreme Patagonia, have died out and taken their tongues with them. An effort is being made to preserve the Mapuche culture, I'm happy to say. The Aymara in the North seem to be keeping healthy, at least so far. Voted Up, and everything else! Congratulations, and have a good day!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Patty,

      I think this is a very interesting and useful hub, and I am glad that the Endangered Languages Project is doing something to preserve some of the languages which are dieing out. Having lived and worked with Chinese languages for the past 45 years, I have seen the trend of some Chinese dialects being used less and less by people today. It is entirely possibly that some of them like Hakka and Kan will not be spoken in another 100 years due to Chinese Mandarin becoming a new lingua franca. Voted up and sharing!

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I hope that the Mayan languages in the Yucatan peninsula are in good shape.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      haikutwinkle - Your words remind me of the communications expects on Star Trek, a favorite fiction universe that has influenced science.

      Diana Grant - And to think we have to many languages to begin with! We all could learn so much from each other.

      Earth Angel - Thanks for your kind words. I dig until I find the vital things!

      tirelesstraveler - Ohio State is open to one-of-a-kind degrees that combine linguistics and other studies, so there are a few with majors in Speech path.linguistics/and certain language groups. Some of the classes could stand to add some content, but the combo is innovative.

      Natashsalh - I just learned that the anthro classes at our local university have been pared down in content. So much is not given in high school and college, and now this slimming of classes. I don't know why - we certainly paid enough for the education.

      GoodLady - At least the Mohawk. I don't know if I can live long enough to learn all the Gaelic!

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      I'm almost lost for words.

      Will you learn your ancestor's language?

      It's a great Hub, thanks so much. I'm gobsmacked, as they say in the East End of London.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Why didn't I hear about this in anthropology class? It may sound silly or naïve, but it never occurred to me to really wonder about language extinction in the modern world. Thanks for all the useful information.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      Very interesting article. Nice job of language investigation. Have a degree in Speech Pathology and my best friend is a linguist. While we live the world of linguistics I was totally unaware of American Indian languages becoming extinct.

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 5 years ago

      Just me again ~ I had to come back and read your wonderful Hub again ~ The social consequences of losing languages is stagering ~ I applaude Google and others for getting involved ~ And I applaude you for bringing it to light ~

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 5 years ago

      Dearest Patty ~ I consider myself pretty well informed and yet you have hit on a topic I knew nothing about ~ I had no idea 'languages' were becoming extinct ~ And certainly no idea they were becoming extinct at such an alarming rate ~ That is certainly a giant step backward for civilization and consciousness ~ As you eloquently said, there are unique ways of thinking within other cultures and languages, which can broaden our understanding of the world ~ and give rise to solutions we may never have considered ~ I am all for learning several languages ~ GREAT Hub ~ Blessings always, Earth Angel ~

    • Diana Grant profile image

      Diana Grant 5 years ago from London

      So interesting! I never realized how many languages are dying out. I know there has been a big Welsh revival, and all children in Wales now have to be able to speak Welsh.

    • haikutwinkle profile image

      haikutwinkle 5 years ago

      Quote:

      "Language is an important part of culture and of the personalities of the members of that culture. When a language becomes extinct and the last of the native speakers of that language dies, an entire culture is lost to us."

      Very true!

      And speaking the target language to a specific culture is a kind of respect for that culture... when a specific language loses its importance in the daily human lives, it is easily tossed away, forgotten in the cold storage... until someone recognized the future benefits of preserving such rare languages ...

      Thanks for this post ;) knowledge is always good for the mind...