By Stacy Conradt│ Mental Floss│3 min
Word to the wise: Not all languages stick around forever. Communication systems from a few cultures in the U.S. (often times, from Native American tribes) have already hit the extinct list, and many more are on their way out. In fact, according to National Geographic, “one language dies every 14 days.” Here are 10 tongues that didn’t make it to the present day.
Up until 2008, the Eyak language was spoken in Alaska. In January of that year, Marie Smith Jones, the last known full-blooded Eyak and the only remaining person known to be fluent in the language, died at age 89. Jones tried to help preserve Eyak by penning a dictionary and grammar rules. She also gave two speeches at the United Nations about the importance of preserving indigenous languages. But despite her efforts, the language didn’t carry on. Marie had nine children and none of them learned the language because it was considered improper to speak anything but English at the time.
Yana was last spoken in north-central California more than a century ago by the Yahi people. The last native speaker went by the name Ishi, and, like Marie Smith Jones, was instrumental in preserving the language (with help from linguist-anthropologist Edward Sapir). Ishi and his family were around during the Three Knolls Massacre of 1865, which killed off about half of the remaining Yahi people. The rest of them slowly died off, and when Ishi (which means “man” in Yana) succumbed to tuberculosis in 1916, that was the end of the spoken language. Ishi’s story has been featured in several books and movies.
The Tunica language could be found in Louisiana until the 1930s. Considered the last native speaker, Sesostrie Youchigant of the Native American Tunica tribe worked with linguist Mary Haas, a student of Edward Sapir, to try to write down everything he remembered. Though the language hasn’t been revived yet, one descendent on the Tunica tribe, Brenda Lintinger, began another project to bring it back in 2011, with the help of students. The aspiring scholar reached out to experts a Tulane University’s Interdisciplinary Program in Linguistics and also penned children’s books in the Native American language, building upon Hass’s work.
Tillamook isn’t just the name of a cheese. Until the mid 1970s, the Tillamook language, from an Oregon-based tribe of the same name, thrived. Tillamook is part of the Salishan languages family, which was originally made up of 23 languages. Though the last fluent speakers collaborated with scholars to record the language from 1965 to 1970, it didn’t survive.
This language has been gone for a long time. It was part of the Iroquois language family, but the only way we even know it existed is from a short vocabulary guide written by Swedish missionary Johannes Campanius in the 1640s. Even then, the vocabulary guide consisted of only about 100 words.
6. MARTHA’S VINEYARD SIGN LANGUAGE
In the early 18th century to the mid 20th century, the population of deaf people in the isolated town of Chilmark, Martha’s Vineyard was so large that The Atlantic estimates it included “1 in every 25 people” in the town. And the population of residents who communicated with Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language was even larger, consisting of those in both the deaf and hearing communities. The regional language was a combination of Chilmark Sign Language, American Sign Language, Old Kent Sign Language, and French Sign Language. As the tourism industry on the island picked up, the deaf population declined. The last deaf person fluent in Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language died in 1952. Without any formal records of the regional language, it didn’t get passed down to younger generations.
7. JERSEY DUTCH
This language was a variant on the Dutch language and could be found in certain New Jersey counties from the 1600s until the early 20th century. Some linguists even think it might have had some Creole elements to it.
8. EASTERN ABNAKI
The Eastern Abnaki language was used by the Penobscot tribe in Maine until nearly 25 years ago with the last native speaker.
9. EASTERN ATAKAPA
All we have left of the Eastern Atakapa language is 287 words written down in 1802. The people who spoke the language lived near modern-day Franklin, Louisiana.
The Siuslaw language of the Oregon Pacific coast has been out of commission since the 1970s, but it’s been preserved quite well for anyone who wants to try to pick it up again. There’s a 12-page vocabulary list, plus audio recordings, several hours of fieldwork, and a few books. Despite all of this preservation, few currently speaking it fluently.