Last week Martha reported on the shocking number of dying languages around the world, with Australia topping the chart. What surprised me was how many were in the U.S. or near its borders — the Pacific Northwest, including British Columbia, has 54 on the endangered-languages list. I grew up in Seattle and Portland and never even knew any native languages were still spoken in the area. Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico have got a total of 40 dying languages.
I’m happy to report that Alaska is not listed — near the top of the list, anyway. The majority of the students I teach here are Alaska Natives who are bilingual — some are even ESL, which is an anomaly among U.S.-born citizens — and it’s not uncommon to hear Yupik or Inupiaq spoken around campus. The relative isolation of villages has, thankfully, somewhat preserved what can arguably be called their main cultural identity. That doesn’t mean that their native tongues aren’t in any danger; both Yupik and Inupiaq are considered endangered by some, but with over thousands of speakers of both, the threat of extinction isn’t as immediate as many other languages.
Check out the very cool article from the Associated Press for a more detailed look at some of the most endangered languages. And thanks to Images of Life for the photo of Yupik Alaskans in the village of Chevak.