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Indigenous language

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Title: Indigenous language  
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Subject: Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, Indigenous intellectual property, Plastic shaman, Pūnana Leo
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Indigenous language

An indigenous language or autochthonous language is a language that is native to a region and spoken by indigenous people, often reduced to the status of a minority language. This language would be from a linguistically distinct community that has been settled in the area for many generations. Indigenous languages are not necessarily national languages, and the reverse is also true. Many indigenous languages have become endangered because of language deaths or linguicide caused by colonization, in which the original language is replaced by that of the colonists.


Many indigenous languages are disappearing as there are no longer any young people left to speak those languages, so their remaining speakers are dying out.[1] In North America, since 1600 at least 52 Native American languages have disappeared. Globally, there may be more than 7,000 languages that exist in the world today, though many of them have not been recorded because they belong to tribes in rural areas of the world or are not easily accessible. It is estimated that 6,809 "living" languages exist in the world today, but 90% of them are spoken by fewer than 100,000 people. Some languages are very close to disappearing.

"Forty six languages are known to have just one native speaker while 357 languages have fewer than 50 speakers. Rare languages are more likely to show evidence of decline than more common ones."[2]

Of those languages, this means that roughly 6,100 languages are facing a risk of extinction.

Oklahoma provides the backdrop for an example of language loss in the developed world. It boasts the highest density of indigenous languages in the United States. This includes languages originally spoken in the region, as well as those of Native American tribes from other areas that were forcibly relocated onto reservations there.[3] The U.S. government drove the Yuchi from Tennessee to Oklahoma in the early 19th century. Until the early 20th century, most Yuchi tribe members spoke the language fluently. Then, government boarding schools severely punished American Indian students who were overheard speaking their own language. To avoid beatings and other punishments, Yuchi, and other Indian children abandoned their native languages in favor of English.

"In 2005, only five elderly members of the Yuchi tribe were fluent in the language. These remaining speakers spoke Yuchi fluently before they went to school and have maintained the language despite strong pressure to abandon it."[4]

This situation was not limited to Oklahoma. In the Northwest Pacific plateau there are no speakers left of the indigenous tribal languages from that area, all the way to British Columbia.

"Oregon's Siletz reservation, established in 1855, was home to the endangered language Siletz Dee-ni. The reservation held members of 27 different Indian bands speaking many languages. In order to communicate, people adopted Chinook Jargon, a pidgin or hybrid language. Between the use of Chinook Jargon and the increased presence of English, the number of speakers of indigenous languages dwindled." [5]

Other tribes of Native Americans were also forced into government schools and reservations. They were also treated badly if they did not become "civilized". This meant they were to go to Christian churches and speak English. They were forced to give up their tribal religious beliefs and languages. Now, these Native Americans are trying to regain some of their lost heritage. They gather at "Pow-wow" to share culture, stories, remedies, dances, music, rhythms, recipes and heritage with anyone who wants to learn them.

"In January 2008, in Anchorage, Alaska, friends and relatives gathered to bid their last farewell to 89 year old Marie Smith Jones, a beloved matriarch of her community. “As they bid her farewell to her, they also bid farewell to the Eyak language as Marie was the last fluent speaker of the language."[6]

In the Isle of Man, following the decline in the use of Manx during the 19th century, Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh (The Manx Language Society) was founded in 1899. By the middle of the 20th century only a few elderly native speakers remained (the last of them, Ned Maddrell, died on 27 December 1974), but by then a scholarly revival had begun to spread and many people had learned Manx as a second language. The revival of Manx has been aided by the recording work done in the 20th century by researchers.


Hundreds of indigenous languages around the world are taught by traditional means, including vocabulary, grammar, readings and recordings.[7]

About 6,000 others can be learned to some extent by listening to recordings made for other purposes, such as religious texts, where translations are available in more widely known languages.[8][9]

See also

Challenges and needs for developing content in Indigenous Languages in Wikimedia projects


  1. ^ Glavin, Maywa and Montenegro, Terry. "In Defense of Difference." 7 October 2008. Seed Magazine. 29 January 2009 [1].
  2. ^ Connor, Steve. "Alarm Raised on World's Disappearing Languages." 15 May 2003. Common Dreams. Org. 21 February 2009 [2].
  3. ^ Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. "Disappearing Languages - Enduring Voices-Documenting the Planet's Endangered Languages." 2009. National Geographic. 19 February 2009 [3].
  4. ^ Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. "Disappearing Languages - Enduring Voices-Documenting the Planet's Endangered Languages." 2009. National Geographic. 19 February 2009 [4].
  5. ^ Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. "Disappearing Languages - Enduring Voices-Documenting the Planet's Endangered Languages." 2009. National Geographic. 19 February 2009 [5].
  6. ^ Glavin, Maywa and Montenegro, Terry. "In Defense of Difference." 7 October 2008. Seed Magazine. 29 January 2009 [6].
  7. ^ "Reviews of Language Courses". Lang1234. Retrieved 11 Sep 2012. 
  8. ^ "Countries of the World". Global Recordings Network. Retrieved 11 Sep 2012. 
  9. ^ "GEOGRAPHIC LANGUAGE MUSEUM". Retrieved 11 Sep 2012. 
  • Frawley, William, & Hill, Kenneth C. (2002) Making Dictionaries: preserving indigenous languages of the Americas. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Harrison, K. David. (2007) When Languages Die: the extinction of the world's languages and the erosion of human knowledge. New York and London: Oxford University Press.
  • Singerman, Robert. (1996) Indigenous languages of the Americas: a bibliography of dissertations and theses. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press
  • Wurm, S. A. & Heyward, Ian (eds.) (2001) Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing. Paris: UNESCO Pub.

External links

  • Chakana: NGO & knowledge centre about Indians of the highlands (including language studies)
  • Dutch Centre for Indigenous Peoples
  • Alaska Native Language Center (ANLC)
  • Indigenous Language Institute
  • Aboriginal Languages of Australia
  • Austlang: the Australian Indigenous Languages Database at AIATSIS
  • The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA)
  • Electronic Metastructure for Endangered Languages Data (EMELD)
  • Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute (CILLDI)
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