Endangered Languages: Revitalizing Native American Languages

Of the original Indigenous Peoples and more than 300 languages in North America, nearly 600 tribes and 175 living languages remained in 1997. Of these languages many were spoken primarily by elders, and 125 languages of the 175 were spoken only by middle aged or older adults. Fifty-five languages were spoken by 1 to 6 people, and only 20 were spoken widely by children. As many as 55 languages may have disappeared since 1997 (Indigenous Language Institute). The decline of languages did not occur in a vacuum. It is the result of decades of racist and discriminatory policies towards Native people.

Indigenous languages carry unique philosophies, histories, ceremonies, and irreplaceable environmental knowledge of biodiversity accumulated over millenia. Native languages constitute both the core and the foundations of tribal identities and cultures by mapping ancestors' universes and ties to traditional homelands.

But in the United States, UNESCO documents only 139 Native languages spoken today. More than 70 could fall silent in the next 5 years unless immediate action is taken to teach them to younger generations of tribal citizens. Upon request, our program has partnered with Native American tribes to help develop the resources they need to do just that: to teach their languages to their children, to keep them a living, spoken heritage.

Our program has partnered with Native American communities in the US, including the Euchee, Sac and Fox, Wampanoag, Northern Arapaho, and Aleutic, to support their efforts in language reclamation and revitalization. Cultural Survival also works to strengthen federal policy and increase government and foundation funding to support language revitalization, and has raised $10 million in support of endangered languages. In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, we brought together Indigenous language experts and radio producers from around the world to promote community radio as a vehicle for language revitalization. Currently Cultural Survival is determining future directions for our work on Indigenous languages.

Visit Our Mother Tongues, an educational website featuring 12 tribal language communities.

Visit The Language Gathering, our platform to link hundreds of Indigenous language programs.

Endangered Languages News & Articles

April 1, 2014
“Freedom of speech,” said Eduardo Laroj, a station volunteer and DJ for Fiesta en mi pueblo, a program that broadcasts marimba orchestras. Laroj’s statement started the discussion on station objectives at a meeting in Sumpango, Guatemala on Saturday, March 8, 2014
January 16, 2014
The Chickasaw Nation’s online video network, Chickasaw.tv, has been relaunched in a new, vibrant and dynamic platform. Chickasaw.tv is a high-definition, video-rich network created to increase awareness of the culture, legacy and continuing contributions of the Chickasaw people.
January 10, 2014

By Brian McDermott

January 10, 2014
The idea of language loss is so foreign an idea for ethnocentric America that when trying to get students in my classes to gain an understanding of the impact of losing one’s language, I often turn history on its head through a conversation like the following: What if, in a hypothetical age of World War Z, you were living in a small English speaking community in Czechoslovakia when calamity hit and you were cut off from the rest of the world.