Endangered Languages in the United States

Language experts and other agencies, including UNESCO are one in being concerned about the fast disappearance of world languages. In the United States alone, there are close to 170 native languages that are already categorized as vulnerable, endangered, severely endangered languages and critically endangered.

UNESCO Classification

UNESCO has classified the languages according to the number of speakers a language still has. Vulnerable means that children are the ones speaking the language but these are confined specific areas, such as the home. If a language is already not spoken as a mother tongue at home, it is classified as Definitely Endangered. The Severely Endangered classification is given to a language that is spoken by the grandparents and other people belonging to the older generations. The parents may still understand the mother tongue but they do not speak it among themselves or with their children. Once placed on the Critically Endangered list, it means the grandparents and older generations are the youngest speakers of the language and even among themselves, the language is already infrequently and partially spoken.

Endangered Languages in the U.S.

Achumawi is the language of the people of Pit River in California. It is labeled as severely endangered. The estimate number of Achumawi people is 1,500 and in the year 2000, there are about eight speakers of the language out of which four can speak English in a limited capacity. Ahtna is spoken by 80 people out of the 500 in the ethnic group of Alaska’s Copper River. It is good to know that the younger people in the state are learning the language. It is already part of the curriculum at Ya Ne Dah Ah School located in Chickaloon.

The tribe of Alabama-Coushatta in Texas speaks the Alabama language. Native speakers of the language are currently about 100. The Aleut language of the Eskimos has about 150 native speakers in 2007. At the Wind River Indian Reservation in Oklahoma and Wyoming, the Arapaho language is in danger of being extinct. Only a handful of citizens in their 80s speak the language in Oklahoma while in Wyoming, only about 250 still speak the language fluently. It has been reported in 2008 that a school has been opened to teach Arapaho to children and prevent its extinction.

At North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Reservation, there are only three people that speak the Arikara language fluently. There are efforts to revitalize the language. There are several documents, including linguistic studies and introductory text for learners. There are also several volumes of Arikara stories with interlinear texts. In Montana and the Saskatchewan in Canada, there remain about 200 people still speaking the Assiniboine language, which is also known as Nakona, Nakota, Nakoda or Hohe.

The Blackfoot language, also called Siksisa has four dialects. Three are spoken in Canada while one is spoken in the northwestern region Montana in the United States. The dialect in the U.S. is called Aamsskáápipikani or Southern Piegan. While there are still about 5,100 speakers in Canada and Montana, they are fast dwindling. Although it is heartening to know that radio station KBWG in Montana airs a one-hour Blackfoot language lesson four times a week while another station plays traditional Blackfoot music together with current hits.

Caddo is spoken by only 25 natives in Caddo County in Oklahoma and they do not speak the language exclusively. It is the only native language that is still surviving out of the many Caddoan languages. Revitalization efforts for Caddo are extensive, with weekly language lessons given by Caddo Nation. Coloring books, website for online learning, language CDs and an app for Android phones have become available since 2012.

Cheyenne, Cherokee, Chikasaw, Chinook, Comanche, Creek, Hopi, Kiowa Apache, Mohave, and Oneida are just some of the severely and critically endangered languages in the United States alone.

Photo Credits: Languages N. America