There might be thousands of languages spoken all over the world, but a large number of these languages have gradually become extinct. There have been several reasons attributed to the loss of these languages. Recently, yet another language has lost its last known native speaker. At the age of 103, Hazel Simpson, a native speaker of the Klallam Language, died. Though preservation efforts have been made to allow the language to flourish, most of the current speakers are no longer native speakers of the language. The good news is that the entire language did not really die along with Simpson’s death last February 4, 2014.
What is Klallam Language?
This language belongs to the Straits Salishan family of languages. It was traditionally spoken by the Klallam people and is also known as Clallam. The native speakers of the language originated at the Beecher Bay on Vancouver Islands as well as the Strait of Juan de Fuca, located on the North Coast of Washington. This language is related to the other Salish language called North Straits Salish. However, native speakers of both languages might not be able to understand each other.
Hazel Sampson was taught to speak the language by her parents. This took place even before she learned speaking English. However, not all children of the tribe had the opportunity to learn Klallam as their first language. According to Ron Allen, the current chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, Sampson was one of the last tribal members who were not extensively exposed to non-Indian language and culture.
Reasons for the Loss of Native Klallam Speakers
In the 1800s, the US federal government started a program to eliminate non-English languages. This drove several Indian native languages to go extinct. The government compelled Indians to speak in English and study the English language. This was done by sending them to boarding schools as well as eradicating all text materials written in tribal languages. As such, a lot of the younger generations of different Indians tribes have become native English speakers.
Preservations Efforts: A Change of Heart
After realizing the value of native tribal languages, the government reversed its system, and in 1990, the Native American Languages Act was passed. Timothy Montler, a linguistics professor at University of North Texas helped in conserving the language and published a dictionary of the Klallam language.
Currently, there are over 3,000 members of the Klallam tribes, which are divided into 3 groups. However, a majority of them does not speak Klallam at all. Some others know a few words, but none of them is a native speaker of the language. Efforts were made to teach the language in schools in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State along with Port Angeles High School.
Though it is sad to have lost a native speaker of a tribal language, the good news is that a part of the languages has been preserved. Other languages have gone totally extinct without being given the chance to be preserved. Hopefully, with the preservation efforts by the government and other private groups, more endangered languages will still be saved.