Ayali: Is it Time to Say Good-bye to American Indian Languages?

Prebble Q. Ramswell

Abstract


This article examines American Indian languages in North, Central and South America to determine how the numbers of native speakers have changed over the course of the last century. Historical research and interviews with American Indian linguists and historians indicate that nearly all American Indian languages in the United States are in danger of becoming extinct within the next forty years. Three languages are examined more closely to develop a better sense of the extent of the language loss: Chickasaw, Shawnee, and Navajo. Probable causal factors contributing to the language loss are also discussed including policies of assimilation and stigmatization, modernization, the increased necessity of English, and destruction of the American Indians native cultural and environmental habitat. The article also includes a survey of methods currently being used in language revitalization efforts and the ensuing stabilization or even increase in speakers that is possible from such efforts. In conclusion, this article discusses the inevitability of further language extinction and the necessity of continued and increased revitalization efforts to prevent additional loss.

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