24 Jan 2008
I just found out that Marie Smith Jones, the last speaker of Eyak, an Alaskan language which can be seen in the above graphic courtesy of the Alaska Native Language Center (University of Alaska Fairbanks) in yellow to the left of Tlingit in orange, sadly just passed away in her sleep a few days ago. Maybe most people wouldn't bat an eye to that tragic news, but any warm-hearted ethnologist at heart should. It's now one branch of Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit gone in the blink of an eye. The good news at least is that she was blessed with longevity, living to 89 years of age. Although she survived through a lot of adversities in her life, she evidently overcame them with determined strength. Unfortunately, although she begat nine children, none of them have learned Eyak because of the taboo when they were growing up of speaking a Native language, hinting at the destructiveness that racism brings. It's not a complete loss however. Michael Krauss had compiled and published an Eyak Dictionary in 1970 and also a set of stories in her tongue in order to resurrect the traditions and knowledge of the Eyak for future generations.
More about the story is found from Associated Press.
(Jan 24 2008) Whoops, Eyak isn't quite an Athabaskan language but rather a coordinate subbranch of the Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit family, according to the Alaska Native Language Center. Apparently the term "Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit" is used to avoid the controversial term "Na-Dene" which according to that hypothesis also links Haida to the family (and this is controversial). I guess I should have looked that up before I posted. Oh well, I corrected the above where I stated "It's now one branch of Athabaskan gone" to the more accurate statement "It's now one branch of Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit gone". Oopsy daisy. Oh well, perfection is divinity, I always say.
(Jan 26 2008) Today, I discovered Damon Lord's response at Linguanaut to my entry and he offers his own perspectives on the death of languages that are worth a read in Endangered Languages.