Thursday, September 9, 2010


Quite some time ago, on Nathaneal Green's excellent but too infrequent blog, 500 Words on Words, he did a post on Languages deader (or dyinger) than Latin. One thing led to another and I found myself expressing my interest in helping one of these beleaguered languages continue its existence. When I started pursuing this somewhat seriously, though, I realized that there were a few obstacles. When I asked our reference guy at the bookstore about whether I could learn something through CDs, he said that the problem was that if a language was so close to extinction, no would be commercially viable to produce a series of CDs for the general bookstore market. I understood his point.

However, all hope is not lost. Because in researching a writing project about my dad's family in Northern Illinois, I discovered that the tribe that had inhabited that part of the North American continent were the Potawatomi. And it turns out that the Potawatomi are not vanquished, but in fact, rather flourishing. And, in fact, they teach language lessons! On line!

I must admit that I haven't gotten very far with this goal. But when I mentioned this rather quixotic quest to a friend recently, he almost stopped the car he was driving in his astonishment. "But I'm one fourteenth Potawatomi!" he said.

I haven't seen him in a bit, but I did give him the website. Perhaps one or the other of us will actually keep hope alive.

I am not, however, betting on me.


  1. Are you familiar with this? I have also read about projects to save dying languages, byt I can't find references to them at the moment.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  2. No, I hadn't seen that.

    I guess there's a kind of Darwinian survival of the fittest approach you could take to languages, but I think they are more like native seeds that are threatened by the ever more aggressive and smaller group of agri-business supported seeds. Diversity in both cases may prove vital us in ways we don't even know yet.