Thousands of the languages around the world are on the verge of extinction.
It mostly occurs among Native American tribes, where elders are often the only members who speak the language.
But there are efforts, locally and nationally, to change that.
The University of Nevada, Reno, for example, offered a Paiute language class last semester for the first time.
Christina Thomas is a UNR graduate and doctoral student at the University of California who pushed for the class at UNR and grew up on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation.
“I just started calling and emailing every time registration came around. I would email and ask the language department and call and ask, ‘How do we get a language course?’” she explained to KNPR's State of Nevada.
Determined to make it happen, Thomas spoke with an official in the language department who was interested in helping her start the class. In 2015, she wrote a proposal, which included research on other universities around the country and in Canada that offer native language classes.
Finding someone to teach the class, however, was another obstacle. Thomas said originally the university wanted someone with a master's degree. That proved a challenge, as there are so few who know the language.
Instead, they turned to two people who had been teaching on the reservation and the Washoe County School District.
Now, Thomas and the language department are working on creating upper-level classes in the Paiute language.
Even with that effort, Thomas said those who are passionate about learning the language need to get outside of the classroom if they want to become fluent.
“You really have to have all aspects and the community part of it, speaking with an elder and doing cultural things where it's not just an in-class setting. It’s a whole broad view of things to incorporate to become fluent,” she said.
In a 1997 survey of the reservation, only 65 of the 1,700 people living there could speak the language fluently.
“Without our language, we lose our stories," Thomas said, "We lose our songs. We lose our dances. You can’t have language without having those other things fall into it.”
Christina Thomas, UNR Graduate and Pyramid Lake Pauite Tribal member
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.