Language Crisis: The American Indian Reality

November 14, 2014 8:05 PM

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In the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, a few more elderly native speakers of Cherokee silently pass away every few months. A language spoken for at least three millennia in the region faces extinction. The estimated 250 remaining native Cherokee speakers comprise less than two percent of the 13,000-member Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in the western highlands of North Carolina. This is not an uncommon plight -- it is the norm for American Indian Languages. The world's overall linguistic diversity decreased by an alarming 20 percent between 1980 and 2005, but linguistic diversity among indigenous North American Indian languages declined by an astronomical 60 percent during the same 25 year period.

As the voice of Cherokee vanishes in the Appalachian Mountains, the outside world is likely to overlook one of the most amazing stories of literacy ever witnessed. In the early 1820s, the Cherokee Sequoyah developed a writing script for the language -- a syllabary compromised of 85 symbols, one for ...

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