5. Tevfik Esenç
1904 – 1992
Last known speaker of: the Ubykh language
The Ubykh language is a North Caucasian language originally spoken along the shores of the Black Sea until its speakers were forced out by the Russians. They eventually settled in Turkey, and it was there that language died. Tevkik Esenc was an intelligent man who spoke several languages and he worked with linguistics to record the language as he was well aware of his status as the last speaker. Some of these recordings are available on Youtube.
Fun Language Fact – Ubykh was in the Guinness Book of Records for being the language with the most number of consonants.
4. Alf Palmer
circa 1891 – 1981
Last known speaker of: Warrunga
Little is known about Alf Palmer or Jinbilnggay as he was known in his native language. He was born and died in Townsville, Queensland, Australia and, like many on this list, was keen to play his role in trying to preserve the language. He worked with linguists from Japan and Australia and proved inspirational in alerting linguists to language loss. He is pictured on the left above.
Fun Fact – These very linguists returned to Townsville a few years ago and are working with Alf Palmer’s descendants in attempts to revive the language.
3. Fidelia Fielding
1827 – 1908
Last known speaker of: the Mohegan Pequot Language
Fidelia Fielding or as she called herself Dji’ts Bud dnaca (Flying Bird) is remembered as being something of a loner who kept to herself. However she should not be dismissed and she is an important and respected figure in the history of the Mohegan people. She was one of the last people to live the traditional Mohegan lifestyle and she mentored Mohegan anthropologist Gladys Tantaquidgeon. After her death, four of her diaries were found. These are now housed in the Museum of the American Indian in New York City and have been studied in efforts to revive the language.
Fun Fact – On May 24, 1936, an estimated 1,000 people gathered at the Ancient Burial Grounds of the Mohegans, Fort Shantok State Park in Montville, to pay tribute to “Flying Bird”.
2. Tuone Udaina
Last known speaker of: Dalmatian
Tuane Udaina was not actually a native speaker of Dalmatian. He picked it up from secretly listening to his parents’ private conversations. Despite this, and the fact that he was deaf and had not spoken the language for 20 years, he was approached by linguist Matteo Bartoli in 1897 to try to record the language. Previous documentation of the language dated from the 13th – 16th century. Sadly, Bartoli’s original work (in Italian) was lost, existing only in a German translation, until 2001 when it was re-translated into Italian. Udaina himself also met an unfortunate end, being blown up by a landmine on 10th June 1898.
Fun Language Fact – Dalmatian, a Romance language with some similarities to Romanian, was spoken in the Dalmatia region of Croatia, with each town having its own different dialect of the language.
1. Big Bill Neidjie
circa 1920 – 2002
Last known speaker of: the Gagudju language
Big Bill Neidjie was always something of a local legend. He was born on the East Alligator River in Northern Territory, Australia. He had a traditional upbringing and was taught to hunt by his father and grandfather. He was known throughout for his physical strength and physique as well as for his commitment to conservation issues and the rights of indigenous Australians. His fame grew when he was featured in National Geographic Magazine in 1988 and he was awarded the Order of Australia in 1989.
Fun Language Fact – Like a number of indigenous Australian languages, in Gagudju it was taboo to discuss traditional secrets, passed from generation to generation, with outsiders. When Bill became aware of his fate, he faced the dilemma of breaking taboo or letting his culture die completely. He chose to break taboo and pass the secrets on to a select number of people.This post sponsored by:
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