Last Fluent Speaker of Eyak Language Dies

Chief Marie Smith Jones, the last fluent speaker of the Eyak language of the Alaskan Indians, died Monday at her home in Anchorage. She was 89. Chief Jones worked diligently to preserve her native tongue and other indigenous Alaskan languages.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Finally, an obituary for a person and an entire language.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Chief Marie Smith Jones of Anchorage, Alaska died earlier this week. At 89, she was the last full-blooded member of Alaska's Eyak tribe, and she was the last fluent speaker of the Eyak language. Here's a clip of her reciting an Eyak prayer.

(Soundbite Eyak prayer)

Chief MARIE SMITH JONES (Eyak Tribe, Alaska): (Speaking in foreign language)

BLOCK: Around the world, a language dies every 14 days, according to National Geographic, which means by the end of the century, half of the world's nearly 7,000 languages will be extinct.

NORRIS: Many of those dying languages are in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. And Smith Jones spent much of her life trying to preserve the language of her people and others. She helped researchers create a dictionary and formalize grammar. And she helped make recordings like this one.

(Soundbite of recording)

Chief JONES: (Speaking in foreign language)

BLOCK: The voice of Chief Marie Smith Jones reciting a prayer in the Eyak language. She died in her sleep at her home in Anchorage this week. Her native language passed away with her.

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