Eyak Has Died & Taps

The following was originally posted on January 25, 2008:

The last native speaker of the Eyak language, Marie Smith Jones (photo by APRN), has died in Anchorage, Alaska, USA.  Humankind’s plummet toward uniformity continues.

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Eyak is most closely related to the Navajo language of Arizona and New Mexico, USA.  The Eyak were able to maintain their culture and language despite constant pressures from stronger and more affluent language groups -- until now.  In the end, English vanquished it.  The map above depicts the geographic range of the various Alaskan Native languages.

The argument over the pros and cons of diversity or conformity is significant.  I have long believed that language affects our ability to observe the world and ourselves -- along the lines of Peter  Farb’s argument in “Word Play”.  There are certainly limits to his line of argument but in the end it is more persuasive than the contrary arguments about innate abilities (as in many arguments the truth lies between the two - or more accurately, consists of both).

With the demise of each ancient language our ability to understand the world, as the speakers of that language knew it, is diminished -- perhaps absolutely.  We are poorer for it.  Is the advantage of common language so much more important to us?

From a post on February 6, 2008: The obsession which I have about languages and their demise is quite odd.  I am incredibly poor at languages, I find them incredibly difficult -- but I recognize the significance that they have for the human condition.  When I first read Kafka’s Metamorphosis, in German, I was struck at how much more rich it was than any English translation -- even for something as simple as gender based pronouns.

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Posted on March 11, 2008: Yesterday, Rebecca and I attended the funeral of a friend.  It was the first time that I had heard the report of the honor guard and Taps since the burial of my Father.

    Day is done, gone the sun
    From the hills, from the lake,
    From the sky.
    All is well, safely rest,
    God is nigh.

Yesterday, a granddaughter -- Miss Sophia -- came to visit, at four she is full of energy, charm, and playfulness.


© Robert Barnes 2017