Reindeer are central to Sami society in Norway, where nomadic lifestyles are nearly gone.

Photograph by George F. Mobley, National Geographic

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    On December 29, 2003, the last native speaker of Akkala Sami died. Akkala Sami was a language indigenous to the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Although there are others with some knowledge of the language, with the death of Marja Sergina, the Akkala Sami became extinct.
     
    According to National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project, by 2100, “more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain.” Examples of endangered languages include Huamelultec (indigenous to southern Mexico), Zaramo (indigenous to a region surrounding Dar es Salaam, Tanzania), Pukapuka (indigenous to the Pukapuka Atoll in the Cook Islands of Oceania), Yagan (indigenous to Tierra del Fuego, South America), and Cornish (indigenous to the county of Cornwall, England).
     
    Organizations such as the Enduring Voices Project works to “preserve endangered languages by identifying language hotspots—the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages—and documenting the languages and cultures within them.”
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    document Verb

    to keep track of.

    endanger Verb

    to put at risk.

    endangered language Noun language that is at risk of falling out of practical use as its speakers die or shift to speaking another language.
    Enduring Voices Project Noun

    research project focused on studying, documenting, and preserving endangered languages.

    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    extinct Adjective

    no longer existing.

    fluent Adjective

    able to speak, write, and understand a language.

    identify Verb

    to recognize or establish the identity of something.

    indigenous Adjective

    characteristic to or of a specific place.

    language Noun

    set of sounds, gestures, or symbols that allows people to communicate.

    peninsula Noun

    piece of land jutting into a body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: peninsula
    preserve Verb

    to maintain and keep safe from damage.

    region Noun

    any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    Tierra del Fuego Noun

    group of islands at the southern tip of South America.

    unique Adjective

    one of a kind.

    village Noun

    small human settlement usually found in a rural setting.

    Encyclopedic Entry: village