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, Marja Sergina died. Marja was the last speaker of the Akkala Sami language. The people who spoke Akkala Sami lived in villages on the icy Kola Peninsula in eastern Russia.
     
    Akkala Sami is now extinct, even though a few people have some understanding of the language. Many, many more languages are endangered. This means few people can speak them fluently. Scientists are working to preserve these endangered languages because each language has a unique understanding of culture, history, and the environment.
     
    Some endangered languages include Huamelultec (spoken by people in southern Mexico), Zaramo (spoken by people in a region surrounding Dar es Salaam, Tanzania), Pukapuka (spoken by people on the Pukapuka Atoll in the Cook Islands of Oceania), Yagan (spoken by people indigenous to Tierra del Fuego, South America), and Cornish (spoken by people indigenous to the county of Cornwall, England).
  • 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.

    Encyclopedic Entry: indigenous
    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