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Labor of love

Last remaining speaker of Native language painstakingly creates dictionary

By WITW Staff on November 11, 2015

In the U.S., more than 130 Native American languages are endangered, and some are spoken by only a handful of people. Marie Wilcox is the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language. At 81 years old, the great-grandmother is one of only 200 Wukchumni left living in the San Joaquin Valley of California and has taken it upon herself to revive the language.

The process has taken seven years and required Wilcox to learn to use a computer. “I’m just a pecker, one word at a time,” she said. “When I had all these words together, I thought it would be a good idea to try to make a dictionary.”

Wilcox raised her own daughter, Jennifer, speaking English. “I left my Indian language behind when my grandma died,” Wilcox said. When her sisters started to try to teach the kids Wukchumni, Marie found herself remembering more and more of the language.

She and her grandson Donovan — a quick study in the language — are now trying to record the dictionary, from A to Z.

Marie, Jennifer and Donovan can all be seen in a short documentary film Marie’s Dictionary, from the Global Oneness Project.

“I’m uncertain about my language and who wants to keep it alive,” she said. “It seems weird that I am the last one and it will just be gone one of these days, maybe, I don’t know. It might go on and on.”

Read more at Feministing.