In the United States, less than 100 out of more than 500 Native American languages are still spoken. The majority of these are at extreme risk of being lost. Seventy-four are almost extinct, with only a handful of elderly speakers. Fifty-eight have fewer than 1,000 speakers. Lakota falls in the top 5% of the surviving languages, as one of only 8 Native American languages with over 5,000 speakers. Lakota can and must be preserved.
Language is the keystone of mutual recognition and commonality. Each language expresses a mindset that is, in the end, unique to the community that speaks it. Linguist Marian Mithun of the University of California at Santa Barbara accurately states that:
“The loss of languages is tragic precisely because they are not interchangeable, precisely because they represent the distillation of the thoughts and communication of a people.”
Novelist Russell Hoban once commented in an interview that:
“Language is an archaeological vehicle, full of the remnants of dead and living pasts… The language we speak is a whole palimpsest of human effort and history.”
With the loss of a language goes the loss of history, and more. Jorge Luis Borges describes that absence poetically:
“You will never recapture what the Persian Said in his language woven with birds and roses, When, in the sunset, before the light disperses, You wish to give words to unforgettable things.”
All languages have their own traits, and so in turn does their loss. According to several scholars, the loss of Lakota would mean the loss of a certain way of looking at the world.