Withering Words: America's Endangered Languages

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Withering Words: America's Endangered Languages

As I write this, there are more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth. Despite efforts being made by National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project and the Living Tongues Institute, linguists predict that nearly half of those will disappear within the next century, as they give way to global languages, like English and Mandarin, which afford greater opportunities to speakers.

If you’re keen on listening to these languages at the source before they disappear, you’ll need to do some planning but the payoff may be worth it; many of these languages are spoken in the world’s least hospitable but most breathtaking places. We put together a guide to some of these destinations and what to see while you’re there—if you can reach them.

Our Endangered Languages series will cover seven destinations and countless languages over the next three weeks, starting with The Americas.

Mojave Desert, United States

Language: Chemehuevi is part of the Numic branch of the Southern Paiute languages, of which few speakers remain. Chemehuevi speakers lived primarily in the eastern Mojave Desert and later the Chemehuevi Valley along the Colorado River in California.

What it’s known for: The desert is nestled between the Colorado River on the east and the lush Tehachapi Mountains on the west. It encompasses Death Valley—the lowest, driest, and hottest area in North America—and Las Vegas, an area known for its own lows.

What to see: Colorado Plateau, known for its canyons, high mesas and plateaus; and the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, consisting of large red rock formations and sandstone peaks called the Keystone Thrust, are both popular among hikers and rock climbers. Native American artifacts remain today throughout the area.

Getting there:   Las Vegas  is in the Mojave Desert, as are the smaller towns that make up the northern border of the Greater Los Angeles area. Fly into either of these and rent a car.

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