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Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Last of Her People, So to Speak

Marie Smith-Jones was the last native speaker of the Eyak language. She died Monday at her home in Anchorage, Alaska.

Eyak is one of 20 languages spoken in Alaska, many of which are thought to be fading out of existence. Mrs Smith-Jones was determined that the Eyak language would not die with her, and devoted much of her later life to this cause.

Working with linguists at the Alaska Native Languages Centre she compiled an Eyak dictionary and grammar guide. Michael Krauss, professor emeritus at the centre, said: "She understood as only someone in her position could, what it meant to be the last of her kind. And she was very much alone as the last speaker of Eyak.
In an interview in 2005, Mrs Smith-Jones gave her Eyak name, Udach' Kuqax*a'a'ch, which she translated as "a sound that calls people from afar". [Link]

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