Each time a language dies

A  whole world dies with it.

As the spoken language died, so did the stories of tricky Creator-Raven and the magical loon, of giant animals and tiny homunculi with fish-spears no bigger than a matchstick. People forgot why “hat” was the same word as “hammer”, or why the word for a leaf, kultahl, was also the word for a feather, as though deciduous trees and birds shared one organic life. They lost the sense that lumped apples, beads and pills together as round, foreign, possibly deceiving things. They neglected the taboo that kept fish and animals separate, and would not let fish-skin and animal hide be sewn in the same coat; and they could not remember exactly why they built little wooden huts over gravestones, as if to give more comfortable shelter to the dead.

From The Economist‘s obituary of an 89-year-old Alaskan, Marie Smith, the last speaker of the Eyak language. Smith was the last name she took from her Oregonian husband. As for her first name, originally it had not been Marie, but Udachkuqax*a’a’ch, “a sound that calls people from afar”.

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