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We live in a linguistic hot spot

Linguists at the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages have identified the “Northwest Pacific Plateau” region as one of the top five language hotspots in the world. According to founders, Gregory Anderson and David Harrison, a language hotspot is determined by “three logically independent factors:


1) a high level of endangerment

2) a high degree of linguistic diversity

3) a low level of prior documentation.”


Certainly the first two conditions apply here, and while Native people and linguists have worked to document language in the region, contact between Europeans and Native people of the Pacific Northwest occurred relatively late, so there is still a great deal of documentation work to be done.


At the time of European contact, there are known to have been some 300 unrelated, mutually unintelligible languages spoken north of the Rio Grande. Most of these have disappeared. While the languages of Europe are nearly all members of a single language group, a language “family” called Indo-European, the languages of North America constitute many distinct language families. The families vary considerably in size and geographical area covered, as you see in Activity 1.1. You can see here the major language families, their numerous subdivisions, and several linguistic isolates (languages for which there has not been a demonstrated link to others) in the Pacific Northwest.

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