Lushootseed is the Native language of the east side of the Salish Sea, a member of the Salish language family. Traditionally, Native people spoke this language from Puyallup and Nisqually in the south to the Skagit River in the north. Today there are, maybe, a handful of speakers, all in their 80s and 90s. One woman, Vi Hilbert, worked tirelessly for almost 40 years recording, documenting, and transcribing Lushootseed. By collaborating with linguist Thom Hess, she became literate in the language, taught it at the University of Washington, and tried to record and document the speech of as many of the remaining speakers as possible until her death in 2008. There is renewed interest in the language at local reservations including Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary School on the Tulalip Reservation, Chief Leschi School on the Puyallup Reservation, and Muckleshoot Tribal School on the Muckleshoot Reservation, which have all have incorporated Lushootseed or other closely related languages/dialects into their curricula.
Why should we care about language loss? According to Ken Hale, a linguist who worked with endangered languages all over the world,
“[Language loss] is part of a much larger process of loss of cultural and intellectual diversity in which politically dominant languages and culture simply overwhelm indigenous local languages and cultures, placing them in a condition which can only be described as embattled. The process is not unrelated to the simultaneous loss of diversity in the zoological and botanical words.”