Mithun estimates that at least 300 distinct languages may have been spoken in North America on the eve of European contact. Of these, many disappeared without being adequately recorded or were not recorded at all. Of those that remained long enough to be documented in some appreciable detail, Goddard (I996: 3) lists I20 as already extinct by the mid I990s, and 72 as spoken by only a handful of elderly speakers. Of the remaining languages, 91 are no longer being learned naturally by children, and only 46 are still currently spoken by appreciable numbers of people of all ages. To this Mithun adds precise detail as to the exact number of speakers still extant, though unfortunately even her numbers are now probably a bit optimistic in some cases. This ongoing, catastrophic loss of so much of the continent's linguistic diversity makes Mithun's book all the more important as a record of what is being lost and as a possible inspiration to today's linguists to take up the synchronic description of the remaining languages.
Journal of Linguistics
Required Publisher's Statement
Copyright 2000 Cambridge University Press. The original published version may be found here.
Vajda, Edward J., "Review of: The Languages of Native North America" (2000). Modern & Classical Languages. 33.
Subjects - Topical (LCSH)
Indians of North America--Languages
Subjects - Names (LCNAF)
North America. The languages of native North America