Before younger generations of Natchez people used the tribe's native language at ceremonies, shared oral histories and talked at home. But now only six people, out of about 10,000 members of the Natchez tribe in Oklahoma, still speak the language.
"We'll lose it if we don't use it," said Hutke Fields, who received assistance last year during a workshop dedicated to helping American Indian communities in Oklahoma to bring back disappearing languages.
There is the Breath of Life project - a joint effort by experts from the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Oklahoma - in which linguists mentor American Indians so they can better recover threatened languages.
Moreover training American Indian community members to be linguists on the ground, UT Arlington will be working to create linguistic databases that will eventually enable the creation of online dictionaries and collections of texts in various languages. Each community will have a database which will also be stored in a repository at the Noble museum.
Oklahoma was described as a "hot spot" of linguistic variety. As North America was settled by whites, many tribes were forced to move to Oklahoma. As a result, there is not only a great deal of linguistic variety, but also high levels of language endangerment, said Mary Linn, associate curator of American Indian languages at the Noble museum and an associate professor of anthropology at OU.
The languages grew even more endangered as American Indians assimilated to English-speaking culture that dominates society.
"It's hard to resist shifting to English," Linn said. It is happens because larger tribes taked up the languages of many small tribes.
Today, language watches rely on tribal records, grammar and alphabets that were often chronicled by missionaries, military generals and tribes. President Thomas Jefferson also collected word lists, said Linn according to Star-Telegram.