Where’s the last speaker?
If they are lucky enough, people working with endangered languages around the world won’t be confronted with this question. For all of us working with critically endagered languages, however, this is most of the time the first question with which we are confronted. Sometimes this question comes up disguised in different forms depending on the current stage of our reaserch. How many speakers are there? Who are the speakers? Where can I find them? Who is the last speaker? Where is the last speaker hiding? Are there any speakers at all?
Trying to answer one or all of these questions sometimes proves to be more difficult and challenging than what we initially expected. For me, trying to find the answer to these questions over the last years has been a source of pleasure and awareness as well as a source of frustation and doubts. That’s why I chose Where Is the Last Speaker as a name for this blog. It summarizes the complexity of the task when working in communities of endangered languages.
I started to work with Ayapan Zoque, an endagered language in the south of Mexico, in 2012, and since the very begining of my reasearch work I was confronted with so many questions about the topic of endangered languages and the speakers of those languages. That’s how I got involved in this challenging universe of language endangerment.
With WILS I don’t pretend to provide any clear cut answers. On the contrary, I hope that by sharing my thoughts I will create a space to explore new ideas, and (why not?) to generate more questions. WILS is therefore a blog about my journey working with an endangered language and the speakers of that language as a PhD dissertation at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) in Paris, France.
Let’s now try to answer that daunting question: Where is the last speaker?