Profile of an Endangered Language: Seri

Lionbridge onDemand is proud to be bringing you this blog series designed to profile some of the world's thousands of endangered languages. Yes, that's right - some languages are, in fact, in danger of going extinct. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) sets forth the criteria for and categorizes languages that may be endangered or extinct.

This week, we will learn about a language that UNESCO currently characterizes as "endangered": Seri

Let’s discuss the main criteria used to determine whether a language is endangered and the nature and extent of the threat are:

1. The amount of speakers- There is an indirect relation between the amount of native speakers and the likelihood that the language will be cease to be used as the central means of communication.

2. The lack of inter-generational transmission- If the language is not being passed on from generation to generation, the typical form of learning, it is ultimately doomed to extinction.

3. A decline in the number of speakers’ overtime- the likelihood of extinction increases, as the number of speakers decreases.

4. Decrease in domains of use- the level of endangerment increase, as the context in which the language is used are diminished.

Imagine the only language you speak and communicate with was disappearing before your own eyes. Many of the world’s smaller language communities exist just on the margins. Others are fading and barley grasping onto their cultural heritage and the language that embodies it. Both globalization and national education programs are two key factors facilitating the extinction of these local languages.

 In two small villages on the coast of the state of Sonora, Mexico, the Seri language holds on to its origins by a thread. In addition to the two villages, El Desemboque del Rio San Ignacio and Punta Chueca, an island known as Tiburon in the Gulf of California is a part of the traditional Seri homeland.

Originally, the total amount of Seri population was less than 200 people in the 1930’s. Part of the downfall of the Seri culture is due to the fact that until the middle of the twentieth century they were predominately hunter-gathers. Yet, today they have shifted towards commercial fishing and the sale of local items such as ironwood carvings, traditional baskets and shell necklaces.

Fun Facts About Seri:

1.       Seri is considered by some linguists to be a member of the Hokan language family.

2.       Seri is most closely related to the extinct California languages Salinan and Chumash.

3.       Seri existence was based on survival of the fittest.

4.       The Seri people refer to themselves as the Comcaac, also known as the people of the desert and sea.

Seri Language Resources:

Here are a few websites that can provide more information about the history, lexicography, and preservation of the Seri Language.

The Bottom Line:

Every language and culture is a piece of the mosaic of humanity. The Seri language expresses the cultural value of the Comcaac people and demonstrates their traditional connection to one another.

See you again for our next endangered language profile! 

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