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The Seri language is the last remaining from an otherwise extinct language family
(June 2012) Many of the world’s smaller language communities exist on the margins. Some are fading; others strive valiantly to hold onto their cultural heritage and the language that embodies it. Through stories and a gallery of quotes and photos, “Vanishing Voices,” an article in the July issue of National Geographic, introduces readers to several communities and some of the unique contributions they make to the mosaic of world cultures. The article also provides insight into the pressures that communities face and the steps they are taking to maintain the vitality of their language and culture for future generations, including some language development efforts undertaken in partnership with SIL.
“Vanishing Voices” focuses on three communities: the Tuva people of the Republic of Tuva in the Russian Federation, the Aka (Hruso) people of India, and the Seri (Comcáac) people of Mexico. SIL linguists Edward Moser and Mary Beck Moser became involved with language development among the Seris in 1951. Their daughter, Cathy Moser Marlett, was raised in the Seri community and continues to be involved there, along with her husband, Steve Marlett Ph.D. The Mosers and Marletts have worked with the Seri community and other researchers to publish a number of resources documenting the language and culture, including the Seri community’s special knowledge of the local desert environment. Several vernacular publications have also been developed.
During the years that the Mosers were working in the Seri community, they also served as instructors in SIL’s linguistics training program at the University of North Dakota. The Marletts have followed in their footsteps, having now taught in the UND program for more than 30 years. They have also been involved with training programs in other locations, such as CILTA in Peru.
SIL International has been serving alongside the world’s ethnolinguistic minority communities for more than seventy-five years. SIL offers technical expertise and training to support local communities' decisions about how to maintain their cultures and use their languages in new ways to address their changing needs.