The Day a Language Died
When Carlos Westez died at the age of 76, a language died, too. Carlos Westez, more commonly known as Red Thunder Cloud, was the last speaker of the Native American language Catawba. Anyone who wants to hear various songs of the Catawba can contact the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where, back in the 1940s. Red Thunder Cloud recorded a series of songs for future generations. 【46】 They are all that is left of the Catawba language. The language that people used to speak is gone forever.
We are all aware of the danger that modern industry can do to the world’s ecology（生态）. However, few people are aware of the impact that widely spoken languages have on other languages and ways of life. English has spread all over the world. Chinese, Spanish, Russian, and Hindi have become powerful languages as well. 【47】When this happens, hundreds of languages that are spoken by only a few people die out.
Scholars believe there are around 6,000 languages around the world, but more than half of them could die out within the next 100 years. There are many examples. Araki is a native language of the island of Vanuatu, located in the Pacific Ocean. It is spoken by only a few adults, so like Catawba, Araki will soon disappear. Many languages of Ethiopian will have the same fate because each one has only a few speakers.【48】In the Americas, 100 languages, each of which has fewer than 300 speakers, also are dying out.
Red Thunder Cloud was one of the first to recognize the threat of language death and to try to do something about it. He was not actually born into the Catawba tribe, and the language was not his mother tongue. 【49】The songs he sang for the Smithsonian Institution helped to make Native American music popular. Now he is gone, and the language is dead.
What does it mean for the rest of us when a language disappears? When a plant, insect, or animal species dies, it is easy to understand what we’ve lost and to appreciate what this means for the balance of the natural world. However, language is only a product of the mind. To be the last remaining speaker of a language, like Red Thunder Cloud, must be a lonely destiny, almost as strange and terrible as being the last surviving member of a dying species. 【50】