Questions for Saving vanishing ‘tongues’


Before reading

  1. What language or languages did your ancestors speak two, three or more generations ago? Do you or does anyone else in your family still speak that same language (or languages) today? Why or why not?
  2. Could you teach yourself a foreign language without ever directly communicating with a speaker of that language? How would you do so? What sorts of materials would you use?

During reading

  1. What makes Matukar Panau so rare?
  2. Define what makes a language “endangered.”
  3. About how many languages worldwide could go extinct by the end of the 21st century?
  4. How does a language die?
  5. List some of the most commonly spoken world languages.
  6. What is a language hotspot?
  7. In what ways did the U.S. government discourage Native Americans from using their own languages? Has that policy changed?
  8. Explain how a talking dictionary works.
  9. How might the app that Steven Bird and his students developed be useful?

After reading

  1. Explain the roles played by some of the technologies discussed in this article in saving a language from extinction.
  2. Based on your reading of the story, will it get easier or more difficult to preserve endangered languages from extinction over the next century? Explain your answer.


  1. Some endangered languages are only spoken. No written form exists. Does that make these languages more or less vulnerable to extinction? Explain your reasoning.
  2. Research the history of Native Americans in Oklahoma during the 1800s. What happened then that could explain why the state is home to so many endangered languages today?