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10 Extinct Languages of the U.S.

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Word to the wise: Not all languages stick around forever. Communication systems from a few cultures in the U.S. (often times, from Native American tribes) have already hit the extinct list, and many more are on their way out. In fact, according to National Geographic, "one language dies every 14 days." Here are 10 tongues that didn't make it to the present day.

1. EYAK

Up until 2008, the Eyak language was spoken in Alaska. In January of that year, Marie Smith Jones, the last known full-blooded Eyak and the only remaining person known to be fluent in the language, died at age 89. Jones tried to help preserve Eyak by penning a dictionary and grammar rules. She also gave two speeches at the United Nations about the importance of preserving indigenous languages. But despite her efforts, the language didn't carry on. Marie had nine children and none of them learned the language because it was considered improper to speak anything but English at the time.

2. YANA

Yana was last spoken in north-central California more than a century ago by the Yahi people. The last native speaker went by the name Ishi, and, like Marie Smith Jones, was instrumental in preserving the language (with help from linguist-anthropologist Edward Sapir). Ishi and his family were around during the Three Knolls Massacre of 1865, which killed off about half of the remaining Yahi people. The rest of them slowly died off, and when Ishi (which means "man" in Yana) succumbed to tuberculosis in 1916, that was the end of the spoken language. Ishi's story has been featured in several books and movies.

3. TUNICA

The Tunica language could be found in Louisiana until the 1930s. Considered the last native speaker, Sesostrie Youchigant of the Native American Tunica tribe worked with linguist Mary Haas, a student of Edward Sapir, to try to write down everything he remembered. Though the language hasn't been revived yet, one descendent on the Tunica tribe, Brenda Lintinger, began another project to bring it back in 2011, with the help of students. The aspiring scholar reached out to experts a Tulane University's Interdisciplinary Program in Linguistics and also penned children's books in the Native American language, building upon Hass's work.

4. TILLAMOOK

Tillamook isn't just the name of a cheese. Until the mid 1970s, the Tillamook language, from an Oregon-based tribe of the same name, thrived. Tillamook is part of the Salishan languages family, which was originally made up of 23 languages. Though the last fluent speakers collaborated with scholars to record the language from 1965 to 1970, it didn't survive.

5. SUSQUEHANNOCK

This language has been gone for a long time. It was part of the Iroquois language family, but the only way we even know it existed is from a short vocabulary guide written by Swedish missionary Johannes Campanius in the 1640s. Even then, the vocabulary guide consisted of only about 100 words.

6. MARTHA'S VINEYARD SIGN LANGUAGE

In the early 18th century to the mid 20th century, the population of deaf people in the isolated town of Chilmark, Martha's Vineyard was so large that The Atlantic estimates it included "1 in every 25 people" in the town. And the population of residents who communicated with Martha's Vineyard Sign Language was even larger, consisting of those in both the deaf and hearing communities. The regional language was a combination of Chilmark Sign Language, American Sign Language, Old Kent Sign Language, and French Sign Language. As the tourism industry on the island picked up, the deaf population declined. The last deaf person fluent in Martha's Vineyard Sign Language died in 1952. Without any formal records of the regional language, it didn't get passed down to younger generations.

7. JERSEY DUTCH

This language was a variant on the Dutch language and could be found in certain New Jersey counties from the 1600s until the early 20th century. Some linguists even think it might have had some Creole elements to it.

8. EASTERN ABNAKI

The Eastern Abnaki language was used by the Penobscot tribe in Maine until nearly 25 years ago with the last native speaker.

9. EASTERN ATAKAPA

All we have left of the Eastern Atakapa language is 287 words written down in 1802. The people who spoke the language lived near modern-day Franklin, Louisiana.

10. SIUSLAW

The Siuslaw language of the Oregon Pacific coast has been out of commission since the 1970s, but it's been preserved quite well for anyone who wants to try to pick it up again. There's a 12-page vocabulary list, plus audio recordings, several hours of fieldwork, and a few books. Despite all of this preservation, few currently speaking it fluently.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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