According to The New York Times, central California was once home to approximately 50,000 members of the Yokuts tribal group—a number that also included individuals from a smaller subgroup called the Wukchumni, which isn’t recognized by the federal government.

Today, less than 200 Wukchumni still remain, and even fewer speak the language. At 81, Marie Wilcox is one of the only existing individuals who knows the Wukchumni tongue—and for the past seven years, she’s been hard at work creating a dictionary to keep it alive.

The San Joaquin Valley, California, resident was taught Wukchumni by her grandparents. She stopped speaking her native tongue after her grandmother died, and she always talked in English around her daughter. However, Wilcox became interested in preserving her native tongue after her sisters began teaching it to their children. As Wilcox recalled various words, she began writing them down onto envelopes and other papers. Later, she started slowly typing them on a computer.

Over the years, Wilcox has painstakingly recorded various words along with her daughter, Jennifer, and her grandson, Donovan. She’s also recorded oral versions of her dictionary, including Wukchumni parables, which will help future generations master the tongue's accent.

Wilcox hopes that her tribe's members will be able to access her linguistic resource and attempt to speak Wukchumni for themselves. “See, I’m uncertain about my language and who wants to keep it alive,” Wilcox reflects in the above documentary by the Global Oneness Project. “Just a few. No one seems to want to learn. It’s sad.” However, Wilcox keeps at the dictionary, and continues teaching a weekly Wukchumni class to members of her tribe—showing that the language has a chance of surviving as long as there are tireless advocates like her.


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