Xuqu’liilx’aax’ch’kk’sh. Gibberish? To us perhaps, but not to many hundreds of Eyak speakers in Alaska over the last thousand years. 89 year old Marie Smith Jones, the last native Eyak speaker died just over a year ago, but now, hundreds of people are trying to revive this tribal language.

Eyak originates from Alaska and the Northern Territories of Canada and was thriving a century ago; but by the mid-70s extinction was very much on the horizon. Dr Michael Krauss was Jones’ long-term linguist documenter and helped compile a complete Eyak dictionary so that future generations would have the chance to resurrect it. Marie Smith however was no stranger to the weight of expectation on her shoulders as she was the last native speaker for nearly 15 years, but was said to have ‘felt very alone’ during this time. Her passing now means that nobody can tell the difference between a demex’ch – a soft, rotten spot in the ice; and a demex’ch’lda’luw – a large, treacherous hole in the ice. Such beautiful words such as awa’ahdah (“thank you”) might even be lost forever.

But why are languages rapidly ceasing to exist? 88 languages have been lost in North America alone, a further 63 in Europe. “English? Who needs that? I’m never going to England.” Homer Simpson’s infamous words may be designed for comic effect, but they might have more relevance than Matt Groening and his crew thought. English may be the second most widely spoken language in the world, and the language which is spoken in the most number of countries, but experts are now predicting it too may be gone within 100 years, just like others such as Eyak, Esselen and Etchemin. In its place will be a global spoken language with a vocabulary of only 1500 words, making it simple to speak and easy to understand. “Globish” or “Panglish” as it is being labelled, is already being spoken in countries such as Singapore and parts of Malaysia where there are non-native English speakers being influenced by the Western World. “I punya manglish iz wely chekai wan lah, singlish lagi terok, it ok chinglish beter.” It translates as: “I can’t speak Malaysian or Singapore English very well, but I speak Chinese English better.”

Globish is perhaps best defined as “proposing a number of communication tips which help ensure a better understanding without enhancing one’s command of English.” It will mean that a greater number of the population of the Earth will be able to pick up a more universal language. At first it will be passed on through generations as a second language, a means to talk to foreigners and tourists; but as time progresses it will start to be taught in schools throughout the world, eventually its ease and simplicity making it the native language for some places, and progressively, the whole world.

This might seem a bit radical, but think about it, the whole world communicating in the same language, truly living up to its name: Globish. No more learning French genders and Spanish verb endings; an end to staggering around a foreign city unable to ask for directions. Some people might say that the language is part of a culture and to take it away would ruin an element of the experience of visiting another city; however the majority of the population will see it as a cultural barrier destroyed, perhaps a path to a better understanding of the rest of the world. Doors will be opened and perhaps greater Free Trade will arise, barriers-to-entry into certain markets torn down and nullified, ultimately benefitting us consumers. This may seem a little farfetched in the height of the recession and the Global Economic Crisis threatening to start wars before it reaches the end of its ‘bust’ cycle, but when the upturn comes, new trading partners will surely arise, maybe even kindling the proverbial fire for a world language.

Ultimately this means that languages such as Eyak will become extinct, no matter how hard organisations such as the Eyak Preservation Society try; but in its place will be a language with much more global power and influence. Eyak, whilst it was a massively important cultural element, was only spoken by a handful of people; Globish, will be spoken by billions.

NB: (The title - Xuqu’liilx’aax’ch’kk’sh – means "Are you going to keep tickling my face in the same place" ... just in case you were wondering...)


By happy coincidence I was planning to teach Thursday's convergent journalism session in Eyak, anyw ay.

Ian Reeves is head of the Centre for Journalism