Speaking up

A report last month that the Northern Paiute language is on its last lips may have been mistaken.

High Country News reported that “Today, there are only three surviving native Paviotso speakers, all of whom live in Bridgeport, California.” Text on an accompanying map read, “Northern Paiute, or Paviotso, is ‘critically endangered' and down to its last three speakers, and two of them are in their 90s.” A source note on the map attributed its information to the U.S. Census and an endangered languages program at the University of Hawaii.

But Pyramid Lake tribal chair Vinton Hawley said, “No, there's more who speak the language. … But there's probably 15 to 20 individuals [on the Pyramid reservation] who speak fluently, and we also provide the language classes.”

In California Indian Languages, published four years ago, Victor Golla wrote, “Northern Paiute is the most vigorously surviving indigenous language in the California region. Speakers of Northern Paiute are found in a number of reservation communities in Oregon, Nevada, California and Idaho, as well as in urban locations in these states. The principal communities … in Nevada [are] at Fort McDermitt, Owyhee, Winnemucca, Pyramid Lake, Reno-Sparks, Lovelock, Fallon, Yerington, and Walker River; and in California at Bridgeport, Lee Vining, and Fort Bidwell.”