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The Wukchumni language is dying, and its last speaker is doing this to preserve it
Marie Wilcox, 81, is the last of the Wukchumni people to know the group's language. This is her quest to make sure it isn't forgotten. - photo by Payton Davis
The world's lone person still fluent in Wukchumni, Marie Wilcox's goal proves a bit difficult to put into words.

She'd probably have no trouble doing so, though, because on a quest to preserve her dying langauge, Wilcox, 81, tends to have a way with them. Rafi Schwartz wrote for Good magazine she's spent the last decade creating the first complete Wukchumni dictionary in hopes the people who spoke its history will live on.

According to Good, Wilcox learned how to use a computer in order to keep records of her project. More impressive, Wilcox, now a great-grandma, had to relearn the language at one point.

A prior Good magazine report on Wilcox noted Wukchumni was spoken by up to 50,000 people.

Now, fewer than 200 tribe members remain, and Wukchumni is one of 130 Native American languages endangered in the U.S.

"See, I'm uncertain about my language and who wants to keep it alive," Good quoted Wilcox as saying. "Just a few. No one seems to want to learn. It's sad. It just seems weird that I am the last one. I don't know. It might just it'll just be gone one of these days maybe. I don't know, or it might go on and on."

Director Emmanuel Vaughn-Lee wrote for The New York Times of documenting Wilcox's mission in the short documentary "Marie's Dictionary."

The Times piece indicated Wilcox's dictionary is the longest work of its kind. In addition, she's recorded an oral version, which features traditional Wukchumni stories.

The Times noted her sacrifice.

"For Ms. Wilcox, the Wukchumni language has become her life," according to the Times. "She spent more than seven years working on the dictionary and she continues to refine and update the text. Through her hard work and dedication, she has created a document that will support the revitalization of the Wukchumni language for decades to come."

And "Marie's Dictionary" indicates Wilcox isn't slowing down: She and her daughter, Jennifer Malone, teach tribe members Wukchumni at a career center.

Learning it takes time, though, and Vaughn-Lee wrote for the Times Wilcox's dictionary might be its only trace eventually.

"Few seem able to dedicate the time needed to learn Wukchumni and become fluent speakers," Vaughn-Lee wrote. "Without additional resources and interest, I fear the language, in any meaningful form, may soon exist only in Ms. Wilcoxs dictionary."

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