Amadeo Garcia Garcia might as well be the last man on earth. He lives in the village of Intuto, Peru, on the banks of the Amazon, and he’s the last survivor of his tribe — the last native speaker of his first language, Taushiro [“Thousands Once Spoke His Language in the Amazon. Now, He’s the Only One” — nyti.ms/2pzV1fH]. When he dies, no one will be left to speak his language. Now, while he lives out his final years, he may be the world’s loneliest man.
Imagine if no one spoke your language.
The profound connection we have with our native language is lost on most of us who are American-born English speakers. Every day we hear our language spoken wherever voices can be heard, in snatches of public conversation, on radio, TV, movies, computers, cell phones and a host of electronic devices and recordings. But Amadeo no longer hears his own language. When he speaks, his words fall on silence — and no one responds.
Does that ring a bell?
In the United States, we hear many different languages spoken, but our first allegiance, our primal identity, our ability to communicate with others, is inextricably linked to our first language, whether it is English, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, German, Russian, Swedish, Dutch, Hebrew, Arabic, Swahili, Samoan, or one of countless other languages that make up o