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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 May, 2005, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Book to safeguard rare languages
A campaign to save a group of languages which are on the verge of extinction has been boosted by the publication of a unique book.

The Native American languages, known collectively as Nuuchahnulth, began to die out when English speakers colonised North West America in the 19th century.

Now Dr John Stonham, from Newcastle University, has published the first-ever dictionary of the language.

Today as little as 200 people worldwide can speak Nuuchahnulth.

The languages are so complicated that an entire sentence can be expressed in a single word.

'Permanent monument'

Publication of the 537-page dictionary will be used to support the campaign to teach Native Americans the language of their ancestors.

Mr Stonham said: "I hope the dictionary will help efforts to preserve the language and hence the culture of these societies, as language is intricately bound up with tradition."

Nuuchahnulth has three basic vowels, 40 consonants, and it has a very complex sound structure when spoken.

Nicholas Ostler, president of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, said: "This book stands as a permanent monument to the language for speakers, but also helps them to get a firmer conception of what their language is like, and may act as a first step to a literate tradition and the beginnings of school education in the language."

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