There are almost 7000 languages in the world, but every two weeks one goes silent. Nearly 100 languages are lost every year. People who speak the world’s dominant languages—English, Spanish, Chinese—believe that a common language binds us and makes us one unified people. But such unification is also a loss of culture. A language that is embedded into song, behavior and belief keeps a community intact. Language is an intimate moral compass, a belonging.
These photographs show Tuvans from the central Russian steppes, the Seri people who live on the shore of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez and the Aka people who live in remote northeast India. There are also the lone survivors of Native American tribes who are struggling to keep not only their words, but their very identity. Johnny Hill Jr. is Chemehuevi, from Arizona. He is one of only two remaining fluent native speakers. “I live alone and talk to myself to remember. Not out loud but quietly in my own heart,” he says. “It’s difficult to remember the words with no one to speak to. It’s like a bird losing feathers. You see one float by and there it goes—another word gone.”