Film

Marie's Dictionary

Learn about language loss and revitalization in California
Length: 10 min.
Age Level: 8+
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This short documentary tells the story of Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language, and the dictionary she created to keep her language alive. For Ms. Wilcox, the Wukchumni language has become her life. She spent more than seven years working on the dictionary and 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. Along with her daughter, Jennifer Malone, she travels to conferences throughout California and meets other tribes who struggle with language loss.

Ms. Wilcox’s tribe, the Wukchumni, is not recognized by the federal government. It is part of the broader Yokuts tribal group native to Central California. Before European contact, as many as 50,000 Yokuts lived in the region, but those numbers have steadily diminished. Today, it is estimated that fewer than 200 Wukchumni remain.

Marie Wilcox

Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language.

Wukchumni words on paper

Marie started the Wukchumni dictionary by writing down the words she knew on envelopes and papers.

Educator Reflection

Use Marie's Dictionary in Your Classroom

Overview

Out of the 7,000 languages spoken around the world, three-quarters of the world languages are spoken by Indigenous peoples. Incredibly diverse, Indigenous languages represent the majority of the world’s linguistic and cultural heritage. The film Marie’s Dictionary provides students an opportunity to learn how Marie Wilcox is revitalizing her language, Wukchumni. 

Available for elementary, middle, and high school classrooms, the following lessons explore the impacts of Indigenous language loss and language revitalization efforts on Native communities. Through a variety of learning activities, students will explore the connections between language, landscape, family, and cultural heritage.

What Students will Uncover

The significance of language and Indigenous language vitality

Lessons Include the Following:

  • Overview and context of Indigenous language revitalization
  • Activities with discussion questions and writing prompts
  • Activities connecting to the UN SDGs
  • Companion texts and secondary resources 
  • Updates to current news and events 
  • Connections to National Curriculum Standards and Frameworks 
  • Translations en Español
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