- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

TWIN BUTTES, N.D. (AP) - An 85-year-old man said to be the last fluent speaker of the Mandan language has died.

Edwin Benson was remembered this week with a traditional wake, The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/2hKGyZs ) reported. His death brings the possible extinction of a language that expressed the unique experiences and perceptions of a once-thriving American Indian tribe.

For decades, Benson worked with various linguists and others to document the language. Heidi Hernandez, Benson’s daughter, said her father’s efforts to give his knowledge was becoming too much for him.

“He said he’d done enough now and he was tired,” she said. “This language which made Dad so well-known across the world, I’m afraid it’s extinct.”

None of Benson’s daughters learned to speak their native languages. Their mother spoke Lakota and their father spoke Mandan, but the daughters were only taught English.

“They didn’t want to confuse us, so they just spoke English,” Hernandez said.

Three Affiliated Tribes Councilman Cory Spotted Bear has been working on a two-year, $1 million project funded by the tribe to collect and document all known records of the language. He said that even with the money invested in the language, it’s possible there may never be another fluent speaker.

“He never asked to be the teacher of the language; he was more called to be. He was a simple rancher at heart,” Spotted Bear said.

Indrek Park, a linguistics researcher who worked for more than two years with Benson to preserve the language up until a month before he died, said Benson was a living anachronism, a 19th century man living in the 21st century.

Park said he has compiled a 2,000-page dictionary of Hidatsa words and grammar. Parks said he continues to work on pulling together 100 years’ worth of various writings and recordings of Mandan, including Benson’s many contributions.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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