When Europeans arrived in the Americas in the 15th century, a large number of Native American tribes inhabited the continent.
These tribes spoke an incredibly diverse and vast range of languages. In all, it is estimated that more than 2,000 languages were spoken by Native American tribes at the time.
With the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans faced colonization, warfare, displacement and cultural suppression.
As a result, most of these languages became extinct over the next few hundred years. Today, only around 175 languages are spoken by the Native American tribes in USA.
The languages spoken by the Native American tribes are categorized into a number of language families. Some classifications categorize them into 57 languages families.
Some of these language families are large and contain many languages. Others are small and contain only two or a few languages.
Some are even termed ‘isolates’ because these families contain only one language. Isolates are categorized as a family because they are unique and do not belong to any other family.
In all, the Native American languages are categorized into 25 isolates, 18 smaller families and 14 larger families.
Navajo is the Native American language that has the largest number of speakers today. In all, it is estimated that nearly 175,000 people speak the language in USA.
The Navajo language belongs to the group of languages that were spoken by Apache tribes historically. The Apache tribes came under Spanish rule in the 19th century and then became a part of US territories.
The US government created special schools for Apache children where they were stopped from learning the Navajo language. As a result, the use of the language declined. More recently, more Apache youngsters have started learning the language in larger numbers.
The Cherokee language is another Native American language that has a large number of speakers in USA today. The language spoken by the Cherokee people is called Tsalagi. Tsalagi has a unique position among the Native American languages.
This was the first Native Indian language which developed a written system and syllabry. The written system was developed in early 19th century and the Cherokee people started publishing newspaper in their own language around the same time.
Today, more than 50,000 people speak the Cherokee language, making it one of the largest spoken Native Indian languages in USA.
Yupik is a language that is spoken in Central Alaska. It belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut family of languages. Yupik is spoken by nearly 10,000 people.
Many Yupik children speak the Yupik language as their primary language while Central Alaska also has schools where the language is included in the educational curriculum.
The Apache tribe was once among the most powerful Native American tribes in USA. The Apache were divided into several groups, so the Apache language is also categorized into a number of distinct groups.
Sometimes, the language is categorized as Eastern Apache and Western Apache depending on the location of the people who speak the language.