The 82-year-old made her own dictionary in an effort to preserve her endangered language
Eighty-two year old Marie Wilcox is the last remaining person on earth fluent in Wukchumni. Tucked away in her San Joaquin Valley home, the determined elder spends her time recording the 3,000-year-old language of her ancestors in her very own dictionary and teaching classes to a handful of tribe members. In the short documentary Marie’s Dictionary filmmaker Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee follows Wilcox as she devotes herself to preserving her culture.
The language of the Wukchumni tribe is one of roughly 130 Native American languages that are endangered in the United States today. Previously, Wukchumni was spoken by up to 50,000 people in what’s now central California. Today, less than 200 tribe members remain.
“See, I’m uncertain about my language and who wants to keep it alive,” she says. “Just a few. No one seems to want to learn. It’s sad. It just seems weird that I am the last one. I don’t know it just—it’ll just be gone one of these days maybe, I don’t know. Or it might go on and on.”
Typing only with her pointer fingers and aided by her daughter Jennifer, Wilcox spent seven years compiling all she could remember from her grandmother’s teachings onto the computer. These days she shares her work with her grandson Donovan, who’s helping her record her dictionary from A to Z.
In addition to pronunciations and definitions, Wilcox records traditional Wukchumni legends and lore.