Von Humboldt’s parrot and the countdown of last speakers in the Colorado Delta
In this paper I analyze the rhetorical practice of “counting down” last speakers of endangered languages as those speakers age and eventually pass away. In recent media attention on language obsolescence, a popular narrative convention is to announce the death of “one of the last speakers” of an endangered language. Drawing on fieldwork in a Cucapá settlement in the Colorado River Delta of northern Mexico, I examine the effect of enumerating language speakers in the context of the death of a prominent elder and fisherwoman. I show how for some Cucapá people at the center of this “countdown,” the technique has induced an enumerative malaise, or an exasperation with these measurement practices.