The spoken language of the Wappo Native American tribe almost ceased to exist when Laura Somersal, the last remaining fluent speaker, died sixteen years ago. The efforts of UCSB linguistics professors Sandra Thompson and Charles Li have prevented the language from becoming completely extinct. The pair recently published the most extensive data and grammatical research ever conducted on the Wappo language in A Reference Grammar of the Wappo. In the ten years it took to gather information, Li and Thompson traveled to Northern California every six to eight weeks to record Somersal speak and put the language in context.
Although research began in 1975, the technology required to properly organize the word structure was not available until recently. This valuable preservation is in keeping with the current movement to document and archive indigenous languages on the verge of extinction.