Native languages of Idaho that have survived thousands of years may become extinct in the next generation, says Boise State University linguist Jon Dayley.

"When a language dies, a little piece of humanity dies with it," he said.Dayley has spent his professional life studying the dying Indian languages of North and Central America. As an undergraduate student at Idaho State University in the late 1960s, he worked to record the Northern Shoshone language spoken by members of the Shoshone and Bannock tribes living on the Fort Hall Reservation in eastern Idaho.

In those days, about 2,000 people spoke the language fluently. Dayley says today, the number has dwindled to about 100.

In another generation, there may be no fluent speakers remaining if something isn't done. Scholars' recordings and other remnants will be all that is left, he said. He and other linguists are trying to preserve some of the language through tape recordings.

A similar fate awaits other Idaho Indian languages, such as Nez Perce, Coeur d'Alene and Kootenai.

At a school on the Fort Hall Reservation, north of Pocatello, the tribes have introduced instruction at the elementary level in an effort to keep the language alive.

The program is sponsored by the state Department of Education for about 120 students ages 7-12. Ed Galindo, science teacher serving as coordinator of the program, said fluent speakers and elders assist teachers. A night class is offered for adults.

The program was launched with a federal grant that has run out. The school is exploring other ways to pay for the program, Galindo said.