My first language as a child was a very obscure dialect of German, Baltic German. This was the only language I could speak until I started kindergarten. At the peak maybe 100 000 people spoke this language as their first language. I grew up in this language and did not know I was the final generation that would speak this dialect. In fact I had no idea I was speaking a dialect at all.
Baltic German is in accent very similar to standard German, the most noticeable difference is that it is a drawl, my aunt Sabine von Schulmann has one of the strongest accents. I have heard Hessian, Bavarian, Austrian and other German Dialects and could hear the strong difference in accents to standard German. It is because of this that I had always assumed that I simply spoke standard German. It took me until I was in my 30s to understand how much of a dialect I had.
My German vocabulary is about 4000 to 5000 words I use on a regular basis, of that about 500 of them are words only used in Baltic German. I had never understood why many Germans looked at me oddly when I spoke, it turns out it had to do with the fact that I used words they had never heard. I finally understood when I read 1001 Wort Baltisch by Berend von Nottbeck in about 1999.
Turns out I not only spoke Baltic German, I spoke the Estonian variety.
A simple word like 'ets' (meaning a bit, the standard German is 'etwas') is one I use all the time, turns out it is not used in Germany. A lot of my vocabulary around food is pure Baltic German - Falscher Hase to Zakuska our world of food is our own.
I was born in Vancouver in 1965 and spent the first years of my life in a purely Baltic German environment. By the time my brother Nik came along four years later, my parents had moved out to the 'burbs and there was a lot more English around us.
Those of us born in Canada between 1950 and 1970 are the last generation of people born that speak this dialect. Most Baltic Germans after the war ended up in Germany, but the people born there were very heavily influenced by the German around them. Those of us born in Canada only knew the German of our parents from the Baltics. Our parents continued to speak the way they did before they were ethnically cleansed from the Baltics in 1939. We only spoke with other people that spoke the same dialect and therefore preserved it for one more generation.
Being one of the youngest people to speak a dialect and knowing that it will die out with my generation means I understand the issues and urgency aboriginal people feel with their one languages. Going back hundreds of years, all of my ancestors spoke the language I do but I children do not speak it. I live with the fact that my children can not speak my mother tongue, that they would not be able to understand the first words I said in this life.
I do not get the sense that a lot of the other people of my generation understand where we are at and what we are losing. I know my parents generation know what they are losing, but for them it was much more than the language, it was the very houses and land they had been part of for generations.
The death of Baltic German is also the death of a unique worldview. The Baltic Germans were a minority, but a well to do minority. As a people they were not stand offish or looking to separate themselves from the world. As a group the Baltic Germans were not very nationalistic at all. They were a people that did not connect ethnicity with the nation. They were a melting pot of people from all manner of backgrounds. They were some of the most unGerman Germans around. This worldview is being lost as the final pieces of the people and culture die.