Earlier this week, Chester Nez passed away. At 93, he was the last surviving Navajo Code Talker from WWII.

In the first half of the 20th century, linguistics as a science was still in it’s infancy. Outside of the communities where they were spoken, most people didn’t know about Native American languages . So in WWII, the US had a distinct advantage. Instead of making up codes to transmit secret messages over radio waves, only to have their codes cracked by clever enemies, they hired speakers of Native American languages to translate messages. Cracking the “code” of Navajo proved impossible, since it’s a language wholly unlike the European or East Asian languages most people are familiar with.