Zachariah Howwoswee Jr. was the last Aquinnah preacher to speak to his flock in his native language, Wôpanâak. By the early 19th century, there were few parishioners left who could understand him. Forced to give his sermons mostly in English, he would revert to Wôpanâak to make his most particular points to his flock. At these times, an observer wrote, “he would cry, and they would cry.”

The language loss the Wampanoag parishioners lamented was the result of many factors that followed from English settlement of Martha’s Vineyard in 1641. Though the Island was spared the violence common on the mainland, there was “an incremental, but no less consequential, process of dispossession,” said David J. Silverman, a history professor at George Washington University and the author of Faith and Boundaries, speaking at the Vineyard Haven Library last Wednesday night. As the Wampanoags’ communal hunter-gatherer life gave way to English notions of private property and a cash economy, many Indians found themselves forced into debt, obliged to indenture themselves and their children as servants to the English or to leave the Island for long voyages on whaling ships. Dispersed and thrust into an English-speaking world, their own language gradually faded from memory.

Yet last March, Wôpanâak was once again heard on the Aquinnah Cliffs, as the tribe’s medicine man, Luther Madison, was laid to rest amid prayers that had not been voiced there in over a century. Jason Baird, Mr. Madison’s great-nephew and successor as medicine man, is one of a growing number of Wampanoags engaged in a miraculous revival of the language.

The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project started in 1993, when a Mashpee Wampanoag named Jessie (Little Doe) Baird had a recurring dream in which people who seemed to be her ancestors spoke to her in words she couldn’t understand. “ÂsNutayuneân,” they said. Not long after, driving up the Cape, reading familiar Wampanoag place names on the highway signs, she realized that the voices in her dream were speaking Wôpanâak. Determined to understand, she enrolled at MIT to study for a master’s degree in linguistics, which she obtained in 2000. She learned that what her ancestors were saying to her was, “We are still here.” She took this as an injunction to do what had not been done before: reclaim an Indian language with no living speakers.

Wampanoags on the coast and Islands of Massachusetts shared a language that was part of the family of more than three dozen related Algonquin tongues. In 1721, the Vineyard missionary Experience Mayhew was asked to provide his English patrons with “some account, of the Peculiarities and Beauties of the Indian Language.” Writing that he had grown up playing with Wampanoag children, “I learnt the Indian language by rote, as I did my mother tongue and not by studying the rules of it as the Latin tongue am commonly learned.” He said he found the language “Good and regular,” but warned that compound words could be dazzlingly long. He cited as an example the fact that the English words “We did strongly love one another” would be rendered by a single Wôpanâak word: nummunnukkoowamonittimunnonup.

There is perhaps some sense of restitution in the fact that Jessie Baird’s reclamation project has drawn on the very documents — Christianizing missionary tracts — that did so much to disrupt traditional Wampanoag culture. The first bible printed in North America was in Wôpanâak, John Eliot’s 1663 Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God — which translates literally as: Entire Holy his-Bible God. There were also catechisms, land deeds, wills and other documents written by Wampanoags, who, by the 18th century, had a literacy rate in their own language very close to that of the English settlers.

The body of written documents in Wôpanâak is the largest of any Indian language of that era.

But how did it sound? To work out pronunciation, Ms. Baird and her fellow linguists compared living Algonquin languages, such as the Delaware tongue, which contemporary sources had stated sounded similar to Wôpanâak.

By last year, some 200 tribe members had taken part in classes in their language offered at Mashpee and Aquinnah. Seven people had become fully fluent. At Dr. Silverman’s lecture, Aquinnah tribal historian June Manning spoke enthusiastically about hearing her language once again, noting that there is now a dictionary of more than 10,000 words. But perhaps the most remarkable evidence that the language lives is a little girl named Mae Alice. Raised with Wôpanâak as her first language, the daughter of Jessie and Jason Baird is the first native speaker of Wôpanâak in six generations.

Geraldine Brooks lives in Vineyard Haven and is the author of five books, including March, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize.