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  HOME | Mexico

Indigenous Language Will Live on Film When Last 2 Speakers Die

By Asela Viar

MEXICO CITY – A Mexican documentary will continue to preserve aspects of the indigenous Zoque-Ayapaneco language, whose universe of ideas, beliefs and culture are on the point of vanishing when the last two native speakers, both in their 70s, pass away.

“We’re beginning to investigate and we’re discovering that it is the language that is vanishing most rapidly in Mexico and worldwide. It’s the one with the fewest speakers, just two, and they’re elderly. When they die, it will practically cease to exist,” said director Denisse Quintero, 28, in an interview with Efe.

Zoque-Ayapaneco heads the list of roughly 400 languages worldwide that are in the so-called “rapid disappearance phase,” according to U.N. figures cited by Quintero.

Given this situation, the film project, entitled “Lengua Muerta” (Dead Language), is aiming to document what could be the last vestiges of one of the 364 indigenous languages that still survive in Mexico.

“It’s not a rescue, but rather it consists of creating an audiovisual registry, a memory, so that other generations can have access to it, given that it’s very difficult to rescue the language,” added Laura Berron, the producer of the documentary.

In addition to creating a linguistic registry, the members of the project want to have it shown in traditional circles where the public can become aware of the problem, such as in Indian communities and rural focal points where the local culture is not preserved and is undervalued due to a deeply rooted discrimination among its own peoples.

“The people don’t want to learn the language of their ancestors out of fear of discrimination of their children, who don’t understand Spanish well and remain between these two cultures,” Berron said.

Isidro Velazquez, 70, and Manuel Segovia, 77, currently preserve the last traces of Zoque-Ayapaneco.

“When this language is spoken many people make fun of it or give it nicknames, or they even tell you that only Indians speak that language, and here the word Indian for some people is an insult, a symbol of humiliation,” Segovia’s 30-year-old son told Efe in a telephone interview.

The son, also named Manuel, is the last hope for Zoque-Ayapaneco, given that five years ago he began to devote several hours a day to studying it with the aim of one day becoming a teacher and keeping it alive.

It makes him sad, he said, not to have started learning it sooner, since now he finds that absorbing it is very difficult and slow, something that, nevertheless, does not discourage him from continuing.

The younger Segovia said proudly that for decades his father dedicated himself to teaching the ancestral tongue to the community, a task that he always performed with “enthusiasm,” despite the scanty interest among his neighbors.

Fewer than half of Mexico’s roughly 16 million Indians speak an indigenous language. EFE


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