A language that has been spoken for centuries in modern-day Mexico is at risk of extinction as only two elderly people can speak it fluently – and they’re not talking to each other! Ayapaneco is the official name of this language, but is known as Nuumte Oote (The True Voice) by the two remaining speakers.
In the 20th century, there were a number of decades during which the use of indigenous languages was prohibited, and Spanish became the language of education. Following urbanisation and migration in the second half of the century, the close-knit group that had used the language gradually dispersed, and as a result, fewer and fewer people spoke the language.
There are now just two fluent speakers of Ayapaneco, Manuel Segovia, 75 and Isidro Velazquez, 69, who live just 500 metres apart. It is feared that the language will die out in the near future, a matter not helped by the ongoing feud between the pair. The source of this disagreement is not known, but acquaintances of the pair say that “they have never really enjoyed each other’s company”. Segovia used to converse with his brother in the language, but since he died about ten years ago, he only uses the language with his wife and son, who can understand him, but cannot respond. Velazquez, meanwhile, does not converse with anybody in Ayapaneco.
Attempts were made by Segovia himself to teach classes but, despite starting off popular, the number of attendees diminished over time. As The Guardian reported, “The National Indigenous Language Institute is also planning a last attempt to get classes going in which the last two surviving speakers can pass their knowledge on to other locals”. A linguistic anthropologist from Indiana University, Daniel Suslak, is currently working on the production of a dictionary in order to record the language before it is too late.
Only time will tell whether the language will prove popular enough to attract students to classes, and in doing so, allow the language to be preserved and passed on.
7 May 2011 08:04