Monday, November 19, 2007

COM: Lost language

Indigenous Mexican Language Faces Extinction As Last Two Speakers Stop Talking To Each Other
Ishita Sukhadwala - AHN News Writer, November 16, 2007 5:41 a.m. EST

Ayapan, Mexico (AHN) - The last two speakers of an indigenous Mexican language have stopped talking to each other, raising fears that the language will become extinct.

The two men in their 70s from the village of Ayapan, Tabasco, in southern Mexico, are the only remaining speakers of their local version of the Zoque language.

Fernando Nava, head of the Mexican Institute for Indigenous Languages told BBC News the two men have drifted apart. He said: "We know they are not to say enemies, but we know they are apart. We know they are two people with little in common."

"They are really personal reasons that they don't speak to each other."

Nava used the example of the two men to highlight the threat to indigenous languages across Mexico. He is hoping other people will learn Ayapan Zoque and that the men will pass the language to their families.

Nava continued: "We hope in a few years to be talking about new speakers of the language."

ABC News reports that Zoque from Tabasco was spoken by 367 people in 1960, according to a Mexican Government survey. This number reduced to 40 speakers in the early 1970s. Now, there are only two remaining who know the language.

Dr Paul Sidwell, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University's Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, works to save endangered languages. He thinks if the two men don't talk to each other, there could be other ways of saving the language.

He told ABC News: "The first thing to do is to record the language, to document it in as far as we can, in all the different ways it's used, document the lexicon, the grammar."

"Once we have a description of the language, then we know what it is we're trying to preserve."

The United Nations estimates that one language disappears every two weeks across the world.

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