Mexico: 21 native languages on verge of extinction (Eurasia Review)

MARCH 30, 2014

By Eurasia Review

Mexico has 143 native languages ​​, 21 of which are in critical danger of extinction, such as the Ayapaneco from Tabasco, which is only spoken by two senior adults, followed by Kiliwa of Baja California with only 36 speakers.

Although there are many languages, recent research shows that about 60 are at risk of disappearing, and the extinction process is accelerated because they are spoken by a small group of seniors, which is known as displacement of the language.

When the phase of risk of losing the language is reached, researchers from the Centre of Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) determine the degree of danger for the language to disappear, categorizing it in slow or fast displacement or extinction process.

The Revitalization, Strengthening and Development Program of the National Indigenous Languages ​​ 2008-2012 (PINALI) classifies 143 languages ​​according to vulnerability posing for extinction; 52 are vulnerable, 38 endangered, 32 severely endangered and 21 critically endangered with less than 200 speakers like Oluteco from the east coast, Ixil and Kaqchikel from the south of Mexico, plus Teko qato’k / Motocintleco, Cucapá, Pápago and Ixcateco.

There are also a total of 364 linguistic variations which are taken into account when the languages ​​are not mutually intelligible although they belong to the same group. As the case of the Zapoteco, which due to its 62 variants, was renamed to Zapotecanas languages, explained the researcher at CIESAS, Lourdes de León Pasquel.

In the first phase, according to the National Institute of Indigenous Languages ​​(INALI), there is a loss of speakers from the new generation. The criteria for measuring this situation is when children no longer want to learn to speak the language of their parents and grandparents.

“When the transmission of an indigenous language is in danger of extinction, researchers work with the last speakers to document their knowledge. Documentation is made on grammar, dictionaries and ritual language to record the highest number of lexicon, a treasure to revitalize the language and give it to the new generations,” said the researcher.

Once CIESAS anthropologists gather the information, the revitalization phase begins, which aims to make the new generation interested in a mother language that is on the verge of. However, the process has the disadvantage of working through books and workshops, but fails to reproduce the natural condition of the language, because relearning rates are very low.

For example, Mayan languages have been affected by the migration of speakers of the highlands of Chiapas, the Tsetsal has 371,730 speakers, Tsotsil 329, 937 and Ch’ol 185,299.

These languages ​​have the highest rate of ethnolinguistic retention in the country. To measure the degree of retention displacement that a language has, an equation is performed with the percentage of seniors who still speak it and the children that are learning it.

According to the investigation of Lourdes de León, in the Highlands of Chiapas, there is a devaluation of indigenous languages ​​in current education, reading is rarely practiced in homes as a result of the lifestyle that has been modified by the need of working parents.

The specialist at CIESAS explained that a stable bilingualism in Mexico has to be the aim, it is obvious that the Spanish is needed for other activities such as school and work, but keeping the native language allows a great possibility of expressiveness and even increases learning abilities, speaking more languages ​​has a cognitive effect.

The problem increases when the person has a higher academic preparation, because they ignore their mother language, caused by school and work, where students are taught by teachers who speak Spanish or another language different than theirs, said León Pasquel.

(Agencia ID)