Of the 143 native languages in Mexico, 60 are at risk of being silenced forever, linguists say.
One language, Ayapenaco, is spoken fluently by just two elderly men who aren't even on speaking terms. Another indigenous language, Kiliwa, is spoken by only 36 people.
While 60 of Mexico's native tongues are at risk, 21 are critically endangered, with only a few elderly speakers left, according to a statement released recently by Mexico's Centre of Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS).
The languages most at risk in Mexico—including the Zapotec, the Chatino, and the Seri tongues—are undergoing "rapid change" for a number of reasons, says Lourdes de León Pasquel, a linguist at CIESAS. Among them are "migration, social instability, [and] economic and ideological factors that push speakers to adopt Spanish."
Mexico isn't the only country losing its voices: If nothing is done, about half of the 6,000-plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century, according to UNESCO's Endangered Languages Programme website.
Mexico is a good example of that, Harrison said in an email interview: "Each of the Mexican indigenous languages contains millennia of human experience, wisdom, and practical knowledge about the natural environment."
León Pasquel argues that to preserve Mexico's threatened languages, "there should be an integrated policy to keep them alive: bilingual education [and] design of school curricula and bilingual materials. But more importantly, teacher training is basic to achieve this goal and that is what we lack."
Because Spanish is the dominant language in the workplace and Mexicans are typically taught Spanish in school, many Mexicans may have less interest in their region's native tongue, she said. But in her view, "Everybody should learn an indigenous language apart from Spanish."
Keeping Voices Alive
Losing languages is "neither inevitable nor irreversible," according to UNESCO's Endangered Languages website. There are many efforts under way worldwide to boost learning and speaking of languages in decline, especially for younger generations.
Written By: Christine Dell’Amore
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