More than 20 Mexican languages in danger

Secretary of Public Education warns that without a concerted preservation effort, Mexico may lose even more of its indigenous languages

(28 February 2005) -- THERE ARE more than 20 indigenous languages in danger of extinction in Mexico, said Secretary of Public Education Reyes Tamez at an event commemorating International Mother Language Day last week.

Speaking before representatives of a number of indigenous communities, Tamez urged teachers, parents, students and society as a whole "to cultivate our mother languages and use them as a real means of intercultural communication."

The director of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, Xóchitl Gálvez, also spoke at the event and asked Mexicans to look for opportunities to learn indigenous languages just as they would seek to study English, French or German. Such an effort, she said, "would be a true act of recognition of the plurality and multiculturalism of this country."

She also called on Mexican society to stop the "ridicule and discrimination" that is often directed towards speakers of indigenous languages, and to eliminate usage of the diminutive "inditos" to stereotype and minimize indigenous people.

In an effort to confront the problem of language extinction in Mexico, Tamez said last week that the Public Education Secretariat, or SAP, will team up with national Institute for Indigenous Languages, or Inali, to conduct a census to identify and quantify the remaining speakers of the endangered languages.

Once the census data has been obtained, Tamez said that the SEP will initiate efforts to promote the languages in public schools so that they do not join the 40 other indigenous Mexican languages that have already gone extinct in the last century.

The problem of language extinction is not unique to Mexico. According to United Nations data, at the apogee of global linguistic diversity, there were between 7 and 8,000 languages spoken worldwide. Today, that number is at 6,000, with half of those languages in danger.

In Mexico, current statistics show that more than six million people speak an indigenous language. The most commonly spoken are Náhuatl, Maya, Zapoteco and Mixteco. Among the most threatened languages are Ixcateco, Kiliwa, Kumiai, Paipai and Cochimí.

It is difficult to quantify the exact number of languages spoken here, since many are better characterized as language families that often encompass a number of mutually unintelligible dialects. But by conservative estimates, experts say that there are at least 100 indigenous languages spoken in Mexico.

Source: http://www.mexiconews.com.mx/pls/impreso/noticia.html?id_nota=9639&tabla=miami

Leonor Farlow is among 5 remaining Kiliwa speakers


(28 February 2005) -- ALMOST literally speaking, Leonor Farlow has no one to talk to.

The 66-year-old native of Ensenada, Baja California, is one of five remaining people in the world who speak the language of Kiliwa. And while she is almost never physically alone she says there are always plenty of her 10 children and 15 grandchildren around her home she says she still feels isolated. "I don't have anyone to talk to in Kiliwa," she says. "My children can understand me, but no one can respond to me."

Leonor's father was a Texan who married an indigenous Mexican woman from the small Kiliwa community, at that time centered in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir in Baja California state.

But when the community members were forced to migrate to the city for work, most of them went to Ensenada, where they quickly dropped many of their customs including the language.

Leonor says that she laments "not having acted sooner" to try to save her language. But until just recently, she says that "I didn't have support from anyone to try to make sure that Kiliwa survived."

But now she does have someone to help her, a local amateur linguist named Arnulfo Estrada Ramírez, who in his free time away from his job at the Department of the Navy, is working with Leonor to assemble the firstof-its-kind Practical Dictionary of the Kiliwa Language.

The dictionary, still in draft form, already consists of more than 100 pages with at least 1000 words of Kiliwa, the oldest of the 12 languages of the Yumana family, whose members once occupied lands strecthing from what is now the US state of Colorado to the Baja California peninsula.

Source: http://www.mexiconews.com.mx/pls/impreso/noticia.html?id_nota=9640&tabla=miami

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