Indigenous Languages Sustain Cultural Heritage: At Risk of Extinction

Zapotec, Mixtec, Huave, Nahuatl and the other 12 indigenous languages of Oaxaca have fewer and fewer native speakers.  As young people want to become part of the “mainstream” Spanish-speaking culture they leave their mother language and their culture behind — often out of the strong desire to assimilate.

And continuing education requires commitment, resources, and a lifting out of rural poverty.  Oaxaca is the second poorest state in Mexico and one of the most rural.

Many villages have kindergartens and primary schools that offer bilingual education.  For example, in Teotitlan del Valle the kindergarten teaches in both Zapotec and Spanish and encourages children to learn and speak Zapotec at home and as part of their everyday communication.

A new indigenous language center is opening in Oaxaca city supported by the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation.  The historic building that will house the center is under renovation now and I don’t know exactly when it will open.

The Center will preserve and teach indigenous languages in Oaxaca.  Our friend Janet Chavez Santiago, who speaks fluent Zapotec, Spanish, English, French, and a smattering of other European languages, will coordinate the educational programs designed to inform the public about the importance and value of teaching language to sustain culture. She will also develop programs to bring in young people to study, learn, and enjoy the languages spoken by their parents and grandparents.

The British publication The Guardian published an essay on Wednesday, June 29, 2011, as part of a journalism competition entitled Lessons From Oaxaca: What stops children in rural areas going to school?   

Here is the link:

San Francisco State University Professor Troi Carleton is determined to save Zapotec, a language indigenous to Mexico — and to do it before it is lost to new generations transformed by technology and social change. “When a language dies, its culture dies, too,” Carleton said.  For years, she has been bringing linguistics students to Teotitlan del Valle to live with families and record the language — an oral tradition that has not been written down.  I’ll be talking to Troi more about her more recent work in upcoming posts.

FYI:  The new indigenous language center will be next to the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, corner Hidalgo and Fiallo, two blocks from the Zocalo.

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