[lg policy] Language at risk of dying out ? the last two speakers aren't talking

Jeremy Graves jayrkirk42 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Jun 13 21:59:07 UTC 2011

Wasn't this posted from another source sometime back?

From: Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at gmail.com>
To: lp <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
Sent: Mon, June 13, 2011 9:52:19 AM
Subject: [lg policy] Language at risk of dying out ? the last two speakers 
aren't talking

Forwarded From: guardian.co.uk <noreply at guardian.co.uk>
Date: Mon, Jun 13, 2011 at 8:52 AM

Erdal Ayan spotted this on the guardian.co.uk site and thought you
should see it.

To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk site,
go to 

Language at risk of dying out ? the last two speakers aren't talking

Trouble in Tabasco for centuries-old Ayapaneco tongue as
anthropologists race to compile dictionary of Nuumte Oote

? Get the data: the full list of endangered languages

Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
Thursday April 14 2011
The Guardian


The language of Ayapaneco has been spoken in the land now known as
Mexico for centuries. It has survived the Spanish conquest, seen off
wars, revolutions, famines and floods. But now, like so many other
indigenous languages, it's at risk of extinction.

There are just two people left who can speak it fluently ? but they
refuse to talk to each other. Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro
Velazquez, 69, live 500 metres apart in the village of Ayapa in the
tropical lowlands of the southern state of Tabasco. It is not clear
whether there is a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance,
but people who know them say they have never really enjoyed each
other's company.

"They don't have a lot in common," says Daniel Suslak, a linguistic
anthropologist from Indiana University, who is involved with a project
to produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco. Segovia, he says, can be "a
little prickly" and Velazquez, who is "more stoic," rarely likes to
leave his home.

The dictionary is part of a race against time to revitalise the
language before it is definitively too late. "When I was a boy
everybody spoke it," Segovia told the Guardian by phone. "It's
disappeared little by little, and now I suppose it might die with me."

Segovia, who denied any active animosity with Velazquez, retained the
habit of speaking Ayapaneco by conversing with his brother until he
died about a decade ago. Segovia still uses it with his son and wife
who understand him, but cannot produce more than a few words
themselves. Velazquez reputedly does not regularly talk to anybody in
his native tongue anymore.

Suslak says Ayapaneco has always been a "linguistic island" surrounded
by much stronger indigenous languages.

Its demise was sealed by the advent of education in Spanish in the mid
20th century, which for several decades included the explicit
prohibition on indigenous children speaking anything else.
Urbanisation and migration from the 1970s then ensured the break-up of
the core group of speakers concentrated in the village. "It's a sad
story," says Suslak, "but you have to be really impressed by how long
it has hung around."

There are 68 different indigenous languages in Mexico, further
subdivided into 364 variations. A handful of other Mexican indigenous
languages are also in danger of extinction, though Ayapaneco is the
most extreme case.

The name Ayapaneco is an imposition by outsiders, and Segovia and
Velazquez call their language Nuumte Oote, which means the True Voice.
They speak different versions of this truth and tend to disagree over
details, which doesn't help their relationship. The dictionary, which
is due out later this year, will contain both versions.

The National Indigenous Language Institute is also planning a last
attempt to get classes going in which the last two surviving speakers
can pass their knowledge on to other locals. Previous efforts have
failed to take hold due to lack of funding and limited enthusiasm.

"I bought pencils and notebooks myself," Segovia complains. "The
classes would start off full and then the pupils would stop coming."

Suslak says the language is particularly rich in what he calls sound
symbolic expressions that often take their inspiration from nature,
such as kolo-golo-nay, translated as "to gobble like a turkey".

Endangered languages

Ter Sami

Spoken by only two elderly people in the Kola peninsula in the
north-west of Russia. Had about 450 speakers at the end of the 19th
century until it was prohibited in schools in the 1930s.


Kayardild is spoken fluently by four people ? all elderly Aboriginals
? on Bentinck and Mornington Islands in Queensland, Australia.


Language from the north-eastern area of Kalimantan, Indonesia. Lengilu
was at one stage spoken by 10 people. Today, there are only four.


Three people reportedly speak Mabire in the Oulek village of Chad. The
chief of the Mabire is the only Mabire speaker in his village so
people doubt whether he is still fluent.


Originally the language of nomadic hunters in Chile. The last four
speakers live in Patagonia, Argentina.

Emine Sinmaz

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