Leaving them speechless

Published: Saturday 15 July 1995

Cultural pressures are slowly decimating Mexico's rich heritage of indigenous languages. The 200 languages and dialects spoken in Mexico when it was overrun by Spanish colonisers 5 centuries ago have been throttled to 70, although the indigenous population has more than doubled.

Bilingual education is offered to only 7.5 per cent of the 12 million-strong indigenous population. Efforts to keep the languages alive are limited to the output of the 11 native language radio stations and the struggles, often in isolation, of indigenous academics, educators and writers.

The curricula for native language schooling in Mexico were established in 1935 by the Summer Linguistic Institute, a Protestant group. The Institute's methods of operation destroyed the peoples' culture, "transforming them into beings incapable of individual thought", said writer Victor de la Cruz.

Recommendations of local academics and writers have not been followed while setting up the bilingual curricula. Natalio Hernandez, president of the Mexican Association of Native Language Writers, says, "The authorities believe that merely teaching a language is enough, but they must be made to realise that for the language to be maintained, they must offer a decent quality of life (to indigenous peoples)."(ips)

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