Two grumpy men

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

An indigenous language in southern Mexico is in danger of disappearing because its last two speakers have drifted apart. The two elderly men, residents of Ayapan village in Mexico's Tabasco province are the only fluent speakers of Zoque.

In a bbc interview in November, Fernando Nava of the Mexican Institute for Indigenous Languages used the Zoque example to highlight the threat to languages across Mexico. In 1960, according to a Mexican government survey, there were 367 speakers of Zoque in Tabasco. In the early 1970s, linguists found 40 people who spoke the language. Now, apparently, it's just the two grumpy men.

Indigenous languages are disappearing steadily. unesco estimates that half the languages in the world today could be lost within "a few generations". Paul Sidwell of the Australian National University who works to save endangered languages says, "If the men refuse to speak to one another, there may be other ways to save the language. The first thing I'd tell them is to write things down: recollections, stories, and folktales. Then they will, at least, have a permanent record of the language. And then maybe their attitude will warm up a bit to speaking again."

The institute is encouraging more people to speak Zoque and hopes the two will pass the language on. "We hope in a few years, to be talking about new speakers of the language," Nava said.

Mexico has a rich diversity of languages, with more than 350 spoken.

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