Mexican Indigenous Language to Live on After Last Two Speakers Die

Isidro Velazquez and Manuel Segovia are the last two speakers of Zoque-Ayapaneco.

Isidro Velazquez and Manuel Segovia are the last two speakers of Zoque-Ayapaneco.  (EFE)

The indigenous Zoque-Ayapaneco language, once spoken by a vibrant minority near Tabasco, Mexico, will vanish when the final two native speakers, both in their 70s, pass away.

But it will live on a documentary, “Lengua Muerta,” which chronicles the last of the 364 aboriginal dialects still surviving in Mexico.

The movie features Isidro Velazquez, 70, and Manuel Segovia, 77, who will take to the grave a language widely spoken until the middle of the 20th century.

“We’re beginning to investigate and we’re discovering that it is the language that is vanishing most rapidly in Mexico and worldwide,” said director Denisse Quintero. “It’s the one with the fewest speakers, just two, and they’re elderly. When they die, it will practically cease to exist.”

“It’s not a rescue, but rather it consists of creating an audiovisual registry, a memory, so that other generations can have access to it, given that it’s very difficult to rescue the language,” also explained producer Laura Berron.

Zoque-Ayapaneco leads a list of about 400 languages worldwide that are, according to U.N. figures, in a “rapid disappearance phase.” Members involved with the project want to raise awareness on the issue, including within Indian communities where the local culture isn’t valued due to discrimination among its people.

“The people don’t want to learn the language of their ancestors out of fear of discrimination of their children, who don’t understand Spanish well and remain between these two cultures,” said Berron.

“When this language is spoken, many people make fun of it or give it nicknames, or they even tell you that only Indians speak that language. And here the word Indian for some people is an insult, a symbol of humiliation,” added Segovia’s 30-year-old son, Manuel.

Currently, fewer than half of Mexico’s 16 million Indians speak an indigenous language.

Based on reporting by EFE.

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