If our post about endangered languages got you interested in learning about some of the languages at risk of dying out, you may already be familiar with Ayapaneco. If I failed to get you interested in learning about other languages, first of all, I’m sorry, and secondly, Ayapaneco is a language spoken in Mexico for centuries and now at risk of dying because the only people left who speak it are two elderly men. And as it turns out, a serious part of the problem is the fact that the men refuse to speak to each other.
Back in 2011, The Guardian reported on the peculiar state of Ayapaneco. Manuel Segovia and Isidro Velazquez are the last remaining speakers of the language, both over the age of 65. They both claim that there is no particular animosity between them but that they are not close and wouldn’t have much to talk about. As a consequence, there has not been a full conversation between Ayapaneco speakers in many years, and the language is on the verge of extinction.
In a twisted sort of way, there is something very humorous and charming about the situation – one might expect to find it in a Calvino story sooner than the real world. But of course, there are tragic elements behind the scenes too. Ayapaneco took its first hit with the arrival of the Spanish. The colonial government and later the government of independent Mexico forbade the teaching of Ayapaneco in schools. Since then, urbanization and globalization have dispersed old communities and increased the importance of global languages like English and Spanish. Between a long colonial whittling down and the socio-economic pressures of the modern world, the Ayapaneco-speaking community has shrunk bit by bit, now not fully transmitting across generations at all.
Luckily efforts are underway to preserve Ayapaneco in a dictionary. Linguistic anthropologists will have to make two versions of the dictionary because Manuel and Isidro do not always agree, but with serious attention hopefully Ayapaneco and the centuries of experiences that it carries will be kept alive. As long as there is a happy ending—well, one can’t help but laugh a little…