Friday, October 16, 2009

Preserving indigenous language

An interesting article from IPS describes attempts to preserve Nahuat as a living language in El Salvador. Indigenous people are almost invisible in El Salvador following a centuries long history of oppression. Nahuat is the language of the Nahua/Pipiles people. From the IPS article:

”Yek shiajfikan” reads a sign hanging above the gate of the ”Dr. Mario Calvo Marroquín” elementary school in the Salvadoran town of Izalco, welcoming pupils in Nawat, the language that was spoken by the area’s native communities.

A small group of no more than twelve boys and girls are gathered in a small classroom in the southwest province of Sonsonate, singing the national anthem, in a scene that could be set in any other school in the country – except here they’re not singing it in Spanish, but in Nawat, the language of their ancestors.

In 2002, teachers at this school took it upon themselves to begin teaching their pupils the language that was spoken by the Nahua-Pipil communities when the Spanish colonialists arrived in the sixteenth century, a language that is now on the brink of extinction.

The language was brought to Central America in pre-Hispanic times by groups that migrated from the central region of present-day Mexico in the tenth century, anthropologist Ramón Rivas explained to IPS.

Nawat, or Pipil as it is also called, is a Uto-Aztecan language descended from Nahuatl, which is still widely spoken in many parts of Mexico. The Salvadoran variety, however, is endangered, and has already vanished elsewhere in Central America.

Today, there are only around 200 Nawat speakers left in this country of 5.7 million, according to the 2009 edition of the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) (more).


Danielle said...

I just came across your've got a lot of great information here!

My family and I are moving to El Salvador next month. We also became involved in El Salvador through our church, and we want to do more than just help out one or two weeks a year. I'll definitely check out all the information you've got here.

Mike said...

"In El Salvador it’s not yet clear if the government will take action to promote the preservation of Nawat, but grassroots efforts are being made."

Nearly all of the Nahuat materials to be found in the country were produced by collaborations between ACCIES, one of the larger Salvadoran indigenous organizations, and various Salvadoran universities and foreign NGOs. The government apparently provided no support, financial or otherwise, for the production of the Nahuat books that can be bought at the UES or the UCA bookstores.

Indigenous organizations such as ACCIES and ACOPOC organize Nahuat classes in community centers in several municipalities in the departamento of Sonsonate, however a teacher from ACOPOC has recently begun offering classes at two locations in San Salvador.

Nahuat is at a critical stage as a living language, and efforts at its preservation unfortunately suffer from a chronic shortage of funding, even if the principal costs of a given project only include bus transportation to bring teachers from Sonsonate to the capital.