A Dead Language?

Two huichol indian women in traditional costume.

Gudalupe and her niece Maria Feliz

Mexico has an unusually rich tapestry of language, and the array of native dialects is dizzying. When I was growing up in Mexico, many of the indigenous people we encountered spoke Spanish as a second language, a trait that’s less common now.

I spent a chunk of my childhood hanging around with an extended family of Huicholes and got to witness the way a native language dwindles. The matriarch, Guadalupe, was bilingual in Spanish and Huichol; her niece Maria Feliz, was fluent in Huichol, and Maria Feliz’s children could understand Huichol, but usually spoke to their mother in Spanish. This particular family was keen on keeping tradition alive, but many Huichol neighbors in their Tepic barrio had already lost the language completely.

According to Geo-Mexico, there are about 62  languages (and 100 dialects) still spoken in Mexico. Unfortunately, many of these indigenous languages are fading, including Ayapaneco, a language that is now only spoken by two old men, who, of course, don’t get along… (The complete post on the subject is well worth reading.)