Ayapaneco is a very rare language, indigenous to Mexico. It’s so rare in fact that only two people speak it fluently. However if you were planning to visit the village of the last two surviving speakers, who live just 500 metres apart, you probably wouldn’t hear it spoken. This is because Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, refuse to talk to each other!
There are between 6000 and 7000 languages spoken around the world today. But according to UNESCO, about half of these will disappear by the end of the century if nothing is done to prevent their extinction. This is why the Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) program was awarded $3.9 million US Dollars last month. It’s researchers may not be able to prevent languages such as Ayapaneco dying out (or make Manuel and Isidro speak to each other), but it can at least record their linguistic and cultural record before it is lost forever. If you are intrigued by what these endangered languages are, and where they are spoken around the world, check out the UNESCO interactive atlas.
But why do languages die out? Often national governments, through uniform state education policies, are uninterested in supporting indigenous languages spoken by just a handful of their citizens. In Latin America, a pattern of indigenous languages dying out within a couple of generations of Spanish schooling is documented by the DEL researchers. Whilst linguistic homogenization is often just an unintended consequence of modernization, in some cases suppressing minority languages can be deliberate government policy. For example, the use of the Kurdish language was illegal in Turkey during the 1980s.
However, minority languages can be revived. Welsh was re-introduced into schools, meaning this generation speaks it better than its parents. Hebrew was revived as the national language of Israel, despite being nearly extinct as a spoken language for over one and a half millennia. Recording languages before their last speakers die out leaves the tiny possibility that they too could someday be resurrected.
At TJC Global we can’t quite speak 7000 languages, but we can provide translation and interpreting services for around 180 of them. It’s likely that these are the ones most useful to our wide range of clients, from fields such as: legal, medical, government, media, business, financial, engineering and many more. Our highly-skilled expert network of translators and interpreters cover languages from Afar to Zulu, but not quite Ayapaneco.