Efforts to keep Nhat, the Pipil language, from disappearing in El Salvador — a global issue
Elena López (left), one of two teachers teaching the Nahuat language to children in Nahuizalco, western El Salvador, leads one of the morning learning exercises. In it, children walk in a circle and sing songs in the language of their ancestors. Pipil people. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS
  • Written by Edgardo Ayala (Nahuizalco, El Salvador)
  • interpress service

“This initiative aims to keep Nahuat alive. That’s why we focus on children and ask them to continue and preserve this important part of our culture,” said Elena.・Lopez told IPS during a short snack break for the preschoolers she teaches.

Since 2010, Lopez is part of the Nahuat Kuna Project, which has been working to preserve and revive endangered indigenous languages ​​through early education. She is one of two teachers who teach it to children ages 3 to 5 at an early childhood center in Nahuizarco, a municipality in the Sonsonate department in western El Salvador.

in danger of disappearing

“When languages ​​disappear, the cultural and territorial foundations of indigenous peoples disappear with them,” the report states. Revitalizing indigenous languagesthat all of the 500 Amerindian languages ​​still spoken in Latin America are in a state of greater or lesser threat or risk.

Seventy-five indigenous languages ​​are spoken in Mesoamerica, including Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, according to a study by the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC).

With the exception of Mexico, Guatemala is the most linguistically diverse of the countries in this group, with 24 native languages. The most widely spoken language is K’iche’, which is of Mayan origin, and the least widespread is Xinca, which is of unknown origin.

Brazil is the most ethnically and linguistically diverse country in Latin America, with 241 to 256 indigenous groups and 150 to 186 languages.

The report warns that around 25 per cent of these languages ​​are at risk of extinction unless something is done soon. It is estimated that Latin America is home to more than 50 million people who identify as indigenous.

“These languages ​​are losing their value in use…Families are increasingly preventing the natural intergenerational transmission of the language of their elders, and speakers are becoming more dominant, such as making Spanish or Portuguese their main language. “A slow but steady process towards language use has been observed,” the report states.

The reasons for the extinction of these American Indian languages ​​are diverse, the report notes, including disruptions in intergenerational transmission when languages ​​are no longer passed from one generation to the next.

And that is exactly what the Nahuat Kuna Project aims to restore by focusing on young children, learning from Nahuat speakers who received the language from their parents and grandparents and can speak it fluently.

Lopez is one of them. She belongs to her last generation who naturally acquired the language as her mother tongue, and she learned it with her parents and grandparents from her early childhood in her hometown of Santo Domingo de Guzman, also in the province of Sonsonate. was speaking the language.

“That’s how I was born and grew up, speaking this language in the house. And we never stopped speaking it among our sisters and brothers, but outside the home… It wasn’t like that with the people because they discriminated against us and treated us as Indians, but they treated us as Indians. We never stopped saying that,” said Lopez, 65.

Indeed, for reasons of racism and classism, indigenous peoples are viewed with rejection and contempt not only by political and economic elites, but also by the remaining mestizo or mixed-race populations resulting from the mixing of indigenous peoples and races. It has been. Spaniards began arriving in Latin America in the 16th century.

“They have always looked down on us and discriminated against us,” Elsa Cortes, 43, another teacher at Nahuizalco Nahuat Kuna school, told IPS.

Furthermore, she added: “I’m happy and proud. It’s a luxury to teach little kids at this age.”

Both Ms. López and Ms. Cortés have no experience as teachers, and the project has enabled them to become teachers at a time when formal employment is more difficult to find due to discrimination and social rejection in addition to ageism. He expressed his gratitude for hiring him.

Before joining the project, Cortes worked full time making comales, circular clay griddles that are placed over wood fires to cook corn tortillas. They also sell baked goods and continue to bake bread on weekends.

Lopez also worked on making comales and preparing local dishes, which he sold in the neighborhood. Now she prefers to rest on the weekends.

not all is lost

When IPS visited the Náhuat Cuna kindergarten in Nahuizalco, the three-year-olds were doing exercises. They stood in front of the rest of the class, about 10 children, and introduced themselves by saying their first name, last name, and other basic greetings. In Nahuat.

They then identified pictures of animals and natural elements in the Nahuat language, such as “mistun” (cat), “kawit” (tree), and “shutsit” (flower). The students will begin their first year at the center in February and will spend two years there.

5 year olds are the most advanced. There were a total of approximately 20 children in the two groups.

At the end of their stay in Kuna, they attend regular Spanish-language schools, but they risk forgetting what they have learned. However, to maintain a connection with the language, the project offers a course on Saturdays where you can start learning grammar and how to write the language.

We have a group of 15 teenagers, most of them girls, who have been part of the project since its inception, some of whom speak the language fluently and some of whom are teaching the language online.

This initiative is being promoted by: Don Bosco University It is supported by the municipalities of Nahuizarco and Santo Domingo de Guzmán in El Salvador. The Santa Catarina Masauat store is also scheduled to reopen soon.

Santo Domingo de Guzmán is home to 99% of the country’s few Nahua speakers (approximately 60 people), says El Salvador’s director of the Nahuato/Pipil language revitalization program and the Nahuato Kuna Project. Jorge Lemus, the main proponent of , told IPS.

“For 30 years, I have been watching how the Nahuat language is declining and how the people who speak it are becoming extinct,” says Professor and linguistics researcher at the Faculty of Language Education at Don Bosco University. One Remus emphasized. , run by the Salesian Catholic Order.

According to this scholar, El Salvador’s last three indigenous languages ​​in the 20th century were Lenca, Cacaopera, and Nahuat, but the first two had disappeared by the middle of that century, and only the last one survives. That’s what it means.

“The only language that survives is Nahuat, but barely, as there are probably only 60 people who speak this language.When I started working on this, there were about 200 people, but that number continues to decline. ,” Lemus said.

The only way to keep this language alive, he said, is for new generations to understand it. However, adults who are able to learn Spanish as a second language are unlikely to continue speaking Spanish. It should be a group of children who can learn it as native speakers.

Experts have revealed that although they originate from the same language stem, the Nahuatl language spoken in El Salvador is not the same as the Nahuatl language spoken in Mexico and is actually spelled differently.

In Mexico, there are over 1 million Nahuatl speakers in the Central Valley.

In El Salvador, the Pipil people stopped speaking their language in public in 1932 for fear of being killed by government forces led by General Maximiliano Hernández. That same year, General Hernández brutally suppressed an indigenous and peasant revolt demanding better living conditions.

At the time, society was dominated by aristocratic families dedicated to coffee cultivation, and the production system impoverished large parts of the Salvadoran population, especially farmers and indigenous peoples.

Remus believes that for a language to undergo a decisive revival and become a means of everyday communication, it would take a massive national effort, similar to the revival of Basque in Spain, Maori in New Zealand, or even Hebrew in Israel. argued that it was necessary. It was already a dead language.

But he says that doesn’t happen in El Salvador.

“The most realistic thing we want to achieve is that the Nahuat language does not disappear, but that a new generation of Nahuat speakers grows and multiplies. Even if there are 60 speakers now, in a few years “We’ll have hopefully 50 or more speakers,” he said. “Sixty speakers from this new generation will continue to bring this culture to life in the community.” .

Lopez wants to continue working towards this goal in order to leave his legacy in this country.

Speaking in Nahuat, this kindergarten teacher said, “I love teaching this language because I don’t want it to die. Even after I die, I want children to learn and speak the language.” “Because I want to have it.”

© Inter Press Service (2024) — All rights reservedSource: Interpress Service

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