Manuel Segovia

The language of Ayapaneco has been spoken in the land now known as Mexico for centuries. It has survived the Spanish conquest, seen off wars, revolutions, famines and floods. But now, like so many other indigenous languages, it’s at risk of extinction.

There are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other. Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, live 500 metres apart in the village of Ayapa in the tropical lowlands of the southern state of Tabasco. It is not clear whether there is a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance, but people who know them say they have never really enjoyed each other’s company.

They don’t have a lot in common,” says Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist from Indiana University, who is involved with a project to produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco. Segovia, he says, can be “a little prickly” and Velazquez, who is “more stoic,” rarely likes to leave his home.

The dictionary is part of a race against time to revitalise the language before it is definitively too late. “When I was a boy everybody spoke it,” Segovia told the Guardian by phone. “It’s disappeared little by little, and now I suppose it might die with me.”

Segovia, who denied any active animosity with Velazquez, retained the habit of speaking Ayapaneco by conversing with his brother until he died about a decade ago. Segovia still uses it with his son and wife who understand him, but cannot produce more than a few words themselves. Velazquez reputedly does not regularly talk to anybody in his native tongue anymore.

Regardless, the record should be kept. It is a contribution to ethnology, the history of communities that precede whatever we become next.

Thanks, Cinaedh

  1. President Amabo says:

    I wonder how many words they have for “turd”.

  2. Angel H. Wong says:

    At first I thought that TEA partiers reading these news would celebrate the demise of a brown-skinned spic mumbo jumbo. But then I remembered that TEA partiers can’t read 🙂

  3. sargasso_c says:

    Guess I have to disagree with everyone again and say that this is a tragedy beyond measure.


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