It’s always sad to see an aspect of a culture finally disappear, and so the weight of the last two men who speak the lost language Ayapaneco must be very troubling. And yet it seems these two men have stopped speaking to one another entirely. Though others are familiar with portions of the language and may be able to hold brief conversations in it, a language that existed for thousands of years and still is known by two people may never be spoken in a fluent conversation ever again.
The two elderly men, Manuel Segovia and Isidro Velazquez are very different people who have very little in common. But what they do have in common carries with it the last remnants of a language that was cut from Mexico when Spanish was mandated. The men, aged 75 and 69 respectively have been described as having very different personality types and live in different regions.
Ayapaneco, also often referred to as the “True Voice” of the Mixe Zoque family is only a small sliver of the 68 languages spoken when the Spanish first arrived. The primary cause of the language dying out is the mandatory Spanish education to its speakers alongside a dying out of the original speaking population.
Language extinction and language death are two different consequences of colonization and the changing of cultures over the course of time. In North America, when settlers from England, France, Portugal, and Spain arrived the plethora of native languages were replaced by those of the colonists. Over time this became useful during World War II when the Navajo Code Talkers used a new language built upon their own original code was used and secret messages were built using them.
And there have been other dead or extinct languages in the past. The important distinction between the two is that a dead language is one which is spoken, but never used as a person’s primary language while an extinct language is one that has been entirely lost forever.
But language death isn’t always a sad tale. It’s arguable in some circles that all languages are undergoing a form of death as they change over time. In the constantly shifting culture of the world it’s easy to see these changes each day as new words are introduced, often starting out as slang and eventually old words are phased out as being obsolete.
Unfortunately, it is also not an uncommon fate for languages who were once widely spoken. It is estimated that in the next 39 years over 6,300 languages will die out according to Southwest University for Nationalities College of Liberal Arts. This would be a rate of approximately 161 per year. While there isn’t a language crisis (some welcome this phenomenon as it will provide more streamlined communication in the world) it will mean a large part of history may be lost forever, and provide future historians with massive obstacles to overcome when attempting to decipher the past.