Thursday, April 14, 2011

You tell him I said, "[untranslatable]!" (Last two speakers of dying language don't converse.)

Language at risk of dying out – the last two speakers aren't talking | Science | The Guardian

Manuel Segovia, Ayapaneco speaker. Via The Guardian.

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.
One "prickly," the other "stoic," the two refuse to perform like circus animals for anthropologists. Language extinction is fascinating (to me, at least), but regardless of the merits of wanting to preserve that the knowledge of that language, if the two guys don't like each other, I think you gotta leave'em alone.

That said, a reality a show, or a sit-com, about anthropologists in a tiny village trying to convince the last two speakers of a dying language to talk to each other would be pretty cool. Anthropologists cooking up cockamamie schemes to trick them both into showing up at the same cantina at the same time, imagine the possibilities!. If it were a sitcom, maybe William Shatner could be convinced to play one of the cantankerous indigenous people, in swarthy make-up and a comical poncho. Because, then, how cool would that language sound? (Oooh, and they could use Klingon as the language in question. Yes, we're definitely onto something here.)

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