It’s a story that’s been repeated thousands of times in the past: an indigenous language is eventually replaced by another, more common tongue, finally dying out completely along with its last speakers.
That’s what’s happened to the indigenous Mexican language of Ayapaneco over the centuries. When Spanish became the language of education, children were discouraged from speaking Ayapaneco and the language was lost. Only this time, there’s an interesting but sad twist: the last two people who speak Ayapaneco refuse to speak to each other.
The two elderly gentlemen, Manuel Segovia and Isidro Velazquez, only live 500 metres in the tiny village of Ayapa. They must have known each other all of their lives, but they haven’t talked to each other in years, possibly decades.
Why not? Is there an old quarrel, an ancient argument? The men won’t talk about that, either. But it’s more likely to be a simple case of clashing personalities.
Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist helping to record the language before it disappears for good, told the Guardian that the two men:
“don’t have a lot in common. Segovia, he says, can be “a little prickly” and Velazquez, who is “more stoic,” rarely likes to leave his home.”
Although both men are working with linguists to produce a dictionary, the more outgoing Segovia is more involved in attempts to preserve the language, even attempting to teach classes on it in the village. He told the Guardian:
“I bought pencils and notebooks myself. The classes would start off full and then the pupils would stop coming. When I was a boy everybody spoke it. It’s disappeared little by little, and now I suppose it might die with me.”