Saturday, April 16, 2011


  The ancient Mexican language of Ayapenco has been spoken for centuries.  It survived the Spanish conquest and has seen off wars, revolutions, famines and floods. But now it's at risk of dying out because there are only two people left on earth who can speak it fluently---and they're not talking to each other.

Manuel Segovia
  Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, live 500 yards apart in the village of Ayapa in the tropical lowlands of the southern state of Tabasco. They avoid each other and 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 too late. "When I was a boy everybody spoke it," Segovia told the Guardian newspaper.  "It's disappeared little by little, and now I suppose it might die with me."
Although it survived the Spanish conquest, Ayapeneco is believed to have gradually disappeared as a result of compulsory Spanish education, migration of its speakers and urbanisation. 
  Segovia, who denies any active animosity with Velazquez, spoke Ayapaneco with his brother until he died about a decade ago. Segovia still uses it with his son and wife who understand him, but cannot speak more than a few words themselves. 

  Velazquez reputedly does not regularly talk to anybody in his native tongue anymore.

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