Mexico linguists want Indian languages in schools

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican indigenous language specialists want to bring native tongues into elementary schools to prevent them from dying out.

The National Institute for Indigenous Languages, or INALI, is proposing to teach indigenous children in their native tongue alongside Spanish, and having Spanish-speaking children study a local Indian language.

“They are our patrimony. They are our mirror. And they do not contradict whatsoever the goal of offering our children other educational tools, like learning English,” said INALI director Fernando Nava.

The proposal comes after Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard announced a plan to revive the ancient Aztec tongue Nahuatl by having all public employees in the capital learn it.

Mexico has around 60 native languages along with the official Spanish. But with fewer people using them all the time, linguists worry they are at risk of disappearing.

A National Geographic project lists many languages in central and southern Mexico as in danger of extinction. Worldwide, one language is thought to die out every two weeks.

Several departments in the Education Ministry back the idea, which Nava will soon formally present to the government.

“My reaction is good,” said Fernando Salmeron, head of the ministry’s intercultural and bilingual education department. “If we really want to preserve indigenous languages, that is what we need to get to.”

Mexico’s roughly 10 million indigenous people are among the poorest in the country of 106 million. They often live in villages with poor access to roads, schools or telephones, and their rights are frequently trampled on.

Teachers brought into rural indigenous villages have been known to berate children for speaking Indian languages.

Nahuatl, the root of the English words “tomato,” “chocolate” and “avocado,” is Mexico’s most widely spoken native language with more than 1.3 million speakers. The least-spoken tongue is Teko, with about 50 speakers.

Editing by Xavier Briand