As one of the world’s most linguistically diverse nations, Mexico is also ground zero for language extinction as grandparents and great-grandparents leave us, and younger generations bow to the necessity of cultural assimilation. Yet despite their precarious status, Mexico currently encompasses 364 indigenous dialects, belonging to 68 distinct languages which branch off from 11 language families — a legacy of Mesoamerica’s pre-Columbian golden age as the center of indigenous civilization in North America.
And thankfully some people are working not only to preserve these languages for future generations, but to empower those who speak them right now. Sesenta y Ocho Voces, Sesenta y Ocho Corazones (also known as 68 voces), is a new initiative from Mexico’s government Fund for The Culture and Arts (FONCA) that seeks to elevate Mexico’s 68 indigenous languages by preserving their myths, legends, poems, and stories in the form of beautifully animated short films. Their goal is to foment pride amongst speakers of these languages, and respect among those who don’t, under premise that “nadie puede amar lo que no conoce” (no one can love what they don’t know.)
There currently are seven of these short animated films available, covering dialects of the Huasteco, Maya, Mixteco, Náhuatl, Totonaco, Yaqui and Zapoteco languages. Ranging from two to three minutes, each film employs a different designer to give powerful expression the wisdom contained in these indigenous languages. From reflections on life and death, to vividly recounted myths of the ancient times, these films give Mexico’s indigenous languages their due place amongst the great treasures of human civilization. Check them out below.
February 21 is International Mother Language Day as declared by UNESCO in 1999. This special date is meant to promote awareness of multilingualism, as well as cultural and linguistic diversity.
Mother Language Day is also an important time to celebrate the richness of Mexico’s traditional Indigenous culture and knowledge.
Here Are Some Important Facts About Mexico’s Mother Languages:
- There are 68 mother (Indigenous) languages, including 364 regional varieties (dialects), spoken in Mexico.
- According to a 2010 census report, there are 6,913,362 speakers of a mother language in Mexico.
- 6.6% of Mexico’s total population speaks a mother language.
- Oaxaca is Mexico’s most linguistically diverse state with 15 distinct Indigenous languages, including 179 dialects of these languages. 31% of the state’s population speaks a mother language, the highest rate of any state in the nation.
- Nahuatl is the most spoken mother language of Mexico with 1,544,968 native speakers.
- Maya (796,113), Mixteco (471,710), Zapoteco (425,123), Otomi (284,992), Totonaco (244,033), Mazateco (223,073) all have more than 200,00 native speakers.
- Huasteco (161,121), Chinanteco (131,382), Mazahua (135,897), Mixe (132,759), Purépecha (124,494), Tlapaneco (120,072) all have more than 100,00 native speakers.
- Despite much being made about languages dying out in Mexico, the total numbers of speakers of a mother language is increasing.
- Indigenous speakers have been emigrating in larger numbers to the United States. In California alone, there are 23 Indigenous languages spoken by people from 13 Mexican states, as registered by INALI.
“Totonacos, Veracruz Mexico.” However the woman is not wearing a Totonac costume. She’s dressed in the typical traje of San Pablito Puebla, an Otomi community famous for its amate paper and beadwork. tt’s harder to place the man’s costume of white pants and shirt, as that traje was worn all over the Sierra Madre Oriental by men of various ethnic groups - Totonac, Tepehua, Nahua, Otomi, and Huastec