Distribution of language families and isolates north of Mexico at first contact. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Most of us probably never think about the language we speak, unless we’re visiting another country and find it difficult to communicate. But what if you spoke a language that had slowly died out with all of the people who ever knew it, until you were the only person who could still speak it?
Even worse…what if there was someone else who also knew the language, but refused to speak to you?
This isn’t such an improbable scenario. In Mexico, for example, there are many indigenous languages that are slowly fading away as the population ages. One such language is called Ayapaneco—spoken in the town of Apaya, Mexico for generations. Unfortunately, the language is about to disappear as only two men still speak it…and they refuse to talk to each other. Linguists have stepped in and are trying to convince the men to converse with each other so that the vocabulary, diction and accent may be recorded and studied, in hopes of preserving it. But the men just don’t seem to get along.
It’s not clear why the men refuse to talk to each other…maybe a feud or maybe they just don’t have a lot in common…but if no one is able to get them chatting, Ayapaneco is just one of many languages that will probably disappear in this generation. There are probably similar languages in the area, as is common with indigenous peoples, and linguists might be able to piece together some aspects in order to preserve parts of it. But it would be much easier if they had a little help, of course.
One might argue that the English language has evolved and changed so much through generations (and is still changing), that it might be hardly recognizable to someone who spoke it 500 years ago, let’s say. The advent of computers and the use of spell check and short forms and the like has certainly changed the written form. Could massive changes to the spoken word be far behind? Could it be that someday, someone will be lamenting over the loss of English? It seems unlikely, I know, but it makes you stop and think about communication and language in a new way when you hear stories like this. You can read more on the story of the Mexican village and the men who are willing to let their language die out, right here.
Would YOU refuse to talk to someone if you were the only two people who knew a language?