International Mother Language Day was February 21 and despite the increasing awareness of the need for language preservation, indigenous mother tongues in Mexico and throughout the hemisphere are disappearing. According to one scholar, racism is a big factor. In a February 21 interview, the Director General of Mexico’s National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI), Juan Gregorio Regino, noted that while Mexico has a rich linguistic heritage with 64 indigenous languages (and 364 linguistic variations), 70 percent of those languages are at risk of disappearing due to displacement and prejudice among other factors.
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Displacement of Indigenous communities is a major factor in language loss, Gregorio Redino asserted but discrimination is significant also. “Today this phenomenon cannot be reversed and it persists through a strong discrimination against indigenous languages,” said Gregorio Regino who is a Mazatecan poet and an indigenous language scholar.
He asserted that this discrimination has a psychologically violent effect on the people who are conserving their language. This devaluation of the language, he said, has negative repercussions on the Indigenous language speakers who are made to feel that “their language has no value” and they feel obliged to stop using it.
Gregorio Redino acknowledged the fact that in 2003 Mexico officially recognized indigenous languages as having the same value as Spanish but that recognition was not strong enough to prevent the loss of so many languages.
“This is very recent but in conjunction with the discrimination…we see that the infrastructure needed for a multi-lingual country does not exist,” he stated.
Other countries throughout the hemisphere face similar losses according to statistics gathered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which has also found that of the 196 indigenous languages in the U.S., most are endangered, some of them critically.
While Native activists are creating more language courses throughout Indian country, such as in Blackfeet and Lakota communities, they are still listed as vulnerable or even critically endangered.