Losing Language Diversity in Southern Mexico and Central America

Before the Spanish, Mexico and Central America were cultivated with different, diverse languages. However, during the sixteenth century, an influx of foreign Conquistadors came pouring in, turning the built environment into one resembling Spain’s and spreading the Spanish language. Throughout the centuries, though, the process of diminishing language diversity has changed, and not necessarily for the better. Now, thanks to the increasing technology that spreads popular culture like a wildfire, southern Mexico and its neighbours are losing the languages that make them unique.

Based on a map, created by The Endangered Languages Project (ELP), a project founded by The Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, there are thirty severely endangered languages, eighty endangered languages, and thirteen at risk languages currently documented in southern Mexico (South of San Luis Potosi) and Central America.[1] This is, in fact, a result of Spanish and occasionally English, two widespread Indo-European languages, rapidly diffusing throughout this location. Today seven out of eight of these countries have designated Spanish or English as their official language (Mexico being the outlier). Moreover, out of the five countries whose language statistics were reported in the CIA World Factbook (El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama’s data were not documented), about 77.58% of their citizens spoke Spanish.[2] One can reason that Mexico and Central America did not have this language composition before the Spaniards conquered them, and that native languages were spoken throughout the land.

Green: At Risk Language; Orange: Endangered Language; Red: Severely Endangered Language; Black: Dormant Language (Courtesy of ELP)

It is common knowledge that a large city is inclined to be urban and have more innovative technology than the rural countryside does. Furthermore, when one is exposed to a higher amount of technology (ex. the internet, television, or the radio), they acquire a greater chance of susceptibility to being immersed in popular culture. Sensibly, this occurs due to the technology establishing a larger space-time compression than ever. But nevertheless, the question of why popular culture spreads in the form of Spanish throughout Mexico and Central America still remains.

During a time of innovation and exploration, the Conquistadors brought their native languages and foreign diseases to the Aztecs. Eventually, the Spaniards wiped out the majority of the Aztecs, and built their own city, Mexico City, filled with the latest technology, brought over from Spain. Presumably, as years went on, and Mexico City grew, the Mexicans (not pure Spanish anymore) populated other areas of today’s Mexico and traded with different communities, turning Spanish into a lingua franca. Overtime, it would make sense that citizens of these communities began teaching their children Spanish, and discarded the native languages. From then on, it would be easier for a person to speak Spanish to communicate with another group of people, rather than teach them a completely new language. Fast forward a couple thousand years,[3] and Central America plus the area just North of it starts to divide into countries, each standing hand in hand with Spanish.

One of the major advancements that shaped the twenty-first century, whether it be for better or for worse, is technology, and the accessibility to it. For example, in 1990, less than .1% of the world had internet access (in the USA, only .785% of inhabitants had access), but in 2015, 44% of the population had internet access. Despite how fast the internet seemed to be spreading, in 2005, just a little more than 15.75% had access.[4] Though, when examining 2016, the percent of access is projected to increase even more by the end of it, all the way to 52.3%.[5] If one is to compare Central America and Mexico to other developing countries in 2015, they would find that Central America and Mexico have approximately 3% more of their occupants using the internet than the average of all the developing countries (Mexico and Central America had 38.1%[6] and all the developing countries had an average of 35.3%).[7]

Since the reason for Spanish being the language of these countries is now known, it is time to focus on the how of its ability to diminish language diversity. Distance decay is decreasing and space-time convergence is increasing as technology matures Central America and Mexico. With just a tap of a button, someone from Mexico can communicate with another person in Israel almost immediately, that’s just the way the world works in 2016. Television works the same way; the only difference is that I Love Lucy does not come in all 7,000 or so languages known linguists. For example, it would be easy for a person living in Texistepec, Mexico who has access to the internet to watch I Love Lucy, to watch it in Spanish, but probably impossible for them to watch it in the Texistepec language (which currently has one speaker).[8] It is quite possible that there were at one point in time, other Texistepec speakers who eventually found it too tiring to keep up with both Texistepec and Spanish, seeing as how they could only communicate with a handful of other speakers, and dropped the language, or maybe parents stopped teaching their children the language altogether, rather deciding to teach them a more commonly used language.

Although the world might (or might not be) a better place with credit to technology, there is still a downfall. Popular culture, which now spreads so quickly has changed the world negatively. Every time a language goes extinct, popular culture wins, and uniqueness loses.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !

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