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What are some recent examples of linguicide?

source:, accessed 5 Nov. 2015


Jose Pineda • Request Bio


During the 20th century, Mexican government would instruct teachers in government-run primary schools in the country-side to physically punish indigenous children should they start using indigenous languages on school ground, even at playtime. The aim was to instill shame into indigenous peoples to force them to use only Spanish, to make Mexico a more homogenous country, monolingual, more easily manageable.

I should know - my mother suffered it first hand, as her first language was theCoastal Mixtec but she never taught it to us - was actually ashamed of knowing it. My paternal granfather suffered this ignominy as well - a native speaker of  Juchitan Zapotec never taught any of his children and was ashamed of having ever learned it as well, as opposed to the proud he felt with his proficiency in Spanish, French, Italian and English.

This program was a copy-cat of France's policy of Vergonha to exterminate France's regional languages in favor of Parisian French. That included Provenzal, which had a more ancient literature than French, Normand French, which had had more prestige for centuries than the Paris variety; the French Basque dialects (more archaic than the Spanish one) Breton (the last Celtic language spoken on the continent) - all that was deemed garbage. And it was incredibly successful! Modern France is almost completely monolingual, and the few non-French native speakers are expected to die this century, leaving no descendants who speak the language.

The Mexican program was a success as well - from 70% of population speaking indigenous languages in 1910, it dropped to 50% in the 1950, then to 10% in the 1990's - it's stabilized around that number ever since, as government has finally realized there's value in diversity and that such languages are a living inheritance from our long-gone ancestors who bravely crossed from Asia to the New World and managed to create their own sedentary civilizations from scratch, to amazing results. Too little, too late, as dozens of indigenous languages died in the 20th century (some were not completely studied by linguists before they were gone) and from about 80 indigenous languages that exist today, it's expected only about 20 will survive this century - the rest will exist thereafter only in linguists' books.


Written 20 Jul •

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