Mexico’s indigenous language diversity is under threat due the overwhelming predominantly-used Spanish language, but young people like Gonzalo Santiago Martinez are doing their best to preserve their heritage by using new apps.
Martinez created Didxazapp, the ‘word app,’ to translate Spanish to the Isthmus Zapoteco (or Didxaza), an Oto-Manguean indigenous language from Oaxaca, in 2016. Since then, he has increased his efforts to promote his mother tongue in a predominantly Spanish-speaking country.
“There’s a lot of people constantly singing, doing concerts, writing poetry. In my case I’m trying to make the few, or many words available in the translator to reach the greatest possible number of people,” Santiago told RT in interview. “If another person learns a word, I think that’s already a step in [the right direction] trying to preserve Zapoteco.”
Martinez grew-up in Juchitan, Oaxaca, and says he started to forget his original language when his family emigrated to Mexico City, a metropolitan society where indigenous people and their languages get lost in the immense anonymity and structural discrimination.
When he was a young student, he says, he had an experience that is common to many indigenous peoples throughout the country.
“I was speaking with a partner and teaching him some words in Zapoteco… and the teacher told me ‘don’t teach him that, don’t teach him Zapoteco,’” remembers Martinez. “It was a bad experience because she scolded me and didn’t let me out for recess. She took me into the classroom and prohibited me speaking in Zapoteco again.”
Even though such discriminatory practices are not state-sponsored anymore, they prevail in certain contexts.
The Mexican government recognizes 68 existing indigenous languages, not taking into account all the dialects with different degrees of intelligibility, out of which 60 percent are in danger. Zapoteco alone is spoken by more than 800,000 people in different states, including between 7 and 62 variants, depending on classifying criteria.
Commenting on Didxazapp, the director of the National Institute of Indigenous Languages Juan Gregorio Regino, said this efforts “guarantee the continuity” of languages and contribute to their “vitality.”
Gonzalo is currently studying a master’s degree in Mobile Computer Science at the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City, where he is developing a number of projects related to preserving his mother language.
The young student has also worked on a SMS system in which people that don’t have access to a smart phone can send a regular text message in Spanish and get the Zapoteco translation back. As well, he´s developing a doll that would speak and be able to hold conversations in Zapoteco, wearing the traditional outfit of the Tehuantepec Isthmus.