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Giving indigenous languages a try

Students at some universities are foregoing traditional languages in favour of learning indigenous languages, according to the LA Times.

Rather than taking French, Spanish or Mandarin, the students are learning indigenous Latin American languages such as Zapotec, Quechua and Mixtec. Their reasons for taking the classes are varied – some want to work with the people who speak the language, others to get closer to their roots.

In Los Angeles, Felipe Lopez also gradually shed his shame for Zapotec.

Many of the estimated 300,000 Oaxacans living in Los Angeles County are of Zapotec decent, he said. He wanted the language and the culture recognized as distinct, even in a sea of Spanish-speaking Mexicans.

Lopez now represents his countrymen living in the United States by serving as a liaison to the Oaxacan government. And he and two UCLA colleagues worked for eight years in the 1990s to write the first Zapotec, Spanish, English dictionary. The thick book defines 9,000 words in Zapotec, a language that is hardly ever written.

With the many stories in the news about endangered indigenous languages, this shows that there is still enthusiasm and reason for learning and keeping at-risk languages alive.