“MULTILINGUAL COUNTRIES” COLUMN. SEASON 2 – EPISODE 3 “MEXICO”

Enzo Jannacci sang “Messico e nuvole” in the 1970s, and it is with this melody in the background that our “Multilingual countries” journey continues. After talking about Canada and Louisiana, we continue travelling south in North America to reach Manzanillo, to learn all about the languages spoken in the United Mexican States, or Mexico.

Although Spanish is spoken by almost the entire population, the country’s constitution, or Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, does not establish a single official language. And almost 70 national languages live and coexist in Mexico. The Law on the Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2003 established the equal value of native languages. As well as languages spoken by other indigenous peoples established in the federation, with respect to the Spanish language.

THE INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES OF MEXICO

As we said, more than 60 indigenous languages are spoken in Mexico. The number of speakers considerably varies from one language to another, from about one million people who speak Mayan to less than 100 who speak Oluteco. Nevertheless, the above Ley, or Law, of 13 March 2003 allows the Mexican people (at least on paper) to use their own language to interact with the public administration, also calling for official documents to be drafted in these languages.

These indigenous languages belong to eight different linguistic families, from Uto-Aztecan to Mayan. They are spoken by about 7% of the Mexican population (about six million inhabitants) making the state the second largest in the Americas for number of speakers, after Peru.

The most widely spoken native language is Nahuatl. The language is of Aztec origin and is spoken by more 1.5 million people; it is often called “the Mexican language”. The protection and development of these linguistic systems are entrusted to INALI (Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas); and also promoted thanks to bilingual instruction in these languages at school, alongside Spanish.

A virtuous example of inclusion and integration. These values have given rise to numerous initiatives, including “68 Voces 68 Corazones“, an animated series of indigenous Mexican stories narrated in their original language. Or rather, original languages.

Stefano Gaffuri

Link to the full list, published by the Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography, can be found here.

English translation and adaptation by Sarah Schneider