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Indigenous Languages are not Dialects

The historic city of Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico welcomes thousands of international tourists, so it is not uncommon to hear German, French, or English spoken around town. It is also not uncommon to hear indigenous languages such as Zapotec or Mixtec by town residents or from visitors from surrounding communities. Yet, for many centuries these indigenous languages were not valued equally and many were taught that their native languages are somehow less important than foreign languages.

According to studies by linguist Michael Swanton, the use of the term “dialect” began at the end of the 19th Century, and was also integrated in Mexican educational policies in an attempt to halt the use of indigenous languages. The results of these efforts had a long lasting effects, as many Mexicans began to refer to indigenous languages in a derogatory manner with the term “dialect.” And many indigenous communities also became accustomed to not recognizing their native languages were as equally important than any other language.

A new campaign launched by the Juan de Córdova Research Library of the San Pablo Cultural Center in Oaxaca is hoping to raise awareness and engage participation through digital media to send the message that native languages are not dialects, but rather they are languages just the same as any other. They state:

Creemos que valorar la diversidad lingüística de Oaxaca y combatir la discriminación absurda que sufren sus hablantes comienza por llamarlas de igual manera. Ése es el propósito principal de esta campaña a la que esperamos que te unas: que la palabra “dialecto” NO se use nunca más para nombrar a las LENGUAS indígenas.

We believe in valuing linguistic diversity in Oaxaca and fighting the absurd discrimination that these speakers face starts with calling these languages in the same manner. That is the primary purpose of this campaign and we hope that you join us: so that the word “dialect” is NOT used never again to refer to indigenous LANGUAGES.

One of the first activities from the campaign brought together speakers of languages such as Spanish, Trique, Mazateco, Polish, Náhuatl, Catalán, Ngiwa, English, Zapotec, and Portuguese to collectively state that all language are the same and should be recognized as such.

The site also has a frequently asked questions section that also dispels some of the myths about indigenous languages. Future campaign activities include the opportunity for speakers of other languages to submit their own video with the statement that indigenous languages are not dialects, as well as other technology-related events planned by the library throughout 2014.

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