Zapotec 3.0

Language: Zapotec from the Sierra Sur and Sierra Central, Zapotec from Miahuatlán (also known as within the community: diiste, dḭste)


The Zapotec 3.0 initiative includes different personal projects by Rodrigo Pérez, namely the localization of free software, the creation of Zapotec-language content (‘Tecno-etnias’ and the Zapotec Virtual Museum) as well as the training of newcomers to digital activism in the use of video and sound on the Internet. Its activities aim to demonstrate the usefulness and practicality of Zapotec in all the different spheres of everyday life. In addition, it seeks to highlight the fact that all languages are equal and can be used to discuss science and technology, rather than being inferior or belonging to the past.

The project has become more firmly established since 2013, with the creation of the ‘tecno-etnias’ blog. However, its roots go back to 2007 and to Rodrigo Pérez's activities as part of the ‘Indígenas Sin Fronteras (ISF)’ (‘Indigenous People Without Borders’) group which sought to promote developmental processes within indigenous communities in areas such as rural energy, free software, law and psychology, the aim being to improve living conditions within these communities. In this sense Zapotec 3.0 is a project which springs from and furthers the aim of Indígenas Sin Fronteras of promoting the use of new technologies in support of indigenous languages. As the coordinator of the initiative explains:

El objetivo del zapoteco 3.0 es acabar con la percepción del pasado y mostrar la utilidad de nuestra lengua en la modernidad. Así nace el objetivo del zapoteco 3.0 como un brazo de Indígenas Sin Fronteras.”

The objective of Zapotec 3.0 is to do away with the perceptions of the past and prove how useful our language is in the modern day. That's how the aim of Zapotec 3.0 came into being, as an offshoot of Indígenas Sin Fronteras.

Reception and impact

The projects which started in 2007 include the creation of versions of free software such as TuxPaint, TuxMath, TuxTyping and Firefox in Zapotec. The development of these tools was originally conceived as being materials for private use, and eventually the audience extended into the family sphere, where other members who were studying or had Internet access could also make use of the Zapotec-language software adaptations.

Resources used: Digital video, localisation
of free software, blogs, social networks.
Software used: Firefox (browser), Candelar & Kdenlive (video editing), Audacity (sound editing), TuxPaint-TuxMath-TuxTyping (educational software), WordPress (blog creation).

The audience grew gradually wider by means of publicising the different initiatives, which was also made possible thanks to the coverage which they received in the media. Thus, the audience became more than just the local community who speak the language, but there was also interest in other varieties and in other languages for which similar actions have been attempted. Among the tools which were developed, the the localisation of Firefox in Zapotec was one of the most successful, being as it it was a pioneering initiative among indigenous languages. There are currently around 29 new projects for which Zapotec has been an important reference point for almost a decade now.

Challenges and limitations

The project does not receive any grants and this has made it difficult to acquire high-quality equipment with which to produce the materials for distribution. On this point Perez highlights the challenges which the project faces:

Es una de las problemáticas, uno de los grandes problemas es contar con equipo adecuado es el mayor problema. Es una limitante. Acceder a equipos sofisticados es más difícil. Las que tengo son de mediana calidad, es la que tengo. Que me lo he hecho con mis propios recursos. Una cámara de video necesita más sofisticado, programas de computación que pueda servir. Tengo lo básico es necesario que otros equipos más costosos.”

‘It's one of the issues, one of the biggest problems, actually the biggest problem is having the right equipment. It's a limitation. Getting hold of sophisticated equipment is more difficult. What I have is of average quality, that's what I've got, and I put it together using my own resources. I need a better quality video camera and computer software I can use. I have the basic stuff that I need rather than more expensive equipment.’

Even with these limitations the project has been able to continue by making the best possible use of the infrastructure and connectivity available to the project team.

The adaptation and continued use of technological tools also represented one of the biggest challenges in the development of Zapotec 3.0, as before starting the project Pérez had no previous experience in the use of computational tools. In this respect self-study and practicing on the Internet made it possible for him to acquire the relevant skills in the use of information technology.

The involvement of more people in the project also represents another challenge. For the time being Pérez continues to work independently as the coordinator, but approaches have been made to encourage other members of the language communities to become involved. Although a number of positive responses have been received, no definite commitments have materialised due to the lack of time and availability needed for voluntary work which the project deserves. Even with these limitations, a number of students, all of whom are speakers of the same language variety have lent occasional support by distributing and localising software.

Long-term goals

In the short term the project aims to create a movement which opposes the excessively traditional view of indigenous languages, to demonstrate that there are more innovative options for revitalising these languages and, in the case of the government, to ensure that they are not treated as simple relics of the past.

In the medium term Pérez hopes to complete the localisation in Zapotec of Firefox for Android, which will act as a starting point for an online project bringing together the different varieties of the language.

A long-term plan focuses on directly shaping government policies within educational institutions, which is the ultimate goal of the project. According to Pérez there should be no shortage of multimedia material, and therefore he intends to demonstrate and make this type of material available to schools.

Translation by Daragh Brady