Communication is an essential part of our daily lives and language is a key aspect to this as we communicate effectively with our words, gestures, and tone of voice in a multitude of situations. But what happens when language fades from the face of the earth? There are well over six thousand spoken languages in the world but some of them are near extinction and efforts may or may not be made to salvage these.

A group in Yo Creek Village, Orange Walk District though is laboring to do just that with the Yucatec Maya. Today over forty persons of different ages, graduated from a two week course that was facilitated by a professional teacher. We stopped by to find out more about the initiative. Dalila Ical reports.

Dalila Ical – Reporting

Pusikal Maya, translated into Mayan Heart is a group from YO Creek Village that has taken upon itself the task of rescuing a fading culture – the Yucatec Maya heritage. And they have started by rescuing the language says group President, Ismael Cal.

Ismael Cal – President

“The Maya language is a language that is kind of fading away practically lost but we are trying to recuperate this precious language of our ancestors.”

Dalila Ical  - Reporter

“This is specifically Yucatec Maya”

Ismael Cal – President

“Specifically, Yucatec here in Yo Creek because most of ancestors came from Yucatan and we are speaking the Yucatec Maya language.”

Ismael Cal – President

“How has the response been from the community?”

Ismael Cal – President

“Better than expected, when we started this project we knew that was going to be kind, like people not wanting it, but we are very surprised to find out that it is not so people are encouraged and they are send their kids to this workshop, we were expecting 40 on this workshop but 46 showed up.”

Children as young as five years old and adults took the two week classes. These were facilitated by Martiniano Perez Angulo, a Professor at the Universidad Internacional Maya de Quintana Roo.

Martiniano Perez Angulo – Facilitator

“Se tocaron cinco temas más principales considerando que son niños escolares intentamos darles los términos que se deben utilizar para nombrar las cosas que tenemos en nuestro entorno en este caso tratamos sobre los saludos de los tres momentos del día, tratamos la presentación del niño, como se llama y como esta, es lo que normalmente decimos en un saludo cotidiano, y luego tenemos el siguiente temas que es sobre la escuela, el habla y lo que se utiliza para aprender que son los utilice escolares posteriormente se toca el tema de la familia y la casa, luego se trató el tema de los animales domésticos eso fueron os ejes para el trabajo y enseñanza y construcción de un vocabulario que pudiese permitir a futuro los niños puedan ir haciendo uso de la lengua Maya para describir su entorno.”

As an expert in the language, Angulo says there is much that a community can benefit from such efforts.

Martiniano Perez Angulo – Facilitator

“Toda la historia que nos habla de la existencia de la cultura Maya se puede ver efectivamente ahora con vestigios arqueológicos aquí en la región con gente Maya que todavía mantiene la lengua Maya sin dificultad, entonces la gente tiene que beneficiarse cuando siente que es suyo lo que le han dejado sus ancestros todavía lo pueden practicare y en estas actividades que ya son más formales se toman en cuenta entonces se fortalece la identidad de la persona, se fortalece el ego de la persona para que se sienta contento y pueda convivir con los demás hasta ser una comunidad feliz a partir de sus valores leguis ticos y culturales.”

While the focus was teaching the indigenous language, the lessons also helped the participants learn about their ancestral heritage, and it is something they both enjoyed and appreciated.

Felicita Cantun – Vice President

“It was surprisingly and amazingly how they grasp what was taught better than us the adults so to me it was an excellent course which involved from 5 to 8 years and I had a fine time with all the kids and I am sure that everybody will still remember what happened during these two weeks.”

Ana Cocom/Grisel Cal

“It was a great experience and educational we got to now the languages from our ancestors and it was very impacting.  I enjoyed very much maybe because I got to learn about my roots and my culture knowing how to speak the language.”

Dalila Ical – Reporter

“When you guys started the two weeks workshop, did you know anything or at least one word in Maya?”

Ana Cocom/Grisel Cal

“Well, I did know some because I took it last two years but this one was a bit different but I didn’t know all. This is the first time for me because I am new at this but my grandparents speak it a lot in my house but I didn’t know any of it.”

According to UNESCO, to keep a language from disappearing, a community should create favorable conditions for its speakers to speak the language and teach it to their children, ideally through national policies that recognize and protect minority languages, education systems that promote mother-tongue instruction, and creative collaboration between community members and linguists to develop a writing system and introduce formal instruction in the language. Yet, the most crucial factor is the attitude of the speaker community toward its own language, something Angulo says this community has in large supply.

Martiniano Perez Angulo – Facilitator

“Hubo un apoyo esto es lo que se llama educación integral cuando interviene los padres de familia, el maestro preparado, y los niños dispuestos hay una educación efectiva aprendizaje efectivo.”

UNECSO estimates that if nothing is done, half of 6000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century. With the disappearance of unwritten and undocumented languages, humanity would lose not only a cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge embedded, in particular, in indigenous languages. In reference to the other indigenous Mayan languages, UNESCO estimates that in Belize, as of 2010, Mopan Maya is severely endangered with only 8,980 speakers in the entire country.  Q'eqchi' Maya is described as being vulnerable to endangerment with approximately 12,366 speakers.