The sounds of silence

The last two living fluent speakers of a dying language won’t talk to each other

The sounds of silence

Christian Hartmann/Reuters

It may be a case of self-perpetrated extinction: the last two living fluent speakers of a dying language won’t talk to each other. Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, who live less than 500 m apart in the village of Ayapa, Mexico, are the only ones still able to master the finer points of Ayapaneco, one of the country’s dozens of indigenous languages. However, they don’t care to engage each other in conversation, the Guardian newspaper reports. Segovia is said to have been speaking the language to his brother until he died a decade ago, and he speaks it to his son and wife, who understand him, but aren’t able to use Ayapaneco to answer back. Velazquez, on the other side, reportedly speaks to no one in the language. Their obstinate silence appears to stem less from true acrimony than from a general disinterest in each other. The pair just don’t have much in common, according to Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist who is contributing to drafting the first dictionary of the language. Interest in the silent pair of neighbours is also coming from Mexico’s National Indigenous Language Institute, which is planning to hold language classes with the two men.

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