Has there been language shift in your family? Was this language shift something that took place just in your family or in a larger community? What factors may have contributed to the shift?
The modern words have the same the beginning consonants as the colonial forms, though they are missing the final vowels present in the colonial forms. The Set B words for ‘two’, ‘three’, and ‘four’ seem to have been lost in modern Valley Zapotec.
In linguistics classrooms, especially, it may be useful to reflect on how and if spelling changes indicate pronunciation shifts.
Students should focus on the structural changes in Valley Zapotec number systems with the loss of most Set B numbers. The shift from chaha to chaga indicates a spelling change. Possible hypotheses for what happened to Set B numbers include:
- Modern Valley Zapotec may use other grammatical tools to describe counting flat things.
- Spanish language and cultural dominance may be at play since Spanish does not have an equivalent counting system.
Answers will vary. Encourage students to initiate discussions of shifts in their own Zapotec languages. What do they know and what can they learn by asking older speakers in their community?
The base 15 and base 20 systems are retained in modern Valley Zapotec from Colonial Valley Zapotec despite spelling and possible pronunciation changes. Students can break down the numbers from the left of Table 5 to identify their original forms.
One example is 30 (callebichij and gàally ahbtsêë):
Students should identify that the borrowed Spanish numbers use a base ten system which does not match with Valley Zapotec words used by older speakers. This structural difference may complicate mutual understanding between younger and older Valley Zapotec speakers. Additionally, the shift to a Spanish language base 10 system may make Colonial Valley Zapotec numerical sources such as calendars and land records difficult to understand for younger speakers.
Answers include educational discrimination against Zapotec, a lack of language protections and rights from the Mexican federal government, migration to the U.S. Many in Zapotec communities have also internalized the “second-class” stigma of Zapotec speakers which pushes young people to only learn Spanish.
How does it work in your language? What’s happening with Zapotec in your community? Reflect on your experience and consider interviewing someone from your pueblo.
Answers will vary depending on students’ communities. The following resources can help instructors interested in developing their own ability to talk about ongoing work against language loss.
- Grenoble, Lenore A, and Lindsay J. Whaley. Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print.
- Harrison, K D. When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
- Kramer, Seth, Daniel A. Miller, Jeremy S. Newberger, Gregory D. S. Anderson, and K.D. Harrison. The Linguists. Garrison, N.Y: Ironbound Films, 2009.
- Nettle, Daniel, and Suzanne Romaine. Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World’s Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.
Further readings may be found in the following Oxford Research Encyclopedia entry:
- Pine, Aidan, and Mark Turin. “Language Revitalization.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. March 29, 2017. Oxford University Press.
Although students should not use Wikipedia as a primary research tool, the entry on language shift (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_shift) provides many examples that they can further investigate.
Spanish and Zapotec.
Students should include in their answers that Zapotec is losing speakers to Spanish, especially among young people. The language is a in a fragile state.
Answers include connections to Zapotec cultural traditions like food and medical practices. Language preservation is a part of cultural preservation.
Instructors can direct students to the following popular magazine article to familiarize themselves with a number of language revitalization projects that may interest them.
- Daigneault, Anna Luise, “How to Resurrect Dying Languages.” Sapiens, Dec. 18, 2019. Web. https://www.sapiens.org/language/language-revitalization/
Other important examples include:
- El Centro Myaamia at Miami University, Ohio which partners with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma to promote language and cultural preservation
- ‘Aha Pūnana Leo, Hawaiian language schools for young children
- First Languages Australia, a digital hub for learning about Indigenous language revitalization efforts in Australia