Can a Salvadoran Gang Save an Endangered Language?
“Every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth—many of them not yet recorded—may disappear.” – National Geographic/Enduring Voices Project
Members of La Mara Salvatrucha (also known as MS13), have been instructed by gang leaders to learn Nahuat and other indigenous languages of the Central American country; languages which are highly endangered or almost extinct, and some of which have less than 100 native speakers currently living, according to the report.
Unfortunately, the gang’s purpose of learning these languages isn’t at all altruistic and they have no intention of learning the languages fluently. Gang members have been instructed to learn enough vocabulary to create an indecipherable code which will make it more difficult for law enforcement to intercept their messages.
This is disappointing, of course, although maybe not surprising. We’re left then with the same question linguists always face: How can Nahuat and other endangered languages be saved? Is it enough to merely preserve records of the languages, (such as the video below), or should efforts be made to keep languages alive by encouraging native speakers to pass it on? What sort of encouragement or programs would be successful? Is it a losing battle? What do you think?