Not All Languages Survive

Mitla Ruina

We know that before the Europeans arrived in the region that is now the Republic of Mexico, many languages were spoken.

Peoples who control others almost always impose their language on those they control. In this way some languages are lost. Some of Mexico's languages were lost before the Spaniards arrived, when Aztecs, Tarascans, and Maya Chontals ruled their neighbors. And many more languages disappeared as communities began to speak Spanish, which was for three hundred years the language of the conquistadores and of New Spain. Since the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Spanish has become the language of the majority of Mexican people.

On the other hand, many native languages of Mexico are still spoken and some are enjoying a resurgence. As the population of Mexico has increased dramatically in recent years, so has the number of speakers of the native languages of Mexico. The 2000 census identified over 6 million speakers of these languages, up from about 5.2 million in 1990.

No one knows what will happen in the 21st century. Part of Mexico's linguistic heritage will almost certainly disappear, as even now in many communities only older members of the community speak its traditional language. It is to be hoped though, that many communities will learn how to strike the delicate balance of being able to participate fully in the life of the nation through Spanish while still maintaining their ancient language and customs.