"the strengthening of indigenous American lifeways in the University through translation, and writing in indigenous languages" (Miguel Figueroa Saavedra/Rafael Nava Vite)
|The Tequila Campus if the UVI, |
where the Nawatl MA-program will be based.
In this blogpost, I describe an exciting development that will definitely have a major impact on the future of the Nahuatl language. At the Universidad Veracruzana Intercultural (UVI, the intercultural university branch of the University of Veracruz) next academic year will see the initiation of a MA degree program in Nahua Language and Culture, taught entirely in Nahuatl (or nawatl as they write it in the UVI).
The program is called Maestriah Ipan Totlahtol Iwan Tonemilis, and is accepting applications from Nahuatl-speaking students with BA degrees o begin studies in February 2020. Here is a link to the call for applications.
In 2013, I did field work at the UVI interviewing students and teachers and observing the ongoing practices of language revitalization in the university, and I have been peripherally involved as an occasional adviser for certain questions of curriculum development as the MA program has been designed. The MA program is part of a broader project to strengthen the presence of indigenous languages in higher education in the UVI. The UV has already been the first and this far only Mexican University to accept BA theses written entirely in Nahuatl, but now it is planning to make it a requirement for the students of the new MA program to work in the language.
Veracruz is the Mexican state with the highest dialectal diversity of Nahuatl. There are three completely distinct dialect areas (Veracruz, Zongolica, Isthmus) and several divergent dialects. It also has one of the largest Nahuatl speaking populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands - and it has the highest rates of monolingual speakers. The UVI has regional campuses in the three Nahua regions (and one in the Totonac speaking region).
|Students and faculty at the UVI |
have been at the forefront for demanding
equal education rights for
This MA program is really exceptional and important for several reasons:First of all, in Mexico an elsewhere indigenous language and culture has usually been taught only as a subject - but the teaching itself is normally done in the majority language. In a haphazard ways some individual teachers have used indigenous languages as media of instruction when they are highly proficient themselves and have had students who are dominant in the indigenous language, but there have been very few experiments with using an indigenous languages as medium of instruction in organized systematic ways. So this is in itself a major step in helping not just Nahuatl, but all indigenous languages to work towards becoming equal languages with a full range of uses in the society where they are spoken.
Secondly, the last time there was an intellectual tradition producing scholarly works written in the Nahuatl language was in the 16th century. The program will necessarily initiate a completely new intellectual tradition in Nahuatl, producing vast amounts of texts about many different subjects, and it will create a class of Nahuatl intellectuals who are able to work entirely in the language. I do not doubt that this will contribute significantly to producing a strong cultural revival in Nahua communities, as Nahua people will become able to talk about their own culture and future in new ways.
Thirdly, it will be a big push for Mexican indigenous language education in general - it will set the bar much higher than it has been untill now for which kind of public programs can be offered in indigenous languages. It will be a new source of highly educated indigenous skilled workers who can teach, interpret, translate, and offer language based services inside and outside their own communities. Hopefully similar programs will be created in other regions and for other indigenous communities.
Fourth, it will definitely produce new dynamics of linguistic change for the Nahuatl language as a whole. The Nahuatl variety used by the UVI MA program will incorporate traits from the different varieties and create a new koinéization process as speakers interact with eachothers' dialects. I have already witnessed this process in Tequila as speakers of the divergent variety spoken in Ixhuatlancillo adopted language traits from the more populous dialects of the Zongolica highlands. The materials I have seen this far use many traits from the Huasteca dialect, but presents a mixture of traits from the different areas. It will be very interesting to observe how traits will spread between the regions, and how new registers are created.