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Writing for the future of Ayapaneco: An orthography for heritage and new speakers of a critically endangered language

Abstract : Ayapaneco or Ayapa Zoque is a critically endangered language spoken in Tabasco, Mexico by approximately 9 elder speakers. The language was never written and was not transmitted from parents to children for over 60 years but since 2012, there have been community-based efforts to revitalize it, focused on informal second language teaching (Rangel, 2019). While laudable, language classes in this context face multiple challenges, one of them being the lack of an orthography from which the community could create pedagogical materials. The learners attending the community-based language classes are local children aged 6-12 who grew up in a monolingual Spanish setting, even though some of their grandparents are or were speakers of Ayapaneco. The children have acquired literacy exclusively in Spanish through formal education, and only attend Ayapaneco courses a few hours each weekend. The teachers are five elderly first-language speakers of Ayapaneco, all with limited Spanish literacy, and one of their sons, a young adult heritage speaker who is literate in Spanish (Rangel, 2017; Montrul, 2015). Due to the high prestige of formal schooling, the community decided that the best way to revitalize the language was by modeling their lessons on pedagogical practices common in Mexican public schools. As could be expected, this approach brought about multifaceted challenges when applied to a critically endangered language presenting a high degree of variation and lacking a practical orthography and human resources. One of these challenges is how to represent Ayapaneco in writing. In 2019, the teachers and I rose to the challenge of developing the first practical orthography of the language that would facilitate, among other things, the development of pedagogical materials. This is an ongoing process. In this contribution, I will address the challenges we’ve faced, such as developing a practical orthography for heritage speakers and for to be new speakers (O’Rourke, Pujolar & Ramallo, 2014) since the orthography is not intended for today’s elder speakers. Another challenge I will discuss is language variation among remaining speakers and how this variation could be a source of conflict in the process of developing a practical orthography (Rangel, 2019). We have been forced to learn how to address needs of the future while facing conflicts and ideologies of the present. As 10% of the world’s 6,000+ languages are critically endangered (Moseley, 2010), many communities around the world are currently addressing, or will have to address in the near future, these same challenges if they decide to undertake a revitalization process through second language classes and pedagogical materials. It is my hope that our experiences developing a practical orthography of Ayapaneco could serve other communities around the world.
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Contributor : Jhonnatan Rangel <>
Submitted on : Sunday, September 27, 2020 - 10:01:53 AM
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Jhonnatan Rangel. Writing for the future of Ayapaneco: An orthography for heritage and new speakers of a critically endangered language. Foundation for Endangered Languages Annual Conference: FEL24, Sep 2020, London (on line), United Kingdom. ⟨hal-02950079⟩

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