Our first post in Mexican English month comes from Macmillan Editor Sharon Creese, who conducted academic research on the language and politics of South America before taking up her current role.
So, we’re into Mexican English month. This is going to be a tricky one, given the number of languages that actually exist in Mexico; there are the traditional Mayan laguages (spoken by around five million people across Central America), plus at least another 60 indigenous languages, like the famous ‘Mexicano’ (Nahuatl). And then, of course, there’s the official state language of Spanish. Throw in some English and you’ve got quite a concoction going on!
Language is something of a hot potato in this part of the world, not least for the role it can play in issues of social and political exclusion. Mexico has fared better than some of its neighbours in having set in place legislation to establish the ‘linguistic rights’ of its people, but in practice, many still remain excluded by the mere fact that they are not fluent in Spanish. You’ll still find official websites with English versions, but no indigenous-language version, so I, as a foreigner, have more chance of understanding the machinations of the Mexican state than many of its citizens do.
The efforts of certain high-profile political activists have brought the plight of indigenous peoples to the world’s attention in recent years, particularly Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN (Zapatista movement), who campaigns for equality in the Chiapas region of southern Mexico. The Zapatistas’ slogan is Words are our Weapon and though the main thrust of their work is economic rather than linguistic, there are undeniable links between the two. Home to ancient Mayan ruins, Chiapas was already a tourist destination, but the EZLN’s fight has consolidated that (not that it’s necessarily the safest of places to go!) and brought English into the mix as well. For the local indigenous community, English has little relevance once you get beyond ‘tourist-speak’ (two cervezas por favor mate!), but Marcos himself has made sure his message gets out in English as well as Spanish, to maximize the audience.
Mexico, like a lot of South America, is so multicultural that any time you enter into a political or social discussion, you’ll inevitably end up mixing your languages together. There are certain things that just don’t lend themselves to translation – you have to revert to the ‘original’ language for that word or idea. So your conversation will be peppered with, at the very least Spanish, English and Mayan, words ‘borrowed’ to and from each language in order to talk about a place that is easily as fascinating as its linguistic landscape.
And it’s that fascinating mix of languages and cultures that’s going to make Mexican English such an interesting and colourful one, so if you’ve got something to say, come on, get Commenting below, or drop us a line about submitting your own blog post.Email this Post