Why should I worry me about the last white rhino leaving the planet, or the loss of a language that no one speaks any more? To tell the truth, I’m not sure. All loss is loss and needs noting, but do I really care apart from theoretically? Philologists and linguists will care that Ayapaneco, an indigenous Mexican language, is dying out, but since it’s the first I’ve heard of it, it would be dishonest to say I minded specifically about its passing. I’m never sure about museum-making. Nothing that was dynamic – species, language, music, spiritual artifacts, anything that people have actually used to get through their lives – is ever the same when it’s simply on show in a display cabinet or in a book or recording. No harm in having it, but it isn’t doing what it was supposed to do.
I must admit that I’m much more interested in, even delighted by, the fact that the last two speakers of Ayapaneco, although neighbours, are not on speakers. For one thing, they speak different versions of the language and don’t accept the way the other talks. In any case, they don’t like each other; no one, including them it seems, can remember why. So Manuel Segovia and Isidro Velazquez, living 500 metres apart, do not use the language that only they can speak, because the great thing about language is that it is for communicating with other people. Or it isn’t. If you’ve got nothing to say, why say it? Someone said that.
Segovia and Velazquez, elderly keepers of a dying language, have declared it already dead, because, getting to the essence of being human, they don’t have anything they want to say to one another. They’re not going to waste their words on each other, even if they’re the only two that have them. Fortunately, Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist, is going between the two houses, compiling a dictionary of Ayapaneco, before the old guys fall silent for ever. Which will be useful for anyone wanting to say: ‘You bastard, you’re doing it all wrong.’