August 28, 2011

Article: Teaching Nahuatl in New York City


You say tomato, they say 'xitomatl' - New Yorkers channel the Aztecs by saving a dying language
BY Edgar Sandoval
August 23, 2011

A small group of New Yorkers wants to make sure the enigmatic-sounding tongue of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, is preserved in the Big Apple.

"It's a beautiful language, full of complexities, but it's also dying," said Irwin Sanchez, 32, a native Nahuatl speaker. "I'm trying to rescue it, here in the city."

Guided by linguistic experts and community activists, Sanchez has made it his mission to teach New Yorkers the language his grandfather taught him as a boy in Texcoco, a Mexican city once ruled by the Aztecs.

About two years ago, he heard about Daniel Kaufman, an adjunct professor of linguistics at Columbia University who had founded a group called the Endangered Language Alliance.

Kaufman jumped onboard, helping Sanchez channel his spoken words into lesson plans.

A few dozen students have taken the class at places like Project Luz, a nonprofit in Queens. Sanchez and Kaufman are also prepping lessons for the Brooklyn-based organization Mano a Mano.

Nahuatl is still spoken by pockets of indigenous groups in Mexico, Kaufman said, but the old language is losing the battle for survival.

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