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Preserving Mayan language and culture in Guatemala

For a formative part of my childhood, my family lived in the western highlands of Guatemala in Sipacapa, a municipality of about 15,000. My parents were working as linguists among the Sipacapense, helping to preserve the local language which had been passed down orally from generation to generation, but, like the 21 other Mayan languages in the country, was at risk of becoming obsolete.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Al Jazeera English’s Living the Language show produced an episode about ongoing efforts to preserve Mayan languages and cultures in Guatemala, where the Maya still comprise more than half the population, but where Spanish is used almost exclusively in schools, business, media and government.

It’s a fascinating look at what it means to be part of the majority population in a country long run by European-descended elites. “We can’t sit around and complain,” one Mayan leader says in the video. “We must act to save our language.”

[Image credit: Pedro Cruz Sunu via]

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