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Languages: A Video Library for Successor Pipil Generation

Unlike its neighbor Guatemala to the west, with approximately 40% of its population of indigenous descent, the country of El Salvador has a smaller indigenous population. Official government data places the indigenous population at approximately 1% However, since the 2007 Census did not accurately take ethnicity into account, other studies took place that showed that the actual number may be anywhere between 2.5-10% Some might say that the reason that the Salvadoran indigenous population has decreased in number may be in part due to the events of 1932 where approximately 25,000 peasants and indigenous were targeted and massacred by the Salvadoran government as a contributing reason for this difference. Because of this violence, members of these indigenous communities often chose to hide prominent displays of their native culture and language out of a need for survival.

Eight decades later, one of these indigenous communities, the Pipil has now seen the number of native speakers of the Pipil language or Nahuat (also written as Nawat) dwindle as low as 200 speakers [es]. UNESCO has classified the language as critically endangered with the possibility of extinction, which had happened in the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama.

This statue in Atecozol Park, Izalco, El Salvador, honors Pipil warrior Atonatl who wounded Spanish conqueror Pedro de Alvarado during a 1524 battle. Used under a CC BY 2.0 license

However, in the community of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in the Department of Sonsonate in Western El Salvador, there are efforts to develop a new generation of young speakers to build a bridge with the older group of speakers so that they can eventually become “the successor generation.”

Leading these efforts in this community has been a language activist named Carlos Enrique Cortez, who has been active through the development of teaching training initiatives in cooperation with the Don Bosco University. In addition to developing these bilingual pedagogical materials, he has also helped translate important texts such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People into Pipil. There are now about 3000 children learning Pipil based on these grassroots efforts.

Now, Cortez has plans to expand this work by taking advantage of citizen media tools to bring an added multimedia element to these documentation and revitalization work.

Through a collaboration with the project One Day on Earth, Rising Voices received several flip video cameras to distribute to initiatives that seek to use digital tools to engage underrepresented communities in the creation of new online content. Thanks to a new partnership with the Living Tongues Institute, which helped identify language activists and their community that could take full advantage of the availability of a video camera. One of these activists selected by Living Tongues is Cortez, who has received one of these flip video cameras to implement the citizen media outreach project.

As part of the project, Cortez will be working with four students currently learning Pipil and use the video camera ago begin to build up a video library. The videos produced will focus on Pipil culture, such as natural medicines, traditions, traditional games, agricultural practices, and childhood songs. This content will be available for those wanting to learn the language, as well was to document these important pieces of Pipil culture.

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