Fri, Feb 29, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Mexican officials learn Nahuatl, the language of Aztecs

ANCIENT TONGUE Mexico City's mayor said that a people that forgets its origins will be at the mercy of those who dominate global culture

THE GUARDIAN , MEXICO CITY

"The smoking stars gather against it and the one who cares for flowers is about to be destroyed."

This was the way one Aztec poem foretold the crushing of empire and culture that would come at the hands of the Spanish. Nearly 500 years later, Mexico City's left-wing mayor wants everyone to learn the language of the Aztecs.

Marcelo Ebrard has asked all city officials and employees to learn Nahautl in an effort to tackle discrimination against the indigenous minority and engender greater appreciation of past glories.

"All of us public servants are going to have to start studying," Ebrard said. "A people that forgets its origins and throws out its traditions will be at the mercy of those who dominate global culture."

The introductory course for city employees will begin with the alphabet, but fluent speakers are already beginning to translate official documents.

"This is not symbolism," the mayor insisted. "It is public policy."

There are about 1.4 million Nahautl speakers in Mexico today, a little more than 10 percent of the country's indigenous population.

About 30,000 live in Mexico City, mostly in the poverty-stricken semi-rural outskirts, or working in wealthier areas as street vendors or servants. They tend to be treated as second class citizens.

The first course for city employees will be voluntary.

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