The exhibit at the International Museum of Cultures provides an overview of the richness and diversity of languages in Mexico today. It highlights samples of the more than 150 native languages still spoken there. In addition, the displays focus on some social implications of this diversity of languages within the national life of Mexico.
In the IMC Electronic Field Trip, this exhibit is brought to life. A teacher can bring her class through this and other exhibits without having to leave the classroom. Below is a sample of the dialogue in the Museum’s Virtual Tour:
DOCENT: “You can see that most of the non-Spanish speakers live in the southern part of Mexico. Some of the languages are tonal which means that the only difference between “I’m going, and I’m not going” may be the tone of your voice. Likewise, some are also nasal, and you must say a vowel through your nose. If you don’t, you might say “chili pepper”, like I did when you really wanted to say “horse’s tail”!”
STUDENT: “That could be a problem if you were trying to make chili and put a horse’s tail in the pot.”
DOCENT: “You’re right. Languages, to some extent, are partially a result of need. Mixtec dialects can have as many as 20 different words for corn, like the Eskimos have many words for snow: soft snow, slushy snow, icy snow, etc. The Tzeltales in the state of Chiapas have 25 verbs for “carry”, depending on HOW you are going to carry something: on your back, over your shoulder, in a pocket, in your hand, etc. ”