Collaboration for Native Cultures and Languages in the Americas

A crowded market in Guatemala

The Collaboration for Native Cultures and Languages in the Americas (CENCLAS) project gives opportunities and representation to students at UC Berkeley, Laney College, and the broader community to study Indigenous Latin American languages
and cultures.

Overview

Latin America is one of the world’s most linguistically diverse regions. An estimated 30 to 50 million Indigenous people speak more than 550 different languages across 21 countries. In Bolivia and Paraguay, as well as large parts of Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico, the majority of people have a first language other than Spanish. 

Attention to the linguistic diversity of Latin America challenges the notion of a culturally and linguistically homogeneous region. The study and promotion of Indigenous languages also supports language revitalization in the context of colonization; recognizes and addresses disparities in political and social power that subjugate Indigenous knowledge and languages; and connects community members and heritage language speakers to local and global resources.

CLAS is proud to partner with the Laney College Latinx Cultural Center to promote and revitalize Indigenous languages of Latin America. The Laney College Latinx Cultural Center assists Chicanx/Latinx students to be successful at Laney College, serving as a welcome center and information source. The Center has six components designed for the outreach, recruitment, and education of the Latinx community with college credit and non-credit courses. Students can also receive assistance in basic skills, English for speakers of other languages, and Spanish for bilingual students.

Contact: Arturo Davila-Sanchez, Coordinator of the Latinx Cultural Center at Laney College (adavila@peralta.edu)

Languages

Nahuatl

With almost 1.4 million speakers, Nahuatl is among the most widely spoken of the 68 living Indigenous languages officially recognized by the Mexican government. Nahuatl is part of the Uto Azteca language family, one of the largest linguistic families in the Americas in terms of number of speakers, number of languages, and geographic extension, spanning the Western United States and Mexico.

CENCLAS has opportunities for students and community members interested in studying Nahuatl:

  1. The Berkeley Department of Linguistics is offering Nahuatl to Berkeley students for credit during the academic year as a real-time distance-learning course taught by native-language instructors from the University of Utah and IDIEZ (the Institute for Teaching and Research in Ethnology) in Zacatecas, Mexico. The course focuses on Nahua culture, history, and modern life. More information is available here. This course is organized by the University of Utah and supported by CLAS. 

  2. Students can participate in Nahuatl courses through the Latinx Cultural center at Laney College. More information is available here. Please contact Prof. Davila-Sanchez at adavila@peralta.edu
  3. Students and non-students can audit the Nahuatl courses at the University of Utah by registering for the continuing education section of the course. Seats are limited, participants would have to pay for continuing education enrollment, and no credit is offered. More information is available here

Mam

Mam is a Mayan language spoken by around half a million people in Guatemala and Mexico. The Mam diaspora contains thousands of Mam speakers in Mexico and the United States, notably in Oakland, CA, and Washington D.C. In the past year, two hundred and fifty thousand Guatemalan migrants have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the Department of Justice, Mam was the ninth most common language used in immigration courts last year, more common than French. Three Guatemalan Mayan languages made the top twenty-five: Mam, K’iche’, and Q’anjob’al. [1]

Mam language workshops are offered at Laney College, taught by Henry Sales, Mam-Spanish-English interpreter, and Tessa Scott, PhD linguistics student at UC Berkeley. More information is available here. This course is organized by the Laney College Latinx Cultural Center and supported by CLAS.

For more information about Mam in the U.S. and the workshops in Oakland, see:

Quechua

Quechua is a language family spoken by approximately 8 million people today, making it the most spoken Indigenous language in the Americas. Varieties are spoken in Colombia (where the language is called Inga), Ecuador (kichwa or runa shimi), Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina (runa shimi). 

CLAS supports an ongoing series of Quechua workshops at the intermediate level. Students who have completed Beginning Quechua can reach out to Emily Thompson (ethompson@berkeley.edu) to participate in the Quechua workshop. 

CLAS is a partner of the Quechua Alliance. The 2021 conference is planned to be held in person on campus at UC Berkeley. 

Other Resources


[1] Nolan, Rachel. (2020, January): "A Translation Crisis at the Border." The New Yorker.