SIL Mexico

Dr. Leonardo Manrique Castañeda


Translated Extract from the "Presentation" of the Huave Dictionary


When the Instituto Lingüístico de Verano [Summer Institute of Linguistics] asked me to write a prologue or presentation for the Huave-Spanish Dictionary I was glad to accept. I could not give a negative answer to those friends who had contributed so much through their courses of study to my professional development, so that I can now proudly call them my collegues, and with whom I have cooperated on various projects for some years.

I could have written a prologue that was a technical, sensible and matter-of-fact analysis of the dictionary itself but I have preferred to reflect in my own mind as well as with others who have done me the favor of reading the prologue, my motivation in wanting to respond so quickly to the invitation to contribute a few paragraphs to this dictionary. It wasn't only my interest in Huave, admittedly great, but the relationship I have enjoyed with the authors whose years of humanitarian labor have led to the completion of this dictionary. Already mentioned is the fact that I consider the members of the Instituto Lingüístico de Verano my friends: some have been my teachers, others my professional colleagues. Let me continue with a brief explanation.

These friends have always demonstrated a desire to be helpful and have followed that with action whenever possible. We have spent long hours discussing every imaginable topic but these friends have never tried to impose their opinion upon others. They recognize arguments from perspectives other than their own but when advancing their point of view, it is always without rancor. Scrupulously careful not to offend, they nevertheless freely forgive others who may have, knowingly or not, offended them. Far be it from me to set forth a definition of friendship, but everyone fortunate enough to have friends recognizes the acts and attitudes that demonstrate friendship. The linguists of the Instituto Lingüístico de Verano know how to demonstrate friendship not only to us but above all to the members of the indigenous communities where they serve.

The fact that some were my teachers should need no explanation; the fact is that they were teaching some of the courses in which I was enrolled in the National School of Anthropology and History. In the same manner, they have taught the majority of the currently active Mexican linguists. Nevertheless, I want to put to rest one allegation that I have heard repeatedly: that without them, Mexico would have no linguists trained in this country. When the authors of those allegations were being trained, the School of Anthropology had (and has continued to have) the services of various linguists and philologists--some born in this country and some foreign born--such as Wigberto Jiménez Moreno, Roberto J. Weitlaner and Mauricio Swadesh. Their students could avail themselves of a wide spectrum of courses rather than being limited to only a few. These professors and those of SIL have felt that it is better for the student to receive instruction from a variety of professionals in order to become linguists with better developed powers of critical thinking and a solid foundation of knowledge of various schools of thought. The SIL linguists were as dedicated to developing a well-trained team of Mexican linguists as any of the other scholars. They wanted Mexican scholars to dedicate themselves to the study of the indigenous languages, one of their own goals. But, they never pressured their students to join them in their other goal, which (as is well known), is Bible translation in these languages, although they sincerely believed knowledge of the sacred scriptures was of benefit to everyone.

Nor did their role as teachers stop there. Their instruction of the Indians assumes even more importance than the training of linguists. Since their arrival in Mexico, they have developed numerous primers in a number of the indigenous languages. As has been demonstrated in studies by UNESCO, literacy is more easily and logically taught in a student's mother tongue. It is better to teach the national language of Mexico after the pupils have received basic literacy instruction in their native languages. In the early days, the linguists printed their rudimentary primers with the help of mimeograph technology. Recently, they have assisted the National Indian Institute with the linguistic and pedagogical aspects of the primers that organization has prepared. Their contribution has usually been recognized on the page of acknowledgements. Often the teaching of basic literacy has been in their hands. They live in the villages in order to learn the local languages and serve the people in various ways not limited to literacy. They also teach principles of sanitation, agriculture and other subjects as needed. In cooperation with the Secretariat of Health and other entities, they have written textbooks in the local languages to make this knowledge more accessible to the inhabitants of the villages.

I do not want to continue at length to describe our cooperation. From what has been written one can easily understand that the native languages of our country are many and diverse. How difficult it would be for one institution (much less, one individual) to provide all the materials required in a given location! There is plenty of work for all of us. They share their publications with us and we keep them informed of our investigations into these languages.