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Meet the TikToker teaching a 5,000-year-old Indigenous language

Mexican TikToker Santos Tuz records videos to spread the Mayan language in Oxkutzcab, Yucatan State, Mexico.
Mexican TikToker Santos Tuz records videos to spread the Mayan language in Oxkutzcab, Yucatan State, Mexico. Copyright tuzsantos322 / TikTok
Copyright tuzsantos322 / TikTok
By Doloresz Katanich with AFP
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To help preserve his Indigenous mother tongue, Mexican TikToker Santos Tuz records short videos to spread a Mayan language.

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Learning a new language is always important. But what about the ancient ones? 

A young Mexican teacher turned to TikTok to help preserve his mother tongue, the Yucatec Maya, one of the still existing 29 Mayan languages tracing back 5,000 years.

"It started when the pandemic hit Mexico and classes were cancelled all over the country," says Santos Manuel Cruz Romero.

His 15 and 17-year-old sisters are a reflection of what is happening with the new Mayan generations, who speak very little of the ancient language.

The 21-year-old elementary teacher has decided to talk to the younger generations, and his efforts didn't go in vain. The dozen of videos he has published earned him 343,000 followers on the social media platform. 

@tuzsantos322

Adivina esto en lengua maya🤭🫣

♬ sonido original - Tuz_Santos

"Green on the outside, yellow on the inside, what is it?" he asks. "We are referring to the avocado, which in the Mayan language is said 'oon'," he says in one of his videos. He continues: "Ma'alob kanáantabaa! Well, take care of yourself!"

Like he expected, Santos received ridicule and criticism at first. However, these comments were followed by messages from people who were thrilled to have found him - including old people who regret not speaking the language of their ancestors. He also has followers in Argentina, the United States, Canada and even Australia.

Mayan is among the world's endangered languages

Santos says that when he was a child, schools vetoed the admission of students who only spoke Mayan. And although public education is now officially bilingual in the Yucatan, the teaching of the Indigenous language is only just being introduced. 

"Parents began to stop teaching their children Maya for fear that they would be rejected," adds the teacher. 

The Mayan family consists of 32 languages, of which two or three are now considered dead. Another 10 have fewer than 30,000 native speakers. Several though are still very much alive and well, among them Yucatec Maya, spoken by 860,000 people.

The Mayan family’s living languages are found largely in Guatemala and Mexico, with some speakers in Belize and Honduras. There are an estimated 6 million people speaking them. However, the younger generations shift more and more to Spanish, raising concerns that the language may die out.

Watch the video above to learn more about this story.

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