When Manuel Segovia and Isidro Velazquez had a falling out, it became international news. No one remembers what started it. Some say it was because they disagreed on the proper way to speak their own language. Their feud was widely reported around the world because there was much more than their friendship at stake.
They were the last two speakers of a 600-year-old language called Ayapaneco. If their friendship could not be saved, the language would die.
In 2014, telecommunications giant Vodafone stepped in to save the day. Together with the local community, they built a school to teach the language. And as the cherry on top, the two old friends were brought together to bury the hatchet. The men hugged, cried, and of course, they talked. They spoke in a language that would not die that day. The Vodafone video documentary that was made ends with the two men teaching young children their language.
The only problem with this heartwarming story was that it was a lie. It was an advertising scheme dreamed up by Vodafone’s marketing department to tug on people’s heartstrings. And it worked. It fooled news media around the world, including the BBC, NPR, and the Guardian.
In truth, Ayapaneco is in danger of going extinct with only four native speakers, which includes Manuel and Isidro. Vodafone paid the other two to keep quiet. The school Vodafone built was also a sham. Since there was already an Ayapaneco school in town, Vodafone just paid to have it painted and called it a day. As for Manuel and Isidro, there never was a feud. To this day, they continue working to preserve their language by teaching children.
Ayapaneco isn’t the only language around the world in danger. Of the 7,000 known living languages, one dies every two weeks.
Muazzez Kocek is one of the last speakers of the Kus dili language. In her village there are just 50 speakers left. It is called ‘bird language’ because it uses whistles instead of normal words. There is a wide range of whistles that can communicate the full Turkish vocabulary. Why whistling? Kus dili is spoken in a mountainous area of Turkey where people needed to communicate over long distances. Whistles can travel much further than shouting over the area’s hills and valleys. But now that almost everyone has cell phones, Kus dili is in danger of dying out. That hasn’t stopped people trying to protect the language from using technology to save it. There is now a whistle dictionary smartphone app to help people learn the language. Muazzez says, “We want to keep our language alive. It is our culture…I love it and I always will.”