Pame-speaking authors publish original literature

As children, we began to speak our first words in Pame, and along with our beloved parents, we shared important information about our culture. We never imagined that we would write it, but what we did know was that our language represented something very valuable to us, something that we really treasured, although in our first years of life we were discriminated against for speaking our language. Today, things are different. We know that all indigenous languages are equal to Spanish, and therefore we feel proud, plus we are now authors in our own language.

- Constantino Gómez González, author, editor and writing team technician

(May 2013) The first book of original literature in the Pame language was recently published in Mexico: Nakuɛnkʹ nɛp namitk ntɛuʹ giriuyat xiʹiὺyat kjuɛnt ruʹ ganuʹbat (I’m Going to Tell You About What Happened to Me Yesterday: Four Pames Share About Their Days). The 447-page book is a collection of journal entries chronicling daily life from the different perspectives of several members of the community.

Pame is an Oto-Pamean language spoken in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. There are three variants of the language—Southern Pame is now considered extinct, but a combined total of about eight thousand people continue to speak Central Pame and Northern Pame. The authors who contributed to this new book are speakers of Northern Pame.

The idea for the book began in 2009 as Pame linguist and translator Félix Baltazar Hernández and SIL linguist Scott Berthiaume* discussed ideas for supporting local literacy initiatives. Since there was no written form of the Pame language until relatively recently, there was no tradition of written literature in the language. Although an alphabet was officially introduced by the Secretary of Education in 1984, the only publications previously produced were a small number of bilingual reading primers for use in schools. Berthiaume says, “We needed good material to offer in literacy classes and wanted to offer something that wasn’t a translation, since a translation always has some interference from the source language that makes it more challenging to read. At the same time, it was important to have something that sparked an interest in readers that would compel them to improve their literacy skills in Pame.”

Process of writing and editing

Baltazar and Berthiaume began to look for writers to participate in the project: Baltazar decided to participate as an author, along with several other members of the Pame language development team, Calixto Castillo Izaguirre, and Izaguirre’s daughter, Piedad Castillo de la Cruz. Constantino Gómez González served as both an editor and as the main technician responsible for data entry, organizing journal entries into one document and editing. Eleuteria Castillo de la Cruz, a newcomer to local language development efforts, joined the group to bring the perspective of a young teenager to the project. After several short workshops, the writers began journaling. Entries covered the period of one year, from June 2009 to June 2010. 

collage of photos from the writing process and literacy workshops

Above (clockwise from top left): Constantino Gómez González edits the text of the book; a class participates in a workshop led by Eleuteria Castillo de la Cruz; a young workshop participant enjoys the stories written in her language; Piedad Castillo de la Cruz leads a literacy workshop; Eleuteria looks over a draft of the manuscript.

With Baltazar and González leading, the writers met once a week to read their journal entries to each other and receive feedback from the group on matters such as clarity. They would also take home each other’s work to edit, which spurred discussion about how to standardize the spelling system and even some deeper dialectical questions, since three sub-dialects of Northern Pame were represented among the four authors. When the journaling phase was complete, the team spent another six months continuing to edit the manuscript. González ensured that whatever decisions were made about spelling were consistent throughout the work.

To cover the costs of hiring a graphic designer and printing the book, the group of authors applied for and received a grant from Mexico’s Secretary of Indian Affairs. The cover of the book features the colors of Pame pottery, which is made of several distinctive colors of natural clay.

Literacy interest spurred by new book

In addition to writing and editing the book, the group of authors also led reading classes in ten Pame villages over the course of a year. Portions of the book were used as a teaching tool and were further refined as feedback was received from readers in the community. Several teaching assistants were invited to help with the classes and gain skill as teachers and writers themselves. Over four hundred people—mainly young adults—participated in the classes.

Berthiaume reports that the book has been well received in Pame communities and recognized as significant by the Spanish-speaking population, as well. A Spanish translation of the book has been requested for the benefit of those who are interested in learning more about the Pame language and culture. Copies have been distributed to local schools and government offices and there have been four book presentations to date all across the state. With this positive response from both the Pame community and the education system, the Pame language development team looks forward to seeing a new generation of writers from the community become inspired to share stories from their own lives.  A number of teachers have expressed interest in having the Pame authors teach more classes using the book as the primary text. The authors hope to share with many young people the joy of expressing themselves in written form in their own mother tongue. 

*Berthiume also serves as the president of SIL’s division in Mexico (also known as Instituto Lingüístico de Verano or ILV) and is an adjunct faculty member at the State University of San Luis Potosí.

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