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The Forbidden Language 


Mixed Media Installation incorporating video, steel structure, clay, found objects, and photographic images from the web.



On October 12, 2010, after 78 years of continuous repression, President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador, offered an apology to the indigenous population of his country for atrocities committed against them by government forces, on behalf of the reigning oligarchy. In this manner, Funes lifted a ban imposed in 1932 on the Nahuat-Pipil tongue, the indigenous language of El Salvador. 


Nahuat–Pipil is no longer the forbidden language of El Salvador, but it is at the point of extinction. Spanish has been the official language since the European invasion and conquest of El Salvador in the 1500’s. The history of the Pipiles since then has been one of constant oppression and persecution.  One of the most brutal instances took place in 1932, when the indigenous population was decimated, and their culture and language banned and forced underground.


Beginning in 2010, official interest in Nahuat-Pipil re-emergence has the Salvadoran government supporting its teaching to children in rural areas. Steps have also been taken to develop and maintain indigenous expressions of ethnic identity, culture, philosophy, and spiritual beliefs. Despite the new appreciation of indigenous culture, not every segment of the population is in agreement.


As the Nahuat-Pipil tongue is reinstated a new set of questions arise:

  • What does Nahuat-Pipil have to offer to new generations that are already adapted to the mainstreamed Spanish language?

  • Is Nahuat-Pipil relevant in its ability to express the memories, experiences, and aspirations of the surviving indigenous population?

  • Is it possible for the native population to find solace and fulfillment in speaking their ancient language? Or, after centuries of repression and persecution, has the language become mainly a source of anxiety and trauma?

  • How does an ancient language adapt and incorporate the myriad of new words connected to the technological advances of the last 80 years without losing itself in the process? 


Language allows the speaker to share his or her particular vision of the world. Is Nahuat-Pipil then the language of suffering, oppression, and persecution? Is this it’s singular perspective, or will its
re-emergence reveal a different contribution from this tongue to the common pool of universal human knowledge? This installation merely poses the questions. The answers will be revealed in the years ahead, if the forbidden language of El Salvador proves capable of connecting its people not only with their painful past but most importantly, with their expanding future.  

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