In a publishing first, well-loved children’s stories such as “The Hungry Caterpillar” and “Buri and the Marrow” are to appear in Kgoyom Totonaco, an indigenous language of central southern Mexico which has survived both Aztec and Spanish Conquest.

The publishing deal, secured by CLAS teaching assistant and PhD student Lucia Brandi, means that tri-lingual Totonaco / Spanish / English / versions of both these classic stories, as well as local stories from within the Kgoyom community, will soon be available for anyone to enjoy. The books come with a “talking pen”, allowing young readers to scan over the text and hear how to read and pronounce words.

As Lucia Brandi explained, shortly after receiving the news from international publishers, Mantra Lingua:

There are multiple implications for the Kgoyom community. Written resources in Kgoyom Totonaco are scant, and children’s material is nil, but now we can offer material back to the community for literacy, language learning and language maintenance purposes.

The Totonaco translations have been generated by volunteer students and teachers at an independently run high school in the Kgoyom community, Colegio Paulo Freire, as part of  ‘The Generative Word’ project, set up by the CLAS researcher in 2012. It is hoped the books will boost income for the school, which receives no state funding, and will also be used for research, since Totonaco remains poorly described by linguists.

In 2009, Totonac culture was honoured when its ancient tradition of ‘flying dancers’ or ‘voladores’ (pictured) was denominated ‘Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO.  However, while their culture may be prized, many Totonaco-speaking communities complain of ongoing discrimination by Spanish-speakers and marginalisation by the state. Incomes, local services and infrastructure are amongst the poorest in the republic.

‘The Generative Word’ is inviting people to pre-order books now and ‘buy one, send one’ – that is, donate an extra copy for a family in the Kgoyom community. To pre-order books, or for more information on the Colegio Paulo Freire or ‘The Generative Word’ project, please contact