A Zapotec physicist who was originally from Juchitán, Oaxaca, is planning to translate Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, an essential work of western science, into his native language.

The title page of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, first edition of 1687
The title page of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, first edition of 1687 (Photo in Wikimedia, in the public domain)

According to an article in Mexico News Daily, Feliciano Carrasco Regalado is confident that his translation will be useful. In contrast to his detractors who argue that the work is too complex to be translated successfully into an indigenous language, Carrasco maintains that while the equations may be inaccessible to many and the formulas may cause some terror, “a native person of my language would understand [the Principia Mathematica] very well.”

He said that he has run into similar prejudices before toward the indigenous Zapotec people and their understanding of complex theories. He met such prejudicial attitudes when he was invited to lecture about Einstein’s theory of relativity. One person commented to another academic, “How can you promote this Indian?” when it was clear that the speaker, Carrasco, was a Zapotec.

Feliciano Carrasco singing a Zapotec song
Feliciano Carrasco singing a Zapotec song (Photo by Alejandra Méndez, Secreatría de Cultura CDMX in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

To judge by the article, Carrasco is more than a scientist: he is, himself, a Renaissance man. He is a musician who composes songs that he sings in Zapotec. He has recorded them in five albums and a number of them are available on YouTube.

He takes a lot of pride in sharing his love for mathematics with his students. Beyond that, he promotes the Mexican indigenous cultures and he teaches the Zapotec language at the National Autonomous University (UNAM) in Mexico City. He also teaches Zapotec at the Macario Matus Cultural Center, where he is the director. He is a member of the Mexican Academy of Language, a prestigious organization that strives to keep the Spanish language pure.