Difference between revisions of "Oaxaca Language and Languages"

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Oaxaca Gotoarrow.png Language and Languages

With one million indigenous speakers, or 35 percent of the population speaking an indigenous language, Oaxaca is Mexico's "most indigenous state."[1]

The indigenous languages spoken in Oaxaca are many and varied. Some of them include:

  • Mixtec
  • Zapotec
  • Mazateco
  • Mixe
  • Zoque

In 2005, it was believed that 423,216 Mexicans spoke one of the 57 Mixtec languages, representing 7.04% of all indigenous speakers. Mixtecs are unique in that they have migrated in large numbers to every corner of the Mexico and to many areas in the U.S. Although they are found in every state in significant numbers, the Mixtecs are indigenous to two Mexican states: 57.2% of the Mixtecs live in Oaxaca and 26.1% live in neighboring Guerrero. It was estimated that 410,901 persons spoke one of the 64 Zapotec languages of México, representing 6.84% of all indigenous speakers. Zapotecs have also migrated to areas throughout Mexico and can be found in every state. However, the largest number of Zapotecs lives in the state of their origin, Oaxaca, where 86.9% of all Zapotecs live. Many people wonder how so many Zapotec and Mixtec languages evolved from the same origin. But, if one understands the topography of Oaxaca, it makes sense. Oaxaca is characterized by numerous valleys and mountains, which tend to separate closely related peoples. Over time, people who once spoke the same language become separated from one another and their languages evolve until finally, a new language comes into existence. This is, in fact, a very simple explanation for what is a very complex evolution that may take place over hundreds or thousands of years. The Mazateco language was spoken by 206,559 individuals in 2005, accounting for 3.44% of the indigenous speakers. Mazateco is spoken in several states, but is most predominant in Oaxaca, where 79.7% of the Mazateco speakers resided in 2005. Significant numbers also live in Puebla, Veracruz and the State of Mexico. The Mazateco language is part of the Oto-Manguean Linguistic group (as are the Zapotec, Mixtec and Popoloca languages). In 2005, 125,706 persons in Mexico spoke one of the 14 Chinanteca languages. They represented 2.09% of all indigenous speakers in Mexico and, like their distant Oto-Manguean relatives (the Zapotecs and Mixtecs), their people have migrated to many parts of the country. However, 81.7% of Chinanteca speakers lived in Oaxaca in 2005, and a considerable number inhabit Veracruz. Most materials used in Mexican research are written in Spanish. However, you do not need to speak or read Spanish to do research in Mexican records. However, you will need to know some key words and phrases to understand the records. The Mixe language is an isolated language that is primarily spoken in Oaxaca. In 2005, 115,824 persons spoke Mixe, representing 1.93% of the indigenous speakers in Mexico. The Zoque are one of the few non-Maya groups living in Chiapas. In 2005, speakers of the Zoque language numbered 54,004 in Mexico (representing 0.9% of the indigenous speakers). Closely related to the Mixe of Oaxaca, the Zoques primarily inhabit Chiapas, where 81.4% of the Zoque speakers live. A significant number of Zoques also live in Oaxaca. The Amuzgos are another Oto-Manguean language group. In 2005, 43,761 Mexicans spoke one of their three languages, representing 0.73% of Mexico's indigenous speakers. The lion's share of Amuzgos live in Guerrero (85.5%), while smaller numbers live in nearby Oaxaca (10.8%).

The official language of Mexico is Spanish, which is spoken by 90 percent of the people. Indian languages of the Aztecs, Mayans, and other tribes are still spoken throughout the country. Originally there may have been more than 200 roots of native languages.

In 1889, Antonio García Cubas estimated that 38% of Mexicans spoke an indigenous language, down from 60% in 1820. By the end of the 20th century, this figure had fallen to 6%.

In the early history of Mexico after the Spanish conquest, the spiritual leaders knew Latin, and where schools were established, Latin was a required subject. So you may find some Latin terms included in church records.

Hundreds of native languages and dialects existed although very few written records survived the European conquest. Of these the Náuatl language, spoken by the Aztecs of the Central Plateau region, is predominant, followed by the Mayan of the Yucatan Pennisula and Northern Central America. The Zapoteco, Mixteco, and Otomi languages, follow in importance.

In the early records a great many Indian words, especially names and localities, found their way into the Spanish language. Many of them were modified to make them more pronounceable to the Spanish conquerors.

Spanish phonetics may affect the way names appear in genealogical records. For example, the names of your ancestor may vary from record to record in Spanish. For help in understanding name variations, see Mexico Names, Personal.

Language Aids

The Family History Library provides the following aids:

The following English-Spanish dictionaries can also aid you in your research. You can find these publications listed below and similar material at many research libraries:

Cassell’s Spanish-English, English-Spanish Dictionary New York: Macmillan, 1978. (FHL book 743.21 C272c 1978.)

Velázquez de la Cadena, Mariano. A New Pronouncing Dictionary of the Spanish and English Languages New York: Appleton- Century-Crofts, 1942. (FHL book 463.21 V541n.) y también volumen 2 del mismo.

Diccionario de Autoridades (Dictionary of Authorities). 3 vols. Madrid: Edit. Gredos, 1963. (FHL book 463 D56ld.)

Additional language aids, including dictionaries of various dialects and time periods, are listed in the "Place Search" section of the Family History Library Catalog under:


They are also listed in the "Subject" section of the Family History Library Catalog under:


And remember that a great free resource is always translate.google.com.

  1. Tony Burton, "Did you know? Oaxaca is the most culturally diverse state in Mexico" (Mexconnect Mexico Culture and Arts, http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1165-did-you-know-oaxaca-is-the-most-culturally-diverse-state-in-mexico).