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Spoken culture: Indigenous Languages of Oaxaca

About 68 indigenous leagues are spoken in Mexico. Oaxaca has the highest concentration of them. Learn more about the indigenous languages of Oaxaca, their culture, and their importance to delve into the true value of the original peoples.

Oaxaca is a vast and culturally complex state. Some 15 indigenous peoples live in its territory, each with its own culture and language. Although Spanish is spoken in Mexico, many other languages are also spoken. Oaxaca is one of the states with the greatest diversity of indigenous languages. Each is a millennial cultural legacy that deserves recognition and respect for its value.

Importance of Indigenous Languages

A language is a key element of a culture. Speech is where the way of understanding the world of a certain group of people is shown. It happens with all the languages of the world, some words exist only in one language and it is because they are necessary to express situations or experiences of a certain group of people.

For example, for Inuit, there must be many ways to call the color white because it is what they are mostly surrounded by. Or the word saudade in Portuguese that expresses a nostalgic sadness and that for its beauty is borrowed in other languages. The word “kuchisabishii” in Japanese serves to say that sometimes we eat only because “our mouth feels alone”. Or in Mexico, the word “ñáñaras” express a feeling of discomfort or disgust. In fact, in Mexico, we have many such words.

The same universe exists in indigenous languages. However, because historically they have been denigrated and relegated their speakers are increasingly scarce. For years education in Mexico was compulsory in Spanish, there was no access to education in the native language of indigenous people. In turn, people who speak an indigenous language often suffer from discrimination or abuse of their human rights because of the communication barrier.

Indigenous languages must be valued and given the place they deserve. This is the first step in recognizing the cultural richness of the original peoples and protecting them from the systemic discrimination that is given by a complex of superiority around modern languages.

That is why it is important to differentiate them from each other as a single and complete universe. For this hard work, the National Institute for Indigenous Languages (INALI) has been commissioned to study the linguistic composition of each to classify them.

Classification of Indigenous Languages

In Mexico, 68 different indigenous languages are spoken. However, within them, there is a great deal of cultural diversity, and a classification system has been used to help distinguish them all.

The structure is as follows:

Family > Group > Language

Families and groups were organized according to their linguistic characteristics.

In addition, each language can have variants. Some advocate the recognition of each variant as a language in itself, but no consensus has yet been reached.

Basic Guide to Indigenous Languages of Oaxaca

The following guide is a list of the most relevant data from the indigenous languages of Oaxaca. It is a compendium of information collected in the Cultural Information System of Mexico (SIC), which recognizes 13 indigenous languages in Oaxaca (2020); as well as the National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI) which recognizes 15 indigenous languages (2018).

Chatino children who speak chatino one of the indidenous languages of Oaxaca

Mazateco

  • Family: Otomangue
  • Variants: 16
  • Speakers: 230,124

Triqui

  • Family: Otomangue
  • Variants: 4
  • Speakers: 26, 712

Ixcateco

  • Family: Otomangue
  • Variants: sin variantes
  • Speakers: 535

Chocholteco

  • Family: Otomangue
  • Variants: sin variantes
  • Speakers: 460, 695

Chontal

  • Family: Isolated language
  • Variants: 62
  • Speakers: 460,695

Mixe

  • Family: Mixe-zoque
  • Variants: 6 variants
  • Speakers: 136, 736

Chinanteco

  • Family: Otomangue
  • Variants: 11
  • Speakers: 133,374

Huave

  • Family: Isolated language
  • Variants: 2
  • Speakers: 18, 264

Chatino

  • Family: Otomangue
  • Variants: 6
  • Speakers: 40, 722

Cuicateco

  • Family: Otomangue
  • Variants: 3
  • Speakers: 13, 425

Mixteco

  • Family: Otomangue
  • Variants: 61
  • Speakers: 517, 665

Zoque

  • Family: Mixe-zoque
  • Variants: 2
  • Speakers: 68, 157

Amuzgo

  • Family: Otomangue
  • Variants: 4
  • Speakers: 57, 589

Náhuatl

  • Family: Yuto-nahua
  • Variants: 8
  • Speakers: 12-13 mil

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