Families and languages not grouped into stocks

Algonquian family


The Algonquian family includes several languages in the United States and Canada, such as Cheyenne, Arapaho, Cree, Ojibwa, and Fox, as well as the Kickapoo language of Mexico, spoken by a small group in the state of of Coahuila. Kickapoo is closely related to a larger group of the same name, in the state of Oklahoma, USA. The speakers of this language group arrived in Mexico in 1839.

Huavean family

Huave, spoken in Oaxaca, is considered a language isolate that displays some dialectal variation. The work of the Summer Institute of Linguistics in this language is close to completion.

Mayan family

The Mayan language family comprises five sub-families and includes many languages that are spoken in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. In Mexico, Mayan languages are spoken in seven states: Chiapas, Tabasco, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Campeche, San Luis Potosí and Veracruz. In Chiapas, all the languages are Mayan (except Zoque), as are virtually all the indigenous languages of Guatemala. (The maps below show approximate distribution of these languages, including some recent migrations.) The total number of Mayan speakers is over 1.5 million, making this family one of the two largest in Mexico (the other being the Nahuatl family).
The five subfamilies of Mayan languages are:

  • Ch'ol-Tzotzil subfamily
  • Huastecan subfamily
  • Yucatecan subfamily
  • Chujean-Kanjobal subfamily
  • Quichean-Mamean subfamily

There are numerous ruins of the ancient Mayan civilization in the states of Chiapas and Yucatan, as well as in Guatemala. These archeological sites and the artifacts discovered in them display a highly developed aesthetic sense—in stone sculpture, ceramic work, the casting of precious metals, mosaics, and the carving of crystal and jade—all of these produced without metal tools. The Mayas had invented the abstract symbol of zero to simplify mathematics long before it was in use in Europe, and the Mayan calendar was older and more efficient than the Julian calendar that was in use by the Spaniards who conquered Mexico.
In the 1950s one could distinguish what area people came from by the distinctive clothing of both men and women. Now many are buying clothing in stores, especially the men. The women who live in high altitudes prefer traditional dress with its long skirts woven with wool from their own sheep. Some of their shawls were of wool also, which gave them and their babies much more protection on frosty winter days.
Typical Mayan diet consists of corn (maize), beans and squash. Some make small gardens near their homes where they plant cabbage or other greens, long radish, or other vegetables. Many Mayans do not have enough land to grow all the corn they need for their families, nor do they have enough wooded area on their land to provide them with firewood, so they seek land wherever they can find it. The Tzeltales, especially, expanded greatly from their original territory during the second half of the twentieth century, migrating into the Lacandón jungle in eastern Chiapas.
Many of the languages in this family tend to have long, complex words containing many prefixes and suffixes. For example, 'the teacher' in Tzotzil is li jchanubtasvaneje; this expression consists of the following pieces: li 'the', j 'human agent', chan 'learn', ub 'become', tas 'causative', van 'habitually', ej 'nominalizer' and e 'end of phrase'. So, the meaning of this word is literally 'one who habitually causes (someone) to learn something'.
One distinctive characteristic of Mayan languages is their use of glottalized consonants. These are formed by closing off the vocal folds (vocal cords) behind a consonant like p, t, or k, and raising the larynx to build up extra pressure that results in a "pop" after the consonant as the pressure is released by the tongue or lips. (See the diagram of the principal organs of articulation.) Usually, glottalization is written with an apostrophe following the consonant. For example, there are three glottalized consonants in the Tzeltal phrase c'ux c'ajc'al, which means 'it's hot out', or literally, 'the sun/day hurts'.

Mixe-Zoquean family

Mixe, popoluca, zoque Mixe, Popoluca, Zoque

This family of languages includes two subfamilies, the Mixean subfamily (which includes the Mixe languages of Oaxaca and also Sayula Popoluca and Oluta Popoluca in the state of Veracruz) and the Zoquean subfamily (which includes the Zoque languages of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco, and Sierra Popoluca and Texistepec Popoluca in Veracruz).

Tarascan family

Purepecha (P'orhepecha, P'urhepecha)

The Purepecha language, previously known as Tarascan, is a language isolate that is not even provisionally linked with any other language. It is spoken in the state of Michoacan near Lake Pátzcuaro and the Paricutín volcano. There are two main variants and perhaps a dozen minor variants, the main divider being the lake area vs. the volcanic plateau. Speakers can easily identify each other by their speech as to their region, and even their home village. Speakers take pride in keeping their "native" variety even if they have moved to another part of the region. The dialectal differences are relatively recent, though, and the speakers identify all of the variants as being part of the same language.
The language has been studied and continues to be studied by both Mexican and foreign linguists. The Summer Institute of Linguistics has completed work in one of the two main varieties but continues working in the other.
The Purepechas have their own flag, which consists of pink, blue, green and yellow squares with a clenched fist and arrows in the middle, representing the unity of the Purepecha region. Several newspapers publish sections in the language, and at least one periodical is predominately Purepecha. Catholic church services are held in Purepecha in many of the villages occasionally, and regularly in some where the priest is Purepecha himself. Pride in the language and culture seems to be on the rise, with governmental encouragement.
The elevation of the Tarascan villages varies from 5200 feet (1600 meters) above sea level to over 8200 feet (2500 meters), with Lake Pátzcuaro (Mexico's highest lake) at 7200 feet (2200 meters). Temperate climate, fertile soil and pine forests dominate the area. The rainy season is from the end of May to September, and at higher elevations January and February bring frost but rarely snow.
Almost all villages now have electricity and most have water. Nearly all villages specialize in some particular cottage industry: furniture, copper products, guitars, violins, pottery, ceramics, bricks, adobe, wooden utensils, hats, mats, masks, etc. These are marketed in towns and cities, and some even internationally. Some villages take pride in their distinctive dress, including ornately stitched aprons and blouses. Nearly all women wear shawls, but many use western clothing.
Purepecha music is very viable. Many songs are popular elsewhere in Mexico, for example the song Flor de Canela ("Cinnamon flower"), which is Tsitsiki Urhapiti in Purepecha. There are dozens of Purepecha music tapes and CDs available in the area. Many traditional dances, such as the Danza de los Viejitos ("Old-folks' dance", pictured above), are well preserved from precolonial times and are presented at special occasions.
Most children attend at least the first few years of elementary school, of which the first two grades are taught in Purepecha. Although illiteracy rates are high among older people and women especially, there are many highly-educated Purepecha: priests, doctors, nurses, lawyers, linguists and anthropologists.
Modern health services are widely available, with clinics in most villages and hospitals in the cities surrounding the area. Still, many prefer to use traditional practices, such as practiced by brujos (shamans) and curanderos (healers). Both systems, modern and traditional, are generally accepted, although the traditional often operates clandestinely.
The Purepecha were a major force in western Mexico before the arrival of Europeans. Their empire consisted of the entire state of Michoacan and parts of Jalisco and Guanajuato, and they had influence all the way to modern New Mexico among the Zuni. The Purepecha kings lived in Tzintzuntzan, Ihuatzio and Pátzcuaro (now archeological sites) by Lake Pátzcuaro at different times until the Spanish conquest. They held their own against the Aztecs, employing Otomies as border guards in a buffer zone between the two empires. Prisoners of war had a choice between slavery and the sacrificial altar.
Theories on the origin of the Purepecha vary. Some say they migrated from the north together with the Aztecs, others that they came from the south and might be related to the Quechua of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. Although the language is an isolate, it has some similarities with Zuni and Quechua (which may simply be due to borrowings).
The word order of Purepecha is most commonly subject - object - verb. Long words containing many suffixes and even more than one root are common. Vowels that fall at the ends of words are often voiceless and thus are hard to hear or are dropped altogether.

Totonacan family

The Totonacan family includes various languages or variants that have been called Totonac and Tepehua. They are spoken in the states of Puebla, Hidalgo, and Veracruz.