The following language families belong to the Otomanguean stock:
Amuzgoan family [Amuzgo]
Chinantecan family [Chinantec]
Mixtecan family [Cuicatec, Mixtec and Triqui]
Otopamean family[Chichimeca Jonaz, Matlatzinca, Mazahua, Ocuilteco, Otomí and Pame]
Popolocan family [Chocholtec (Ngigua), Ixcatec, Mazatec and Popoloca]
Tlapanecan family [Me'phaa (Tlapanec)]
Zapotecan family [Chatino and Zapotec]
The genetic relationship of many of the languages which are today known as Otomanguean languages has been long recognized, beginning perhaps most explicitly with the proposals of Orozco y Berra in 1864. The inclusion of the families that are now considered to comprise this stock has come slowly and with considerable research, proposals, and refinements over the years. Tlapanec is the most recent addition, having been tentatively linked with Hokan languages earlier. The proposal to link Huave with this stock has not been widely recognized.
Regardless of the details of family subgroupings, the Otomanguean stock, which includes languages from as far north as the states of Hidalgo and Querétaro (Otomi) and as far south as Nicaragua (Mangue, now extinct), is a group of languages whose potential for the study of language change over the centuries rivals that of Indo-European languages.
The Amuzgoan languages form one of the smallest families of the Otomanguean stock. There are three main variants of Amuzgo, spoken in the Sierra Madre del Sur near the border between the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. One variety is spoken by over 23,000 people in the southeastern part of the state of Guerrero in and around Xochistlahuaca. The other two variants are spoken in the southwestern part of the state of Oaxaca, by 4000 people in San Pedro Amuzgos and 1200 in Santa Maria Ipalapa. The Summer Institute of Linguistics has worked primarily in Xochistlahuaca and San Pedro Amuzgos.
The Amuzgos base their economy primarily on subsistence agriculture and cattle, combined with local cottage industries such as ceramics, sewing, and handcrafts. They are famous internationally for their wonderfully intricate weavings, which use designs based either on geometric figures or small stylized representations of animals.
The name "Amuzgo" comes from the Nahuatl expression "amoxco", which can be translated 'Place of Books'. If this explanation is correct, the word probably refers to Xochistlahuaca as the political and religious center of the region at the time of the Spanish conquest. However, this is not the Amuzgos' own name for their language. In Xochistlahuaca, people call it ñomndaa; in San Pedro Amuzgos the name is ñonndaa or jñon'ndaa.
Like the other Otomanguean languages, Amuzgo is tonal, which means that the pitch with which a word is pronounced is so important that a change in the pitch can change one word into an entirely different one. The sound system uses nasalization and a rare contrast between ballistic and controlled syllables. (A similar contrast is found in Chinantec languages.) There are a moderate number of prefixes and suffixes on some words (especially verbs). The word order in clauses is verb - subject - object and possessors follow the noun they possess.
The Chinantec languages, which together form one of several language
families in the Otomanguean stock, are spoken in the northeastern
part of the State of Oaxaca (especially in the districts of Ixtlán
de Juarez, Tuxtepec and Choapan). Partly because most of this region
is mountainous, there are about 13 mutually-unintelligible varieties
of Chinantec. Some of these number above 10 thousand
speakers but most are less. The larger varieties have 20 or more
towns and the smaller ones have only two or three towns. The total
population is about 70,000. The Summer Institute of Linguistics
has worked in all but the Tepinapa variety.
Chinantec is still the dominant language in most of the communities that traditionally have spoken it, even among the children. However, in some towns near the highways Spanish is more common, and because of the small size of these language groups and the dominance of Spanish in Mexico overall, these languages should probably be considered in danger of extinction within one hundred years.
The Chinantecs are primarily horticulturalists, raising corn (maize) and beans for their own consumption. Through government programs, fertilizers and hybrid seeds are commonly used in some areas. Coffee, timber and chilis are also marketed in significant quantities. Other crops are raised in certain areas, such as avocados, cacao, peaches, tobacco, and vanilla. There are also cottage industries in some places, producing such items as pottery, baskets, and palm mats.
In most towns none or only a few of the older inhabitants still wear traditional clothing. From colonial times men wore white pants and shirt. Women wore a huipil (a short dress worn over a knee-length skirt), the design of which varied from one town to another (woven or embroidered, white or dyed). In most of the areas where women still make this traditional clothing, it is primarily worn only for special occasions; such garments are also sold to tourists.
The term the Chinantec people use for themselves in many areas appears to translate as 'ordinary people' or 'just plain-old folks', and the term for their language as 'ordinary words' or 'everyday language'. By contrast, their word for the Spanish language appears to mean something like 'salty words' or 'higher words' (but these translations are only tentative).
Like other Otomanguean languages, the Chinantec languages are tonal, which means that the pitch with which a word is pronounced is so important that a change in the pitch can change one word into an entirely different one. The tone on the verb is a very important indicator of its person, number, and tense/aspect; it combines in complex patterns with prefixes and suffixes, and with vowel and consonant changes in the verb stems, to yield 13 or so forms of each verb. Motion verbs are distinguished from each other not only by direction with respect to the speaker (go vs. come) but also by direction with respect to a person or object's "home".
Most roots are monosyllabic and words tend not to have final consonants. (Some Chinantec languages allow more final consonants than others, but in all varieties there are restrictions on what consonants can be word-final.) As a result, words borrowed from Spanish are often incorporated into these languages without final consonants, are reduced to one or two syllables, and are assigned a tone pattern similar to other Chinantec words.
As in most of the other Otomanguean languages, the verb normally comes first in the clause, then subject and object. Possessors, demonstrative adjectives and relative clauses follow the head nouns in a noun phrase, while numerals precede them. There are relatively few true prepositions; instead possessed nouns express many relationships commonly expressed by prepositions in other languages.
Cuicateco, mixteco, triqui Cuicatec, Mixtec, Triqui
The Mixtecan language family, one of the largest and most diverse
families in the Otomanguean stock, includes three groups of languages:
Mixtec, Cuicatec, and Triqui (or Trique). These languages are spoken
primarily in the western part of the state of Oaxaca, but Mixtec is
also spoken in neighboring parts of Puebla and Guerrero.
Cuicatec and Triqui have only a few variants each, but Mixtec comprises a subfamily with many variants. In reality, each town has its own variant, with features that are slightly different from those of neighboring towns, because social identity is based on belonging to a town, rather than to a larger geographical region or to a language group. This linguistic difference is often reinforced by the distinctive clothing worn by the women in each town. It is therefore difficult to say how many dialects of Mixtec there are. The Summer Institute of Linguistics has worked in more than 25 variants.
While people from neighboring towns can understand each other fairly well, people from towns that are more than a day's walk apart usually cannot. One reason for this is that various sound changes have affected different parts of the Mixtec region. For example, most towns in the southwestern half of the region have the consonant s in many words, while most towns in the northeastern half have a soft d (the initial sound of English this) in the corresponding words. Thus the word for 'deer' is isu in one part and idu in the other, and the word for 'metate (grinding table)' is yoso in one part and yodo in the other. (Some towns have different consonants in these words.) Another reason that it is hard for people from different towns to understand each other is that they sometimes use completely different words. For example, the set of pronouns used in each town often differs from the set used in neighboring towns.
The area where the Mixtecs, Cuicatecs, and Triquis live is known as the Mixteca, and it includes a wide range of elevations. It was originally a very fertile area, but parts of it have suffered severe erosion, and it is now difficult for the people to make a living by growing corn (maize), beans, and squash in the traditional way. One way in which Mixtecs supplement their income is by weaving palm leaves into hats, mats, and baskets, but their earnings from this work are very low. Triqui women weave items for the tourist trade using their traditional backstrap loom. A few women in Peñoles still raise silkworms and sell the thread in Oaxaca City; some men sell homemade charcoal in the Oaxaca market.
Another response to economic pressure is emigration, and many people from this language group live and work in Mexico City, Oaxaca, and other large cities. They usually remain loyal to their hometown, return each year for special fiestas, and contribute toward town projects. Many people also go to northern Mexico, especially the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Baja California, to work in the large agricultural operations there; and many others go to the United States and to Canada.
Much is known about the history of the Mixtec from the pictorial history books known as codices. These books describe their cosmovision, and also give the history of some of their kings. One of the most famous Mixtec kings was Eight Deer Tiger Claw of Tilantongo, who ruled over a large empire in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Mixtecs were also superb goldsmiths, potters, and carvers. The most famous collection of Mixtec artifacts was found in tomb seven at the Monte Alban archaeological site in Oaxaca.
Like other Otomanguean languages, the languages in the Mixtecan family are tonal, which means that the pitch with which a word is pronounced is so important that a change in the pitch can change one word into an entirely different one. The tones are so important that they are written in the practical orthographies (alphabets) of many Mixtecan languages, at least on some words. Chicahuaxtla Trique was the first language discovered to have five contrastive levels of tone, described by Robert Longacre in a 1952 article. Also, tones sometimes change before or after other tones. Kenneth Pike's description of San Miguel El Grande Mixtec tone was one of the earliest descriptions of such changes, which are known as tone sandhi.
As is the case in many other languages in the Otomanguean stock, the normal word order in Mixtecan languages is Verb - Subject - Objects. Numerals precede the nouns they modify, but possessors and other modifiers follow them. There is a special set of dependent pronouns which at first appear to be suffixes on verbs (indicating the subject) or on nouns (indicating a possessor), similar to the person/number suffixes on verbs in Spanish. However, as far as the grammar is concerned, they are better considered to be the actual subject or possessor, because they are not used when a separate noun follows the verb as subject or the possessed noun as possessor.
Chichimeca jonaz, mazahua, otomí, pame, ocuilteco, matlatzinca Chichimeca Jonaz, Mazahua, Otomi, Pame, Ocuilteco, Matlatzinca
La familia otopame incluye varias lenguas. El chichimeca jonaz
se habla en el estado de Guanajuato. El mazahua se habla en el
estado de México y en Michoacán. El otomí es
un grupo de seis lenguas que se hablan en los estados de Puebla,
Veracruz, Querétaro, Hidalgo y Tlaxcala. El pame se habla
en el estado de San Luis Potosí. Las lenguas matlatzinca
y ocuilteco se hablan en el estado de México.
The Otopame family includes various languages. Chichimeca Jonaz is spoken in the state of Guanajuato. Mazahua is spoken in Michoacan. Otomi includes six languages that are spoken in the states of Puebla, Veracruz, Queretaro, Hidalgo, and Tlaxcala. Pame is spoken in the state of San Luis Potosi, while Matlatzinca and Ocuilteco are spoken in the state of Mexico.
Chocholteco (ngigua), mazateco, popoloca, ixcateco Chocholteco (ngigua), Mazatec, Popoloca, Ixcatec
SIL has not done extensive investigations in Chocholteco of Oaxaca
(also known as Ngigua).
Mazateco includes four or five important variants (in Oaxaca, Veracruz and Puebla). The Summer Institute of Linguistics has done investigations in four of these.
Popoloca has six important variants in the state of Puebla.
The name Ixcatec is used for another language of this family, believed by many to be extinct, and also for a variant of Mazatec.
Me'phaa (Tlapanec) is spoken by over 75,000 people (perhaps as many as 95,000) in the state of Guerrero. There are at least eight major variants, which can be identified by the larger towns in the area where they are spoken: Acatepec, Azoyú, Malinaltepec, Nancintla, Teocuitlapa, Tlacoapa, Zapotitlán Tablas (including Huitzapula, which some regard as distinct), and Zilacayotitlán. It is difficult to determine which of these variants are separate languages, because many speakers have learned more than one variant and the differences between variants can be smaller or larger, depending on which pair of variants is compared. The Summer Institute of Linguistics has worked in the Acatepec, Malinaltepec, and Tlacoapa varieties. (The now-extinct Subtiaba language of Nicaragua is also in this family.)
The name "Me'phaa", which speakers use for their own language, has recently been promoted by bilingual school teachers and others. (The teachers in the bilingual schools are all native speakers of Me'phaa.) They prefer it to the traditional name "Tlapaneco", which is derived from Nahuatl, because some consider it to have been a derogatory label. (The form "Me'phaa" is the one used by Malinaltepec speakers; other varieties have slightly different forms of the name, such as "Me'pa" in Acatepec and "Mi'pha" in Tlacoapa.)
Like most groups in southern Mexico, their diet consists chiefly of corn (maize) tortillas, beans, squash, and chilies. At lower altitudes, bananas are also important, and jamaica is used to make a beverage. Coffee is a major cash crop for those living in coffee growing areas. Those who do not live in these areas often emigrate to the north to find work. Wool serapes are woven in one area by the men and in another area by the women.
Like other Otomanguean languages, the Tlapanec languages are tonal. That is, the pitch with which a word is pronounced is so important that, if it is changed, the meaning of the word can change completely. Tones can sometimes be the only indication of grammatical distinctions such as 1st vs. 3rd person. One variety of Me'phaa can have a sequence of as many as four tones on the same syllable.
Chatino, zapoteco Chatino, Zapotec
The Zapotecan languages are spoken in the state of Oaxaca, primarily
in the central valleys near Oaxaca City, south from there to the
Pacific coast, southeast to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and northeast
into the Sierra de Juarez.
The Zapotecan family is one of the largest families in the Otomanguean stock in terms of the number of speakers. It also has more distinct local variants than any other family in the Otomanguean stock (except perhaps for the Mixtecan family). It is composed of two subfamilies: Chatino and Zapotec. Chatino has seven important variants, all spoken in Oaxaca. Zapotec is a large subfamily, (possibly with as many as forty mutually unintelligible variants), in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz. Members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics have done research in four varieties of Chatino and more than twenty-five varieties of Zapotec.
Zapotecs and Chatinos were traditionally farmers, and most still are, but today some towns are much better known for other things. For example, Zapotecs in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, are known internationally for their rugs and other wool weavings and their town near the Pan-American highway is a major tourist attraction. Zapotecs from the Isthmus area travel to neighboring states to sell their hand-made gold jewelry, palm baskets, colorful embroidery, totopos (their special kind of tortilla), dried fish and shrimp. They bring back things that they don't have in their area, such as certain fruits and vegetables.
Zapotec speaking peoples were probably among those who built the famous ruins at Monte Alban, although the site is better known for the fabulous treasures discovered in tombs of Mixtec kings buried there at a later date.
One of the most famous of Mexico's presidents, Benito Juarez, was a Zapotec. He is often compared with president Abraham Lincoln of the USA and his life is well represented by his most famous saying: "The people and the government should respect the rights of all. Between individuals, as between nations, respect for the rights of others is peace".
As in many other languages in the Otomanguean stock, the normal word order in Zapotecan languages is Verb - Subject - Objects. Numerals precede the nouns they modify, but other adjectives and possessors follow them. There is a special set of dependent pronouns which at first appear to be suffixes on verbs (indicating the subject) or on nouns (indicating a possessor), similar to the person/number suffixes on verbs in Spanish. However, as far as the grammar is concerned, they are better considered to be the actual subject or possessor, because they are not used when there is a separate noun as subject or possessor.
Like other Otomanguean languages, most Zapotecan languages are tonal, which means that the pitch with which a word is pronounced is so important that a change in the pitch can change one word into an entirely different one. However, tone is not marked in the practical orthographies (alphabets) because the correct tones of a word can usually be determined by the context. All the Zapotecan languages have a "fortis/lenis" (strong/weak) distinction for many consonants. The fortis consonants are generally longer than the lenis ones, many fortis consonants are voiceless (for example: p, t, k) while the corresponding lenis consonants are voiced (b, d, g), and sometimes there are other differences in their pronunciation. This distinction generally does need to be marked in the practical orthography, often by writing fortis consonants with double or underlined letters. Zapotecan languages also have laryngeal modifications on vowels; in addition to ordinary vowels, the majority of Zapotecan languages have both "checked" vowels and "laryngealized" vowels. Checked vowels are cut short by closing the vocal folds abruptly at the end of the vowel. Laryngealized vowels are produced either with a brief pause in the middle or with a creaky voice (somewhat like what some English speakers use on all vowels when tired or imitating an elderly speaker).