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Family and Stock: Definitions

We are using the terms 'family' and 'stock' in our discussion of languages of Mexico with specific definitions in mind.

A family is a group of languages that easily can be shown to be genetically related when the basic evidence is examined. For example, the Romance family includes Rumanian, Italian, Spanish, French, Catalan and Portuguese (and all of the regional variants of these languages, e.g. Florentine, Milanese, Sicilian). These are all considered genetically related because they developed historically from Latin. Similarly, the Germanic family includes English, Dutch, and German. In some cases, a language may be a family by itself because there are now no languages related to it at this level. There are twenty families of indigenous languages in the country of Mexico.

Consider the following words from various languages of the Zapotecan family. They all mean 'smoke'. Note how easy it is to recognize that they are related, although the Chatino language in the list is the most different. (The letter combinations "zh" and "dzh" here represent the voiced alveopalatal fricative and affricate, respectively, and the "saltillo" (') represents glottal stop.)

Aloapam Zapotec
Atepec Zapotec
Choapan Zapotec
Xanica Zapotec
Amatlán Zapotec
Texmelucan Zapotec
Tataltepec Chatino

A stock is a group of language families that are genetically related to each other but, because of the time depth involved, the evidence is more difficult to assemble or the relationship is less obvious. For example, the Romance family, Germanic family, Slavic family and others form the Indoeuropean stock. There are three stocks of indigenous languages in Mexico as well as six families that are not related to other families in Mexico.

Consider the following words from one language of different families of the Otomanguean stock. Note that it is more difficult it is to be certain that they are related. We cannot even be sure that the words are genetically related without more study. ("tz" = voiceless alveopalatal affricate)



Mixtecan Family
Chinantecan Family
Popolocan Family
Otopamean Family
Zapotecan Family

These are not the only definitions of 'family' and 'stock' that linguists have used. For more detailed discussions of this notion of 'family' (or its synonym, 'genus') see Dryer (1989, 1992) and Nichols (1990).

--Stephen Marlett

See also