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Zapotecan Family

Chatino, Zapotec
Zapotec rug

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.

Map of Mexico Map: where the Zapotecan languages are spoken

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).

Linguistic Tidbits [1]

Linguistic structure of Zapotec
Specific varieties of languages in the Zapotecan Family
(with links to more details on some)
Ethnologue entries
Eastern Highland Chatino book cly
Nopala Chatino book cya
Tataltepec Chatino book cta
Western Highland Chatino book ctp
Zacatepec Chatino book ctz
Zenzontepec Chatino book czn
Aloápam Zapotec book zaq
Amatlán Zapotec book zpo
Asunción Mixtepec Zapotec book zoo
Ayoquesco Zapotec book zaf
Cajonos Zapotec book zad
Chichicápam Zapotec book zpv
Choapan Zapotec book zpc
Coatecas Altas Zapotec book zca
Coatlán Zapotec book zps
El Alto Zapotec book zpp
Elotepec Zapotec book zte
Guevea de Humboldt Zapotec book zpg
Güilá Zapotec book ztu
Isthmus Zapotec book zai
Lachiguiria Zapotec book zpa
Lachixío Zapotec book zpl
Lapaguía-Guivini Zapotec book ztl
Loxicha Zapotec book ztp
Mazaltepec Zapotec book zpy
Miahuatlán Zapotec book zam
Mitla Zapotec book zaw
Mixtepec Zapotec book zpm
Ocotlán Zapotec book zac
Ozolotepec Zapotec book zao
Petapa Zapotec book zpe
Quiavicuzas Zapotec book zpj
Quioquitani-Quierí Zapotec book ztq
Rincón Zapotec book zar
San Agustín Mixtepec Zapotec book ztm
San Baltazar Loxicha Zapotec book zpx
San Juan Guelavía Zapotec book zab
San Pedro Quiatoni Zapotec book zpf
San Vicente Coatlán Zapotec book zpt
Santa Catarina Albarradas Zapotec book ztn
Santa Inés Yatzechi Zapotec book zpn
Santa María Quiegolani Zapotec book zpi
Santiago Xanica Zapotec book zpr
Santo Domingo Albarradas Zapotec book zas
Sierra de Juárez Zapotec book zaa
Southeastern Ixtlán Zapotec book zpd
Southern Rincon Zapotec book zsr
Tabaa Zapotec book zat
Tejalapan Zapotec book ztt
Texmelucan Zapotec book zpz
San Miguel Tilquiapan Zapotec book zts
Tlacolulita Zapotec book zpk
Totomachapan Zapotec book zph
Xadani Zapotec book zax
Xanaguía Zapotec book ztg
Yalálag Zapotec book zpu
Santa Ana Yareni Zapotec book zae
Yatee Zapotec book zty
Yatzachi Zapotec book zav
Yautepec Zapotec book zpb
Zaachila Zapotec book ztx
Zaniza Zapotec book zpw
Zoogocho Zapotec book zpq
Publications by the Summer Institute of Linguistics and its members
Literacy and literature
Various fields
For more information