Versión en español

Tezoatlán Mixtec

(ISO code mxb)
Making a palm mat

Tezoatlán Mixtec (mixteco de Tezoatlán) is spoken, according to the 2000 INEGI census, by 5,334 people. They live in ten towns in the municipality of Tezoatlán, which is located in the mountains of the district of Huajuapan de León in the state of Oaxaca, in the region known as the Mixteca Baja (Lowland Mixtec area). The inhabitants of each of these towns can understand people from the others, but can tell where people are from by the slight varations in their Mixtec. These towns include: Yucuquimi de Ocampo; Yucuñuti de Juárez; San Andrés Yutatío; San Juan Diquiyú; San Marcos de Garzón, San Martín del Río, San Valentín de Gomez, San Isidro Zaragoza, Santa Catarina Yutandú and Rancho Juárez. In a test designed to measure intelligibility between this variant and other varieties of Mixtec, speakers from Yucuñuti de Juárez scored 79% on a recorded text from Silacayoapan, which was the variant they understood best (Egland 1978).

The town of San Andrés Yutatío
The town of San Andrés Yutatío
Location of Tezoatlán in Mexico
Location of Tezoatlán in Oaxaca
The towns in the municipality of Tezoatlán

Palm weaving and agriculture

The Mixtec people are skilled in making articles out of palm. The lady at the top of the page is making a petate, which is a kind of large palm mat common in Mexico. The people also commonly make baskets, hats, ropes, fire fans and toys in the form of small animals. (Watch a video clip of making a palm hat.)

This is also an agricultural community. Corn is normally planted when the rains start in late May or early June. While a few people have had their fields plowed by a tractor in recent years, the majority still make their own plows and work with a team of oxen. They first plow to break up the rocky ground, then plow the furrows. They plow a third and fourth time to cultivate the crop while it is growing. The corn is harvested in November, and the dried corn stalks are used as feed for the animals. Other crops include squash, beans and tomatillos, which are little green tomatoes that grow with a sort of membrane of petals around them. (Watch a video clip of plowing)

Corn fields by the river
Cornfields by the river
Plowing with oxen
Plowing with oxen

After the corn is harvested, it may be stored in a corn crib, or it may be shelled and placed in large bags made from one or two palm mats stitched together with string. If the corn is not shelled then, it is shelled as needed for the making of tortillas.

Grinding the corn at the mill
Grinding the corn at the mill
Making tortillas
Making tortillas

Tones in Tezoatlán Mixtec

Like other Mixtecan languages (and in fact about half the world's languages), Tezoatlán Mixtec is tonal. The lists in the box are just a few of the many examples of words that are distinguished from each other only by tone. Because of this, it is necessary to write the tones in the alphabet. The tones are like musical notes, and are as distinctive to the people for recognizing words as letters are to us. This variant of Mixtec has three tones, high, mid and low. High tone is written with an acute accent on the vowel, mid is unmarked, and low is marked with an underlined vowel. In about half the verbs, the only difference between future/potential and present is tone. There are also some words with opposite meanings which are only distinguished by tone, such as 'up' (ni̱no) and 'down' (nino̱), 'laugh' (sáki̱) and 'cry' (sáki), 'eat in the morning' (sádi̱ni) and 'eat in the afternoon' (sádíni), or 'one' (iin) and 'nine' (ii̱n). People have created a number of riddles using tone pairs. The following sentences use sequences of words distinguished only by tone.

Some tone pairs:

ndóꞌo̱ - tail

ndo̱ꞌo - adobe brick

ndoꞌo̱ - palm basket

ndóꞌo - is happening

ndoꞌo - will happen

ndoꞌó - you all

ñoo - town

ñoo̱ - palm

ñoó - that, midnight

yuꞌu̱ - I, me

yúꞌu̱ - mouth, edge

yuꞌú - fear

koni - yesterday

koní - turkey hen

kóni̱ - want

koni - will see

tatá - father

tata - seed

tata̱ - medicine

yoꞌó - you, yours

yóꞌo̱ - rope

yóꞌo - here

yo̱ꞌo - root

yoꞌo̱ - crooked




ni̱ ndoꞌo






What happened to your palm basket?













On the edge of that town are those bees.









ko̱ ní












I want to see three turkey hens, I did not see three turkey hens yesterday.

--John Williams

Publications available on this site
Literacy and literature

Bickford, J. Albert and Stephen A. Marlett. 1988. “The semantics and morphology of Mixtec mood and aspect.” Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota 32: 1-39.

Egland, Steven T., compiler. 1978. La inteligibilidad interdialectal en México: Resultados de algunos sondeos. México: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.

Williams, John L.. 1993. “Four conjunctions in Tezoatlán Mixtec.” SIL Mexico Workpapers 10: 68-84.

Williams, John L.. 1996. “Tezoatlán Mixtec Motion and Arrival Verbs.” International Journal of American Linguistics 62.3.

Williams, John L., and various Mixtec speakers from San Andrés Yutatío. 2003. Na ka'i nda'i yo (Leamos en Mixteco). México: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.

Williams, Judith. 1993. “The fronting of noun and adverb phrases in Mixtec of Tezoatlán.” SIL Mexico Workpapers 10: 85-111.

Williams, Judith F., Gerardo Ojeda M., and Liborio Torres B. 2001. Diccionario Mixteco de San Andrés Yutatío, Tezoatlán, Oaxaca, Volumen 1, A-M. México: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.