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Tlapanecan Family

Me'phaa (Tlapanec)
Tlapanec fiesta

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.)

Map of Mexico Map: where the Tlapanecan languages are spoken

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.

Early studies classified the Tlapanecan languages with the Hokan stock. More recently, however, there seems to be clear evidence to classify them as Otomanguean.

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.

Specific varieties of languages in the Tlapanecan Family
Name Materials
Ethnologue entries
Acatepec Me'phaa book tpx
Azoyú Me'phaa book tpc
Malinaltepec Me'phaa book tcf
Tlacoapa Me'phaa book tpl
Publications by the Summer Institute of Linguistics and its members
Literacy and literature
Various fields
For more information