10 julio, 2024

Mixtec language: origin, history, characteristics, dialects

The mixtec language It is one of the most widely spoken indigenous languages ​​in Mexico, mainly in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla, in the southern part of the country. According to the National Institute of Indigenous Languages ​​(INALI), it is currently used by about 500,000 people and has about 80 dialects that vary from one town to another.

Mixtec is a tonal language, which means that the same word can have different meanings depending on the force used when pronouncing it. On the other hand, from the phonological point of view it is characterized by a strong nasal tendency.

As a consequence of the migratory processes, in addition to the southern part of Mexico, this language can also be found in the Federal District and other federal entities of the country and even in the United States, mainly in the state of California.

Mixtec belongs to the “Otomanguean” linguistic family, which includes a large group of Amerindian languages ​​spoken in Mexico and northern Costa Rica.

Among them are the Zapotec, the Otomí, the Amuzgo, the Cuicateco, the Triqui and the Mazahua. All these languages ​​share common characteristics, related to morphology, syntax and phonology.


Origin and history of the Mixtec language

The Mixtec civilization was a culture that originated in the fifteenth century BC and began its decline in the year 1523 of the new era with the arrival of the Spanish.

This town developed in an area of ​​more than 40,000 square kilometers known as La Mixteca, formed by the current states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla in Mexico.

Its economy was based on agriculture, where plantations of corn, beans, chili and squash abounded. They were also great artisans, standing out in wood carving, ceramics, goldsmithing and pottery.

The Mixtecs lived in villages and had a hierarchical organization led by a cacique that also included warriors, merchants, artisans, slaves, and peasants.

When the Spanish arrived, there were already several dialects of Mixtec. It is estimated that it arose from Protomixtecan, a language from which the Triqui and Cuicatec languages ​​also derived.

The Dominican friars were in charge of the evangelization of the La Mixteca region and who created the first phonetic writing of this language.

the people of the rain

The word “mixteco” is a hispanicization of the Nahuatl term “mixtécatl”, which means “inhabitant of the cloud nation”.

This is an approximate translation of the name that this town gave itself, using the expression “ñuu dzahui”, which can be understood as “the people of the rain” or “the country of the rain god”.

Today it is estimated that Mixtec is spoken by about 500,000 people. This makes it the third most widely used indigenous language in Mexico, behind Nahuatl, used by one and a half million, and Mayan, by nearly 800,000.

Unlike what happened with other languages ​​in the region, Mixtec did not contribute too many neologisms to Spanish.

Characteristics of the Mixtec language

The Mixtec language belongs to the «Otomangue» linguistic family and, within it, it is in the «Mixtecano» group together with the Cuicateco and Triqui languages.

It is characterized by being tonal and by the phonetic role of nasalization. In it, three tones are distinguished -high, medium and low-, which means that the same word can have different meanings depending on the force used when pronouncing it.

Tonality is so important that in various terms it is even included in your writing.

From a phonological point of view, the vowels found before the consonants m, ny, and ñ tend to have a strong nasal tendency. The same goes for sounds with double articulation, such as ng, jn, ts and nd.

When making sentences, the verb is usually used first, then the subject, and finally the object. As for the tenses, there are three roots: perfect, imperfect and continuous.

The Mixtec language distinguishes five genders -masculine, feminine, sacred, animal and inanimate-, which do not have inflection although they accept possessive and clitic prefixes to mark the plural.

On the other hand, there are three types of pronominal systems and, to indicate a negation, the term “ñá” is used.

Dialects of the Mixtec language

It is estimated that the Mixtec language has about 80 dialects, which change from one town to another. For some specialists, these are independent languages, while others consider them to be variants of the same language.

According to UNESCO, ten of them are in danger of disappearing since they are only spoken by a few hundred people today.

Others, on the other hand, are being protected through different political and cultural movements that seek to safeguard them.

The work to standardize their writing and lexicon did not achieve visible results, since each language is part of the cultural identity of each of the peoples and is difficult to change.

Although there are different pronunciations and words, in general people who speak different dialects manage to understand each other.

Protection of the Mixtec language

In Mexico, Mixtec is considered one of the national languages ​​and its use is official. For example, the country’s constitution and other textbooks were translated into this language and are used for basic education.

On the other hand, in 1997 the Mixtec Language Academy was founded, a civil association that seeks to promote its use and create mechanisms that allow its conservation.

As part of this protectionist current, a movement also arose in which several Mexican authors participate, with the idea of ​​recovering the use of this language for literary purposes.

Lastly, in 2018 the use of the Mixtec language gained greater global visibility as it was used by the main characters in the film. Romewritten and directed by the Mexican Alfonso Cuarón, who won several Oscars.

Where were the Mixtec languages ​​spoken?

Mixtec languages ​​were spoken in the Mixteca region, which encompasses the states of Puebla, Oaxaca, and Guerrero. This was a political, cultural and economic zone of great importance for the original inhabitants of the Mexican territory.

It is estimated that this civilization was born during the Middle Preclassic and was conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century, which is why it disappeared. It is one of the oldest cultures that arose in Mesoamerica, and also one of the ones that presented the greatest continuity.

According to Ronald Spores, an American ethnohistorian, anthropologist, and archaeologist, Proto-Mixtec was spoken throughout the region during the Preclassic. Subsequently, new variations were generated to the extent that the inhabitants were experiencing different realities.

This was so due to the vast expanse of the region, covering some 35,000 square kilometres. In such a wide space it was easy for variations to be generated from the same language.

High and Low Mixtec

For example, the Mixteca Alta, which encompasses the Sierra Mixteca, is located in the southeast of Mexico and extends towards Puebla and Oaxaca. A specific variation was spoken in that area, which was first spelled phonetically by Dominican monks who settled in Oaxaca after the Spanish conquest.

On the other hand, the Mixteca Baja —which corresponds to the areas bordering the Sierra Madre del Sur— is located to the northeast of Oaxaca and also includes populations that are found in the south of Puebla.

From the Mixteca Baja arose the basis for the orthography of the Mixtec language, specifically the variant that was spoken in the current municipality of Tespocolula, in the state of Oaxaca.

Where is the Mixtec language spoken today?

Most of those who speak the Mixtec language today live in Oaxaca. In this state is also the largest number of variants of the language.

Both in Oaxaca and in Guerrero and Puebla, individuals who speak Mixtec languages ​​coexist with others who speak Nahuatl and Amuzgo, among other pre-Hispanic languages. There is a presence of Spanish, although most people use it as a second language.

This language is recognized in Mexico as a national language and is spoken in a wide variety of areas. In addition, since it is the official Mexican language, the Constitution has been translated into the Mixtec language, which implies an important measure of inclusion.

Books that teach this language are also distributed free of charge and the Mixtec Language Academy has been created, whose main purpose is to promote the use of this native language.

There are communities that speak the Mixtec languages ​​in different states of the country. Below we mention the most prominent geographical areas in this regard:

– Puebla.

– Warrior.

– Oaxacan.

– Mexico City.

– Tehuacan.

–Lower California.

– Sinaloa.


– Calif.

– Morelos.

– NY.

Examples of words and phrases

Too ni ndii

It means «good morning».


It means «sir.»

Nau jniñu saha ni?

In Spanish it translates as “what do you work on”.


This word indicates an affirmation.


It is the negative word “no”.

Nanu ncha ni?

It is used to know the place of residence. It translates as «where do you live».

Haha chucu neither sign nor

It means «sign here»

Nasa cuiya iyo ni?

It means «how old are you?»

Ni cutahu na nuu ni

Express gratitude. It is the equivalent of saying “thank you very much”.


It refers to the candles.

ha vixi

It means «sweets».


It translates as «soap».


It refers to a blanket or blanket to keep warm when sleeping.


It refers to meat (food). If you want to talk specifically about beef, the correct phrase is cuñu xndiqui.


It is the word used to name the pig or pig.

ticua iya

It means «lemon».

nduxi wildebeest

It refers to honey bee.

Cahan I

It is a farewell, it translates as «see you later».

Cuhu na

It implies physical discomfort, this phrase is used to indicate that it is necessary to be seen by a doctor. It can be translated as “I am sick”.

xini me

It refers to the head.


It refers to the neck or throat.


It is an affective greeting to say good morning.

Tichi Shahan

It refers to the avocado, also known as palta.


It means «banana».

Nasa nchaa?

It translates as “how much does it cost?”


It means «heart».


It refers to both the arm and the hand.

ixi yuhu

It can refer to the beard or just the mustache.

yiqui jata

It is used to talk about the spine.

yiki yuhu

It is used to refer to the mandible or jaw.

Ni jnajan na iin cuehe xijni xaan

It literally translates as «he gave me a very bad cold».

uhu xini na

It is used to describe physical discomfort, specifically a headache. It literally translates as «I have a headache». You can also add the term peanut at the beginning of the sentence.

woe xaan na

It means «I feel very tired».


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