Preserving Mexico’s Indigenous Languages
What Are the Native Languages of Mexico?
Spanish is the most popular language in Mexico, but did you know that there are 68 indigenous languages recognized by the Mexican government? These represent eleven different language families. More than 130 of these languages have vanished over the years.
Day Translations loves languages and is proud to support projects that help preserve these ancient Mexican languages. Here are some of the ones we support.
The majority of people in Mexico speak Spanish, but that is not the only language spoken. Several indigenous languages have survived, though some are slowly disappearing.
It seems that young generations are losing interest in learning their ancestral tongues. A decline in birth rate and emigration to cities are other contributing factors.
Some of the more popular indigenous languages include Mixtec, Zapotec, and Triqui. These three make up one of the largest and most diversified native language families.
Day Translations has a passion for languages, and we want to support the preservation of Mexico’s lesser-spoken indigenous languages. We want to help make sure that these ancient vessels of wisdom and unique historical flavor are not lost.
Nahuatl (pronounced nah-wat’l) is a member of the Uto-Aztecan language family and has around 1.5 million speakers in Mexico. It’s largely been influenced by Spanish. But, its influence extends beyond that country’s borders: English has adopted many words that come from Nahuatl, including avocado, chocolate, chile, coyote and peyote.
Nahua communities have been struggling for generations to keep their cultural traditions alive. They have been isolated from the mainstream of Mexican society, experiencing what researcher Justyna Okol and her colleagues call a “linguistic dislocation” from Spanish and an associated social dislocation based on the loss of prestige of the languages they speak.
Liz Contreras grew up in Los Angeles as the daughter of Mexican immigrants who spoke only English at home, but she learned Nahuatl in school and has since spent time in communities where it’s still spoken. She’s found that Nahuatl is more than a language—it’s an identity. It connects people with their history, culture and spirituality.
The Yucatec language is the third most common indigenous language in Mexico. It has over 850,000 speakers. It is also one of the oldest languages, dating back to 200 AD.
It is closely related to Nahuatl, but it has many unique features. For example, it has tones. This means words pronounced with different tones can have totally different meanings. Likewise, a word pronounced with a high falling tone can mean “broom” while the same word pronounced with a flat tone means “cat”.
Yucatec is written using the Latin alphabet and uses the ancient conventions of Spanish orthography that were adopted during the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. However, linguists have recently developed a new orthography for Yucatec Maya, which is used in official documents and textbooks.
Learning the native language of a place is a great way to understand its culture and history. At Day Translations, we love to see indigenous languages being preserved. That is why we work with indigenous voices from all over the world to record our video translations in the original language of the speakers.
At the time when the Aztecs and other tribes ruled Mexico, there were probably many different indigenous languages. Unfortunately, most of these were destroyed when the Spanish came and took over. Despite this, the country still has quite a few native languages that are in use today.
The country officially recognizes 68 national languages, of which 63 are indigenous. However, many indigenous languages have various dialects that are counted as a single language in the official figures. This is a little misleading as it does not reflect the diversity of the Mexican language landscape.
Besides Spanish, the most common native language is Nahuatl. Other primary languages include Yucatec Maya, Mixteco, Zapotec and Tzotzil Maya. These have the highest number of speakers, but there are other indigenous languages that are still being used, such as Xochimilco, Otonaco and Mazatec. There are also a few indigenous language isolates that have no significant ties to other indigenous tongues, such as Purepecha (spoken in Michoacan), Huave (in four villages in Oaxaca) and Seri (in two small communities in Sonora).