In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Zapotecan Languages

  • Introduction
  • Archived Materials
  • Educational Materials
  • Sociolinguistics

Linguistics Zapotecan Languages
Rosemary G. Beam de Azcona
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0086


Known for their numerous suprasegmental contrasts and VSO argument order, Zapotecan languages are indigenous to the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, and are also spoken in diaspora in other parts of Mexico and the United States. Zapotecan languages belong to the Oto-Manguean stock, and can be divided into Chatino (roughly three mutually unintelligible languages) and Zapotec (estimates range from around six to around fifty languages, with a reasonable number being in the twenties). Zapotec(an) language is attested in writing going back to 500 BCE, with inscriptions in Zapotec glyphs, and attestations in the Roman script date from the 16th century. Many of the scholars who have worked on Zapotecan languages have been motivated by religion, including the Catholic friars of the colonial period and today’s Bible translators from the Summer Institute of Linguistics. However, since the early 1990’s there has been increasing activism on the part of community members and a surge in scholarship by secular linguists. The University of California, Los Angeles, has become a center for Zapotec studies owing to the large Zapotec immigrant community in Santa Monica. The University of Texas at Austin has likewise become a center for work on Chatino, beginning with the arrival of two Chatino-speaking graduate students in the early 2000s. The Project for the Documentation of the Languages of Meso-America has focused on both Zapotec and Chatino. A growing number of Zapotecanist scholars are themselves native speakers of Zapotecan languages, which is advancing the scholarship at a pace not seen previously.

Archived Materials

Increasingly, archives of linguistic data are digital and specialized. The digital archive to consult for work on Zapotecan languages is the Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America. However, many older fieldnotes remain undigitized in archives. Angulo 1985 provides information about the location of archived fieldnotes of Jaime de Angulo, who did fieldwork on multiple languages of Oaxaca in the early 20th century.

  • Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America.

    Here one can find various materials on Zapotec and Chatino languages, including word lists, transcribed texts, field notes, and audio recordings of texts and elicitation sessions.

  • Angulo, Gui de. 1985. Jaime in Taos: The Taos papers of Jaime de Angulo. San Francisco: City Lights.

    Jaime de Angulo’s son gives an entertaining account of his father’s adventures. Of academic import to Zapotecanists is the bibliography of Jaime de Angulo’s papers, including unpublished field notes and their locations in various archives.

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