In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mixe-Zoquean Languages

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Bibliographies
  • Epigraphy

Linguistics Mixe-Zoquean Languages
Søren Wichmann
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0136


Mixe-Zoquean languages are spoken in an area spanning the Mexican isthmus of Tehuantepec. One member of the family is extinct (Tapachultec) and others nearly so (Ayapa Zoque and Oluta Popoluca); the remaining ones are, to different degrees, more viable, but none of the languages has more than around 50,000 speakers. Apart from some limited materials for South Highland Mixe and Chiapas Zoque from the 17th–18th centuries, nearly all major descriptive sources date from the mid-1940s and onwards. The beginning of the history of modern descriptions, from the mid-1940s to the late 1980s, was almost exclusively dominated by evangelical Protestant missionaries from Summer Institute of Linguistics (S.I.L. International). From the 1990s onwards, however, descriptive work has mainly been carried out by academic linguists. Mixe-Zoquean languages hold a special culture-historical importance. It is generally assumed that speakers of Mixe-Zoquean languages were associated with the archaeologically defined Olmecs, who are credited with several cultural innovations in Mesoamerica. The family attracted further attention in 1986 with the discovery in southeastern Veracruz of a long hieroglyphic inscription which predates the earliest dated Mayan inscriptions. Although attempts to decipher this and other inscriptions in the so-called “Epi-Olmec” or “Isthmian” writing system have not won broad acceptance, circumstantial evidence suggests that the language involved is some early form of Mixe-Zoquean. The cultural importance of Mixe-Zoquean ancestral languages has given impetus to research into comparative Mixe-Zoquean linguistics, such that the history of these languages is now relatively well understood. Work on the reconstruction of Proto-Mixe-Zoquean, in turn, has led to progress in the search for wider genealogical affinities of the family.

General Overviews and Bibliographies

Rhodes 2009 an overview of structural aspects of Mixe-Zoquean languages, Thomas 1974 describes their geographical distribution in historical times, and Wichmann 1994 provides an overview of research.

  • Rhodes, Richard A. 2009. Mixe-Zoquean languages. In Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world. Edited by Keith Brown and Sarah Ogilvie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    A concise overview of some of the most salient shared structural characteristics of languages of the family, as well as major differences between its different branches.

  • Thomas, Norman D. 1974. The linguistic, geographic and demographic position of the Zoque of southern Mexico. Papers of the New World Archeological Foundation 36. Provo, UT: Brigham Young Univ.

    Thomas provides a valuable overview of information extracted from a variety of sources that are not easily accessible concerning the distribution of Mixe-Zoquean languages in historical times. Evidence is provided for a somewhat wider distribution in historical times than today.

  • Wichmann, Søren. 1994. Mixe-Zoquean linguistics: A status report. In Panorama de los estudios de las lenguas indígenas de México. Vol. 1. Edited by Doris Bartholomew, Yolanda Lastra, and Leonardo Manrique, 193–267. Biblioteca Abya-Yala 16. Quito, Ecuador: Abya-Yala.

    This work complements the present bibliography inasmuch as it provides a close-to-exhaustive bibliography up to the mid-1990s as well as overviews of the results of historical linguistic research.

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