In addition to its varied culture displayed through traditions, customs, music and festivals, Oaxaca languages showcase an extreme ethnolinguistic diversity which serves to highlight the multeity which continues to exist, despite Oaxaca's history of colonisation.
The principal language used in Oaxaca city and the region of Oaxaca is Mexican Spanish, however, the geographical topography throughout the Valles Centrales (Central Valleys) has lead to isolation between communities. Thuis each ethnic group has managed to maintain their own distinct sense of identity, preserving traditional norms and along with them, their language.
The Oaxaca languages which continue to be used on a regular basis around the entire region are attributed to each of the 16 ethnic groups which inhabit the region. However, whilst we can easily define the 16 indigenous languages used by these groups, in reality, there are many more if we include the many dialectal variations which each language has.
The 16 indigenous Oaxaca Languages are the following:
- Náhuatl - the languages of 1 million speakers throughout central Mexico.
- Zapoteca - spoken by 400,000 people and has 5 regional dialects.
- Mixteca - 320,000 speakers and 29 dialects throughout Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla.
- Mazateca - spoken by 150,000 people in Oaxaca, Veracruz and Puebla.
- Chinanteco - 6 dialectal variants and 77,000 speakers.
- Mixe - 70,000 speakers and 4 dialects.
- Amuzgo - spoken in Oaxaca and Guerrero by approximately 20,000 people
- Chatino - 20,000 speakers and 3 dialects.
- Zoque - spoken in Oaxaca, Chiapas and Tabasco by 20,000 speakers.
- Chicateco - 14,000 speakers.
- Popolaca - has 12,000 speakers in Puebla and Oaxaca
- Chontal - 2 dialects and 10,000 speakers.
- Huave - 10,000 speakers in southwest Oaxaca
- Triqui - 8,000 speakers throughout Oaxacam Mexico City, Baja California, Sonora and the U.S.
- Chocho - 3,000 speakers in Oaxaca
- Ixcateco - just 2,000 speakers in Oaxaca.
Many of these languages continue to be used frequently and are in no danger of language death, however, there have been warnings about little used Ixcatec, Chontal and Zoque. There are some moves to raise awareness to encourage schools to take notice of each child's mother tongue and provide ample education in this language. For now however, the future of the majority Oaxaca's languages is safe and will continue to thrive in their induvidual communities, adding to the richness of the culture.
If you are interested in hearing examples of each of the 16 languages, head to the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca in Santo Domingo. An interesting video showcases the languages spoken by natives of each ethnic group in the Oaxaca region and serves as an exciting homage to linguistic diversity. Check out the Oaxaca Museums page for more information.