Chatino is an indigenous Mesoamerican language, or actually small family of languages, which is classified under the Zapotecan branch of the Oto-Manguean language family. It is natively spoken by approximately 40,000 Chatino people, whose communities are located in the southern portion of the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
The Chatinos have close cultural and linguistic ties with the Zapotec people, whose languages form the other branch of the Zapotecan language family. Chatinos call their language cha'cña, which means "difficult word." It is recognized as a national language in Mexico.
Egland & Bartholomew (1983) conducted mutual intelligibility tests in which they concluded that four varieties of Chatino could be considered separate languages in regards to mutual intelligibility, with 80% intelligibility being needed for varieties to be considered part of the same language. (The same count resulted from a looser 70% criterion.) These were Tataltepec, Zacatepec, Panixtlahuaca, and the Highlands dialects, with Zenzontepec not tested but based on other studies believed to be completely unintelligible with the rest of Chatino. The Highlands dialects fall into three groups, largely foreshadowing the divisions in Ethnologue.
Ethnologue 16, based on further data, differentiates six Chatino languages. The Highlands dialects are divided in three, Eastern, Western, and Nopala, despite good intelligibility between neighboring varieties; Yaitepec is moved from Eastern to Western. Pace Egland, Panixtlahuaca is found to be a Highland dialect.
Phonology and orthography 
Yaitepec Chatino has the following phonemic consonants (Pride 1965):
|p, b||t, d||k, ɡ||ʔ|
|l, r, j|
There are five oral vowels, /i e a o u/, and four nasal vowels, /ĩ ẽ õ ũ/.
Rasch (2002) reports ten distinct tones for Yaitepec Chatino. The level tones are high /1/, mid /2/, low-mid /3/, and low /4/. There are also two rising tones (/21/ and /32/) and three falling tones (/12/, /23/, /34/) as well as a more limited falling tone /24/, found in a few lexical items and in a few Completive forms of verbs.
There are a variety of practical orthographies for Chatino, most influenced by Spanish orthography. In the examples below, ⟨x⟩ represents /ʃ/, ⟨ch⟩ = /tʃ/, and /k/ is spelled ⟨c⟩ before back vowels and ⟨qu⟩ before front vowels.
Transitive-Intransitive alternations 
Chatino languages have some regular alternations between transitive and intransitive verbs. In general this change is shown by altering the first consonant of the root, as in the following examples from Tataltepec Chatino:
Causative alternations 
There is also a morphological causative in Chatino, expressed by the causative prefix /x-/, /xa-/, /y/, or by the palatalization of the first consonant. The choice of prefix appears to be partially determined by the first consonant of the verb, though there are some irregular cases. The prefix /x/ occurs before some roots that start with one of the following consonants: /c, qu, ty/ or with the vowels /u,a/, e.g.
|catá chcu||'bathe (reflexive)'||xcatá ji'i||'bathe (transitive)'|
|quityi||'dry (reflexive)'||xquityi ji'i||'dry (tr)'|
|ndyu'u||'is alive'||nxtyu'u ji'i||'waken'|
|ndyubi'||'is put out'||nxubi'||'put out'|
The prefix /xa/ is put before certain roots that begin with /t/, e.g.
|nduu||'is stopping'||nxatuu||'to stop something'|
Palatalization occurs in some roots that begin with /t/, e.g.
taa 'will give' tyaa 'will pay'
(Pride 1970: 95-96)
Pride (1965) reports eight aspects in Yaitepec Chatino.
potential 'The majority of the verbs have no potential prefix, and its absence indicates this aspect.'
habitual This is indicated by the prefixes /n-, nd-, l-/ and /n-/ with palatalization of the first consonant of the root, e.g.:
nsta 'puts it in' nsta chcubi loo mesa 'puts the box on the table'
ndu'ni cu'na 'graze' Ndu'ni ngu' cu'na quichi re 'The people of this town graze'
ntya 'sow' Ntya ngu' quichi re quiña' 'The people of this town sow chile.'
continuative Roots that take /n-/ or /nd-/ in the habitual have the same in the continuative plus palatalization; roots that have /n-/ plus palatalization in the habitual have /ndya-/, e.g. Nxtya chcubi loo mesa 'is putting the box on the table'
Ndyu'ni ngu' cu'na quichi re 'The people of this town are grazing.'
Ndyata ngu' quichi re quiña' 'The people of this town are sowing chile.'
completive This is indicated with the prefix /ngu-/, and verbs that start with /cu-, cui-, qui-/ change to /ngu-/ and /ngüi-/ in the completive:
sta 'will put it' Ngu-sta chcubi loo mesa 'Someone put the box on the table'
culu'u 'will teach it' Ngulu'u mstru ji'i 'The teacher taught it.'
imperative This aspect is indicated by palatalization in the first consonant of the potential form of the verb. If the potential is already a palatalized consonant, the imperative is the same, e.g.:
sati' 'will slacken' xati' ji'i 'let it loose!' xi'yu 'will cut' xi'yu ji'i 'cut it!'
perfective This aspect is indicated by the particle /cua/, which is written as a separate word in Pride (1965).
tyee 'will end' cua tyee ti 'is ended' cua ndya ngu' 'is gone'
passive potential /tya-/
Tyaala ton'ni'i 'The door will be opened.'
passive completive /ndya-/
Ndyaala ton'ni'i 'The door is open.'
Chatino languages usually have VSO as their predominant order, as in the following example:
'The lazy dog gave a sweetbread to the coyote.'
- Pride, Kitty. 1965. Chatino syntax. SIL Publications in Linguistics #12.
- Pride, Leslie and Kitty. 1970. Vocabulario Chatino de Tataltepec. Serie de vocabularios indigenas mariano silva y aceves, no. 15. Summer Institute of Linguistics.
- Rasch, Jeffrey Walker. 2002. The basic morpho-syntax of Yaitepec Chatino. Ph.D. thesis. Rice University.
- Chatino language dialects, as documented by Ethnologue