Chinantecan languages

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Tsa Jujmi
Native toMexico
Native speakers
130,000 (2010 census)[1]
  • Western
    • Oto-Pame–Chinantecan
      • Chinantec
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
cco – Comaltepec Chinantec
chj – Ojitlán Chinantec
chq – Quiotepec Chinantec
chz – Ozumacín Chinantec
cle – Lealao Chinantec
cnl – Lalana Chinantec
cnt – Tepetotutla Chinantec
cpa – Palantla Chinantec
csa – Chiltepec Chinantec
cso – Sochiapan Chinantec
cte – Tepinapa Chinantec
ctl – Tlacoatzintepec Chinantec
cuc – Usila Chinantec
cvn – Valle Nacional Chinantec
Otomanguean Languages.png
The Chinantecan languages, number 9 (chartreuse), east.

The Chinantec or Chinantecan languages constitute a branch of the Oto-Manguean family. Though traditionally considered a single language, Ethnologue lists 14 partially mutually unintelligible varieties of Chinantec.[2] The languages are spoken by the indigenous Chinantec people who live in Oaxaca and Veracruz, Mexico, especially in the districts of Cuicatlán, Ixtlán de Juárez, Tuxtepec and Choapan, and in Staten Island, New York.[3]

Internal classification[edit]

Egland and Bartholomew (1978)[4] established fourteen Chinantec languages on the basis of 80% mutual intelligibility. Ethnologue found that one that had not been adequately compared (Tlaltepusco) was not distinct, but split another (Lalana from Tepinapa). At a looser criterion of 70% intelligibility, Lalana–Tepinapa, Quiotepec–Comaltepec, Palantla–Valle Nacional, and geographically distant Chiltepec–Tlacoatzintepec would be languages, reducing the count to ten. Lealao Chinantec (Latani) is the most divergent.

70% Language (80% intelligibility) Distribution
* Chinantec of Lealao Northeastern Oaxaca, San Juan Lealao, Latani, Tres Arroyos, and La Hondura
* Chinantec of Chiltepec San José Chiltepec, Oaxaca
Chinantec of Tlacoatzintepec Northern Oaxaca
* Chinantec of Comaltepec Comaltepec, Northern Oaxaca
Chinantec of Quiotepec
(Highland Chinantec)
San Juan Quiotepec and surrounding towns, Oaxaca
* Chinantec of Lalana 25 towns on the border between Oaxaca and Veracruz
Chinantec of Tepinapa Northern Oaxaca, Choapan District. Very remote area.
* Chinantec of Ojitlán Northern Oaxaca and Veracruz municipios of Minatitlán and Hidalgotitlán
* Chinantec of Ozumacín San Pedro Ozumacín and surrounding towns, Oaxaca
* Chinantec of Palantla San Juan Palantla and surrounding towns, Oaxaca
Chinantec of Valle Nacional Yetla, North Oaxaca
* Chinantec of Sochiapan Northern Oaxaca
* Chinantec of Tepetotutla Northern Oaxaca
* Chinantec of Usila Oaxaca one town in Veracruz


the register-tone inventory of Usila Chinantec

Chinantecan languages have ballistic syllables, apparently a kind of phonation.[5][6][7]

All Chinantec languages are tonal. Some, such as Usila Chinantec and Ojitlán Chinantec, have five register tones (in addition to contour tones), with the extreme tones deriving historically from ballistic syllables.[8]


Grammars are published for Sochiapam Chinantec,[9] and a grammar and a dictionary of Palantla (Tlatepuzco) Chinantec.[10][11]

Example phrase:

ca¹-dsén¹=jni chi³ chieh³
‘I pulled out the hen (from the box).[11]

The parts of this sentence are: ca¹ a prefix which marks the past tense, dsén¹ which is the verb stem meaning "to pull out an animate object", the suffix -jni referring to the first person, the noun classifier chi³ and the noun chieh³ meaning chicken.

Whistled speech[edit]

The Chinantec people have practiced whistled speech since the pre-Columbian era. The rhythm and pitch of normal Chinantec speech allow speakers of the language to have entire conversations only by whistling. The sound of whistling carries better than shouting across the canyons of mountainous Oaxaca. It enables messages to be exchanged over a distance of up to one kilometre (0.62 mi). Whistled speech is typically only used by Chinantec men, although women also understand it. Use of the whistled language is declining, as modern technology such as walkie-talkies and loudspeakers have made long-distance communication easier.[12]


Chinantec-language programming is carried by the CDI's radio stations XEOJN, broadcasting from San Lucas Ojitlán, Oaxaca, and XEGLO, broadcasting from Guelatao de Juárez, Oaxaca.


  1. ^ INALI (2012) México: Lenguas indígenas nacionales
  2. ^ Palancar, Enrique L. (2014). Revisiting the Complexity of the Chinantecan Verb Conjugation Classes. In Jean-Léo Léonard & Alain Kihm (Eds.), Patterns in Mesoamerican Morphology (pp. 77-102). HAL 01100738
  3. ^ Claudio Torrens (2011-05-28). "Some NY immigrants cite lack of Spanish as barrier". Retrieved 2015-03-02.
  4. ^ Egland, S. and Bartholomew, D.. 1978. La inteligibilidad inter-dialectal en Mexico: Resultados de algunos sondeos. Mexico, D.F.: Instituto Linguistico de Verano
  5. ^ Merrifield, William and Calvin R. Rensch. 1990. Syllables, Tone, and Verb Paradigms. [Studies in Chinantec Languages 4]. Summer Institute of Linguistics and The University of Texas at Arlington.
  6. ^ Mugele, R. L. 1982. Tone and Ballistic Syllables in Lalana Chinantec. Ph.D. dissertation. Austin: University of Texas.
  7. ^ Rensch, Calvin. 1978. Ballistic and controlled syllables in Otomanguean Languages, in Alan Bell and Joan B. Hooper (eds.), Syllables and Segments, pp. 85-92. Amsterdam : North Holland Publishing Company.
  8. ^ Edmondson, Jerold A. & Gregerson, Kenneth J. (1992). On Five-level Tone Systems. In Shin Ja J. Hwang & William R. Merrifield (Eds.), Language in Context: Essays for Robert E. Longacre (pp. 555-576). Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  9. ^ Foris, David Paul. 2000. A grammar of Sochiapam Chinantec. Studies in Chinantec languages 6. Dallas, TX: SIL International and The University of Texas at Arlington.
  10. ^ Merrifield, William R. 1968. Palantla Chinantec grammar. Papeles de la Chinantla 5, Serie Científica 9.México: Museo Nacional de Antropología.
  11. ^ a b Merrifield, William R. and Alfred E. Anderson. 2007. Diccionario Chinanteco de la diáspora del pueblo antiguo de San Pedro Tlatepuzco, Oaxaca (2nd Edition). Serie de vocabularios y diccionarios indígenas “Mariano Silva y Aceves” 39. Mexico DF: Summer Linguistic Institute.
  12. ^ Schachar, Natalie (8 September 2017). "The decline of Chinantec whistled speech in Mexico". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 15 July 2019.

External links[edit]