Pame languages

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Native to Mexico
Region San Luis Potosí, Puebla
Ethnicity Pame people
Native speakers
11,000 (2010 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Variously:
pbs – Central Pame
pmq – Northern Pame
pmz – Southern Pame
Glottolog pame1260[2]
Otomanguean Languages.png
The Pame language, number 1 (azure), north.

The Pame languages is an indigenous language of Mexico spoken by around 10,000 Pame people in the state of San Luis Potosí. The Pame language belongs to the Oto-Pamean branch of the Oto-manguean language family.

Distribution and languages[edit]

The Ethnologue counts two living varieties of Pame both spoken in the state of San Luis Potosí: Central Pame spoken in the town of Santa María Acapulco,[3] and Northern Pame [4] spoken in communities from the north of Río Verde to the border with Tamaulipas.

The third variety, Southern Pame, was last described in the mid 20th century, is assumed to be extinct , and is very sparsely documented. It was spoken in Jiliapan, Hidalgo and Pacula, Querétaro.[5]

  • Northern Pame (~6,000[6])
  • Central Pame (~6,000)
  • Southern Pame (†)

Classification and History[edit]

The Pame languages are part of the Oto-Pamean branch of the Oto-Manguean language family. They are most closely related to the Chichimeca Jonaz language spoken in Guanajuato together with which they form the Pamean language groups. In the colonial period two grammatical descriptions were written.


Berthiaume (2004) reports a complex phonology for Northern Pame with contrasts between plain, voiced, aspirated, and glottalized consonants both for the stops, nasals, affricates and approximants.

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m m' n n' ɲ ɲʰ ɲ'
Stop p b t d , t' k g , k' ʔ
Fricative s z ʃ h
Affricate ts tsʰ ts' tʃʰ; tʃ'
Liquid ɾ ɾʲ
Approximant l l' ʎ ʎʰ ʎ' w

Pame languages are tonal but the exact number of tonal contrasts is a matter of debate. Avelino, Gibson and Manrique have analyzed the language as having three tones: high and low level tones and a falling contour tone (Suárez 1983, pg. 51). But Berthiaume (2004) argues that there are only a high and a rising tone - with no low level tone.

Grammar and vocabulary[edit]

Pame grammar is characterized by complex morphophonemics and suppletion - many grammatical categories are marked by exchanging consonants in patterns that are not fully predictable. The morphology is headmarking, marking agreement with possessors on nouns, and marking agreement with the participants in actions on the verbs. Its personal system distinguishes between singular, dual and plural number in all person categories, and also has an exclusive plural first person category (i.e. "us but not you").

Pame has an octal (base-8) counting system, as the Pame keep count by using the four spaces between their fingers rather than the fingers themselves (Avelino 2005).[7]

Pame-language programming is carried by the CDI's radio station XEANT-AM, based in Tancanhuitz de Santos, San Luis Potosí.


  1. ^ INALI (2012) México: Lenguas indígenas nacionales
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Pamean". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Central Pame
  4. ^ Ethnologue: Northern Pame
  5. ^ SouthernPame
  6. ^ Berthiaume 2004
  7. ^ Ascher, Marcia (1994), Ethnomathematics: A Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas, Chapman & Hall, ISBN 0-412-98941-7 


  • Suaréz, Jorge A. 1983. The Mesoamerican Indian Languages. Cambridge: CUP
  • Berthiaume, S. C. (2004). A phonological grammar of Northern Pame (Doctoral dissertation, PhD thesis, University of Texas at Arlington).
  • Avelino, H. (2005). The typology of Pame number systems and the limits of Mesoamerica as a linguistic area. Linguistic Typology, 9, 493-513.
  • Gibson, L. F. (1956). Pame (Otomi) phonemics and morphophonemics. International Journal of American Linguistics, 22(4), 242-265.
  • Gibson, Lorna, and Doris Bartholomew. "Pame noun inflection." International Journal of American Linguistics 45, no. 4 (1979): 309-322.
  • Manrique Castañeda, Leonardo. "Análisis preliminar del vocabulario pame de Fray Juan Guadalupe Soriano." In Anales de Antropología, vol. 12, no. 1. 2009.
  • Castañeda, L. M. (1960). Dos gramáticas pames del siglo XVIII. Anales del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, sexta época (1945-1967), 11, 283-287.
  • Lastra, Y. (2015). Tratado del arte y unión de los idiomas otomí y pame; Vocabularios de los idiomas pame, otomi, mexicano y jonaz de Fray Juan Guadalupe Soriano.
  • Manrique Castañeda, Leonardo. 1967. Jiliapan Pame. The Handbook of Middle American Indians, ed. by Robert Wauchope, general editor, Norman McQuown, volume editor, vol. 5, 331-48. Austin: University of Texas Press.