Zacatepec Chatino

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Zacatepec Chatino is an indigenous Mesoamerican language, one of the Chatino family of the Oto-Manguean languages. It is often referred to as Chatino de San Marcos Zacatepec or Chatino de Zacatepec as it is distinct from other Chatino languages in the region. Unfortunately, it is not intelligible with other Chatino languages, but is closely related to Highland Chatino. It is spoken in the town of San Marcos Zacatepec, a town of approximately 1,000 people and inhabited by an indigenous group known as the Chatino people. The language was once spoken in the village of Juquila, but is now virtually extinct with two surviving speakers in the area (Villard 2015).

Zacatepec Chatino is a highly endangered language as it is spoken by about 300 Chatino's whom are all above 50 years of age.

Zacatepec Chatino
Chatino de San Marcos Zacatepec
Cha’ jna’a
Native to Mexico
Region Oaxaca, Southern Central Mexico
Native speakers
300 (2015)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ctz
Glottolog zaca1242  (Zacatepec Chatino)[2]


Chatino refers to three closely related languages; the three being Eastern Chatino, Tataltepec Chatino, and Zenzontepec Chatino of the Zapotecan branch. Zacatepec Chatino falls under the Eastern Chatino branch.

Zacatepec Chatino, being part of Chatino language family, has shallow orthography. It is more conservative then its Chatino counterparts as it conserves the penultimate syllables of disyllabic roots.


Little is known about the history of Zacatepec Chatino but according to Stéphanie Villard who studied and presented her thesis on the language, it has been on a decline for the past 40 years as natives continue to expand their ties with non-Chatino communities. With the help of the Zacatepec Chatino Documentation Project, Villard has uncovered some of the remnants of the language with the help of many natives from the area. The project includes visits in 2005 and 2006 by Hilaria Cruz, Emiliana Cruz, Megan Crowhurst as well as preliminary analysis of tones in H. Cruz y Woodbury in 2006. It also includes intensive work since 2006 by Stéphanie Villard, including 150 hours of audio, a sketch, papers on sandhi and inflection and grammar as well as short visits concentrating on textual documentation, tone, & morphology

The major language spoken in Zapotec Chatino and its surrounding regions is Spanish so it is no surprise that many foreigners are coming to San Marcos Zacatepec speaking Spanish and not Chatino.

Although Spanish is the official language in San Marcos Zacatepec, Oaxaca, many government officials communicate in Zacatepec Chatino. A study conducted by Villard revealed that majority of the younger population are monolingual Spanish speakers.

Geographic distribution[edit]

Zacatepec Chatino is only spoken in San Marcos Zacatepec, Oaxaca in the Sierra Madre region of Mexico.


Since Zacatepec Chatino is unintelligible with other Chatino varieties, it does not have any other dialects or varieties associated with it.


Villard (2015) reports that Zacatepec Chatino presents voicing of non-continuant after nasals, vowel harmony, and contrastive nasal vowels. It also lacks labial phonemes and has 4 levels of pitch ranging from low to high. It also presents 15 specific tonal sequences that can define 15 Lexical classes.

Its phonology presents a rich tonal system with a large inventory of phonemic tonal sequences as well as intricate sandhi patterns.

The vowels in Zacatepec Chatino are /i e a o u/ and have several rules they have to follow which are juxtaposed with the nasal vowels among each other.[3]


/a/ does not present any restrictions in its distribution. /a/ is pronounced [a] and may be slightly nasalized. Here are some examples:

nǎ [na] thing

p[pa] dad

kwā ́[kwa] already

mp ̋ [mba:] godfather

Wyàa̋[bja:] Santos Reyes Nopala, Oaxaca

chǎʔ [t͜ʃaʔ] word


/e/ does not occur after the nasal stop /n/. /e/ can be long in final syllables and short in non final syllables. Here are some examples:

traʔwē ́ [traʔwe] middle

tikèʔ  [tikeʔ] aroused

siyěʔ [sijeʔ] dressed up

tsaʔwě [t͜saʔwe] good

nkyaseʔ [ŋgjaseʔ] it got deflated

nkyanè   [ŋgjanɛ]̃ he/she sprayed it

nkyaʔwè  [ŋgjaʔwe] it got split


/i/ occurs in final as well as non-final syllables of roots followed by a /?/. It is slightly restricted in its distribution. Here are some examples:

p[pi] poult

pìi̋[pi:] fair skinned, pale

lyiʔ̋ [li̻ ʔ] parrot

mpiʔ̋ [mbiʔ] dram

kiiʔ [ki:ʔ] fire


The distribution of /u/ is highly restricted. /u/ in monosyllabic words is rare. /u/ can be long in final syllables but is always short in non-final syllables. Here are some examples:

xǔʔ [ʃuʔ] oldster

chūú [t͜ʃu:] Jesus

sùntū ̋[suntu] issue (from Spa. asunto)

bùrrū ̋[bur̥u] donkey (from Spa. burro)

kuʔwǐ [kuʔwi] drunk

suti [suti] his/her father

tuʔwa [tuʔwa] his/her mouth


/o/ is restricted as well. It does not occur after the nasal stop /n/ and similarly to /u/, /o/ does not occur after the labiovelars /kw/ or /w/. Here are some examples

Tyò ̋ [to̻ ] Pedro

kōō [ko:] fog

yo [jo] guy

yoo [jo:] soil

pìxō ̋[piʃo] peso

The Tones[edit]

Tonal Representation Marking Realization
X(toneless) a Low falling
L(ow) à Low falling
M(id) ā Mid level
H(igh) á High level
LH â Low to high rising
LS a'' Low to super-high rising



San Marcos Zacatepec is considered a head-marking language as it is synthetic and analytic. Some functions are the language are mixed; for example, person marking can be signaled through tone contrast and/or nasalization, encliticization, or also by a separate word.

Its verbal morphology features a large inventory of allomorphs of its aspectual morphemes, which makes its verbal paradigms appear extremely irregular.

The sequence classes are “morphological”—some are specialized by part-of-speech, by inflectional category, or loan provenance, while others are open ended and general.[3]


The basic word order is VSO but there are other orders present. Here is an example of the Chatino Language VSO:

N-da nu xni ndaha ska ha xtlya ?i nu 'o
con-give the dog lazy one tortilla Spanish to the Coyote

This would say "The lay dog gave a sweetbread to the coyote".

Some morphemes, such as the marker "?in" have various functions in the grammar as it is a dative marker. The dative marker introduces human objects, indirect objects, and also marks alienable possession.

Compounding patterns play an important role and word formation. the use of combinations of 'light nouns’ or semantically poor nouns and semantically rich adjectives (or nouns, although very rarely) is very prolific in the language. Villard provides us with an example of such formations: the light noun nu ‘the one who’, often occurs as a head noun in noun phrases, as in nu kīʔyó 'man' (the one who is male) or nu kunāʔán 'woman' (the one who is female).


There are 15 lexical tone classes defined by 15 tone sequences. The sequences pertain to any noncompound stem but have different realizations depending on the number of moras in the stem. The sequence classes are “morphological”—some are specialized by part-of-speech, by inflectional category, or loan provenance, while others are open ended and general. Sequence class identity—not tones—determines tonal ablaut behavior and tonal inflectional classes. The progressive aspect is associated with an M tone which generates composed sequences beyond the original 15 [4]


  • Villard S. Grammatical sketch of Zacatepec Chatino. Master's thesis, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas. 2008.
  • Villard S. Zacatepec Chatino verb classification and aspect morphology. Archive of the Languages of Latin America. 2010.
  • Villard S. The Phonology and Morphology of Zacatepec Eastern Chatino, Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas. 2015.
  • Woodbury A. The exuberant tonal system of San Marcos Zacatepec Eastern Chatino. Paper presented to the Surrey Morphology Group, University of Surrey, Guilford, UK. 2014.


  1. ^ Zacatepec Chatino at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Zacatepec Chatino". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ a b Villard, Stephanie (2015). "The phonology and morphology of Zacatepec eastern Chatino". UT Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Retrieved May 3, 2016. 
  4. ^ "The exuberant tonal system of San Marcos Zacatepec Eastern Chatino". Retrieved 2016-05-06. 

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