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Oto-Manguean Language Family 

Oto-Manguean

Introduction

The Oto-Manguean language stock is a group of related languages or language families of Mexico. It is the largest language stock in Mexico, consisting of 174 languages (Ethnologue) that are thought to have originated from a single ancestral language that existed in southern Mexico since at least 4,000 BC. As groups of speakers of the common ancestral language began to settle in different regions of Mexico, and lost contact with each other, their languages began to diverge. In succeeding centuries, these groups split even further, producing an even greater divergence in their languages. The genetic relationship of many of the languages which are today known as Oto-Manguean has been recognized for as far back as 1860’s. The inclusion of families that are now considered to be part of this stock has come slowly over the years as a result of considerable research.

The distinction between related languages and dialects is difficult to establish in all of Mesoamerica since historically the dominant socio-cultural pattern has been centered around city-states rather than the nation as a whole. This has meant that each city-state has had its own language standard. As a result, mutual intelligibility between and among varieties of the same languages was decreased.

Status
Oto-Manguean languages are spoken in Mexico by over 1 million people. Most of the languages are endangered and are being replaced by Spanish. Their decline is exacerbated by the fact that many of them have never been written. Even in the case of languages that have a writing system, literacy rates in the native languages are extremely low.

The table below lists the language families and their member languages included in the Oto-Manguean stock. The number in parentheses indicates the number of varieties of the language. The right column gives the number of speakers (Ethnologue).

29,000
The Amuzgoan language family is one of the smallest families of the Oto-Manguean stock. Amuzgoan is spoken both as a first and as a second language. It is used in local administration, commerce, radio programs, and religious practice by speakers of all ages. There are bilingual Spanish-Amuzgoan schools grades 1-6. Speakers have a positive attitude towards their language and tend not to leave their ancestral area, thus helping to preserve the language.
70,000

The region where Chinantecan languages are spoken is mountainous which made contact between language communities difficult. As a result of isolation, most of the languages are mutually unintelligible. Chinantecan is the dominant language of the region. It is used in local administration, commerce, preschool, radio programs, and religious practice by speakers of all ages. Speakers have a positive attitude towards their language. Written language is used to record customs, traditions, and history. Nevertheless, the language is losing speakers since people tend to leave the area for jobs elsewhere.

Mixtecan (57)
Cuicatec (1)
10,000
Mixtec (53)
405,000
Trique (3)
23,000

The Mixtecan language family is one of the largest and most diverse families in the Oto-Manguean stock. It includes three groups of languages spoken mostly in the state of Oaxaca. Of the three languages, Mixtec has the most varieties. Mixtec languages are used in primary and secondary schools. Speakers have a positive attitude towards their language, and monolingual parents pass Mixtecan on to children. Speakers in towns know some Spanish, but those in rural areas are mostly monolingual.

Chichimec (1)
200
Matlatzincan (2)
almost extinct
Otomi (11) 275,000
Pamean (3)
10,000

Oto-Pamean is a relatively small language family in the Oto-Manguean stock. It includes 5 languages, of which Chichimec and Matlatzincan are almost extinct because most or all speakers are older adults who do not teach the languages to their children. About half of the people work in Mexico City or elsewhere most of the time where they have to use Spanish. Otomi has the largest number of speakers.

Popolocan (17)
Chocholtec (1)
close to extinction
Popolocan (7)
25,000
Ixcatecan (1)
close to extinction
Mazatecan (8)
174,500

Popolocan is used in local administration, commerce, religious services, and education. There is a strong pride in culture and language. Most women over 50 are functionally monolingual in Popoloca. Most men also speak elementary Spanish. Mazatec is used in local administration, commerce, religious practice, and elementary schools. Speakers feel that Mazatec fulfills local needs, but they consider Spanish to be more prestigious. Chocholtec and Ixcatec are close to extinction.

Zapotecan (64)
Chatino (6)
38,000
Zapotec (58)
423,000

The Zapotecan language family is one of the largest families in the Oto-Manguean stock in terms of number of speakers. Chatino is used in local administration, commerce, religious services, some in elementary and secondary education by speakers of all ages. People have a positive attitude towards their language. Most of the Zapotecan speakers are proficient in Spanish, but there are still many who speak only their native Zapotec. In some areas, Zapotec is used orally in local administration, commerce, literature, and religious services (e.g.,Zapotec Amatlan). In other areas, the language is on the brink of extinction (e.g., Zapotec Asunción Mixtepec). Many people speak more than one variety of Zapotec.

Tlapanecan (2) 75,000

Earlier studies classified the Tlapanecan languages together with the Hokan stock. More recently, however, there seems to be clear evidence to classify them as Oto-Manguean.

 

Dialects

Structure

Sound system
Most Oto-Manguean languages feature open syllables. Syllable initial consonant clusters are usually limited to one consonant. There are some exceptions, for instance, Oto-Pamean languages allow both initial and final clusters. Most Oto-Manguean languages have large inventories of vowels and consonants.

Vowels

  • In some languages, such as Amuzgoan, vowels can be nasalized, and there may be a contrast between syllables with a ballistic (quick forceful release with a rapid uncontrolled fading of voicing) and controlled (smooth with more sustained release).
  • Depending on the language, vowels can appear in four different shapes: plain, creakybreathy, or checked.
    • Creaky
      In creaky voice, the vocal folds are so tight, that they vibrate irregularly with individual irregular flaps that are further apart than in normal voicing.
    • Breathy
      When a whisper is combined with voicing, we call it breathy voice or murmur. It is achieved by bringing the vocal folds together along part of their length (producing voicing) and spreading them for the rest (producing the whisper).
    • Checked vowels are followed by a glottal stop (indicated in writing by an apostrophe, e.g., a’). The glottal stop is the sound made when thevocal cords are pressed together to stop the flow of air and then released; e.g., the break between the syllables in uh-oh.

Consonants

  • Many Oto-Manguean languages lack labial consonants
  • Some analyses of Mixtecan include a series of voiced prenasalized stops and affricates.
  • Most languages feature a contrast between fortis (tense) and lenis (lax) consonant articulations. In general, fortis consonants are longer than their lenis counterparts, and they tend not to be voiced. Fortis stops are usually slightly aspirated, and may be heavily aspirated in final position. Fortis consonants are represented by double letters in writing, e.g., nn represents a fortis /n/.
  • Some consonants, such as /f/ and /j/ occur mostly in loanwords.
  • All Zapotec varieties have retroflex consonants, such as /ʂ/ and /ʐ/. Retroflex consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue curled so that its underside touches the area behind the alveolar ridge

Tones

  • All Oto-Manguean languages are tonal, which means that a change in pitch can change word meaning.
  • The number of tones varies from language to language: some have only two level tones while others, such as Trique, have up to five level tones. Many languages have a number of contour, or register, tones. Some dialects of Chinantec have five register tones, a highly unusual feature in world languages.
  • In Mixtecan, tones are so important that they are represented in writing.

Whistled speech

  • Several Oto-Manguean languages have systems of whistled speech. Whistled languages are used for secrecy or communication across long distances. They attempt to transmit information over distances by emulating the intonationtones or vowel formants of a natural language. Speakers of that language are generally able to recognize what is being said by the whistled speech melody. Whistled speech is particularly common in ChinantecanMazatecan, and Zapotecan languages.

Grammar
Oto-Manguean languages are agglutinative, with prefixes and suffixes attached to roots. There are few true prepositions. Nouns denoting body parts are used to express spatial relations, e.g., in Zapotec Mitla, yejc ‘head’ means ‘on top of.’

Nouns and pronouns

  • Most Oto-Manguean nouns are not marked for number. Plurality is expressed by numerals.
  • Nouns are not marked for case.
  • In some Oto-Manguean languages, certain nouns occur only in possessed form. Usually these are kinship terms and names of body parts.
  • Some Oto-Manguean languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive ‘we.’ Inclusive forms include the listener, whereas exclusive forms do not.
  • Zapotec languages distinguish between inalienable (cannot be removed or gotten rid of) and alienable (can be removed or gotten rid of) possession.

Verbs

  • Verbs are more complicated than nouns.
  • For the most part, tense, aspect, and mood are expressed by prefixes or suffixes. In some Oto-Manguean languages, prefixes and suffixes combine with tones to produce a variety of verb forms.
  • In many languages, verbal aspect (distinguishing, for example, the duration, repetition, or completion of an event) is relatively more important than verbal tense (the time of the event).
  • Some Oto-Manguean languages have an element incorporated into the verb to indicate the direction of the action (usually towards or away from the speaker or hearer).

Word order
The normal word order is Verb-Subject-Object. Possessors and modifiers follow the nouns they possess/modify. Numerals precede the nouns they modify.

Vocabulary
There are significant differences in vocabulary among the Oto-Manguean languages because they split from the ancestral language a very long time ago and historically have had little contact with each other.

man
tsãs’à
nguiiu
woman
tsãsku
gunaa
water
ndá
nisa

Below are the numerals 1-10 in five Oto-Mangean languages representing the different member families.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Amuzgo
kwi
we
nd
nedie
‘aum
nñam
ntkie’
nnę
nhę
ki
Chinanatec/Chiltepec
ʔneg
kyų
ʔnya
hnyi
kyo
hnya
nyu
kya
Trique
‘ngo
wui
wa’ni
gą’ą
ų’ų
watą’
chih
tįh
‘į
chi
Otomi
n’da
yoho
hyu
goho
kit’a
ndato
yoto
hyato
gito
‘dæt’a
Popolocan
hnku
yu
ni
nu
noʔõ
yatu
hni
na
te
Chatino
tsaca
tucua
sna
jacua
ca’yu
scua
cati
snu
caa
tii
Tlapanec
timba
ryahma
ryacu
ryako
wicu
mahų
huwą
migiyų
mihna’gu
guwá

Below are three words in two Oto-Manguean languages.

Writing

Today, most Oto-Manguean languages are written using the Latin alphabet adapted to represent of the sounds of these languages. The original orthographies were designed by Spanish friars who imposed Spanish orthographic traditions on the indigenous languages that have many sounds which do not exist in Spanish. The Mexican branch of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) is attempting to design orthographies for the Oto-Manguean languages, following general linguistic and orthographic principles. However, linguists encounter difficulties in trying to represent the wide range of sounds found in these languages with one single orthography. Thus, some issues remain unresolved.

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in five Oto-Mangean languages. Notice the absence of similar-looking vocabulary across these languages.

MazatecXki ngo.-1
Nga ndindie xuta ngatsen de’e ko ngondsejen ngatjin-kjua nga xchandinkon nt’a ngondsejen ngatjim kokjim-tokon, kotjinkjua nga takie engajan skuendinkon xkjin.
MixtecArtículo 1
Taka ma ñayi nguiakoi ñayivi ñatu na ja’a tnu’u ja kusa’a ndeva’ña-i, su’uva kajito va’aña’i, yuka ku ja jiniñu’u ja kukototna-i.
OtomíN’a nfini (1)
Gotho nu kja’ni i mui ra zoo i gotho ro kuchti, i tu’ni nu ro ña päda bini i da budi, da mui ra zoo koyu gotho yu kja’ni i yo kuadi.
ZapotecTe’ihby (1)
Ra’ta ra bu:unny ra:aaly liebr cehnn te’bloh deree’ch cehnn dignidaa. Ra:alyne:erih gahll ri:e:eny cehnn saalyb, chiru’ na:a pahr ga:annza’crih loh sa’rih.
Article 1 
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Difficulty

Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Oto-Manguean languages?
There is no data on the difficulty of Oto-Manguean languages for speakers of English.

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