Monday, September 16, 2013

Grito de Dolores: The Languages of Mexico

With today being Grito de Dolores, the day marking the start of Mexican War of Independence, we'll be having a look at the languages spoken in Mexico. Grito de Dolores, meaning "the Cry of Dolores", was effectively a declaration, or pronunciamiento in Spanish.

It would take 11 years before this was signed.
The declaration was made in the small town of Dolores Hidalgo, which is now known as Dolores Hidalgo Cuna de la Independencia Nacional, meaning Dolores Hidalgo Cradle of National Independence. Dolores Hidalgo is now home to over 50,000 people, and though it is obviously not the capital of Mexico, that being Mexico City, it is incredibly important in Mexican history.

As you probably know, the Mexicans were fighting for independence from Spain. The Spaniards had brought many of their customs and conventions to the Mexico, including their language. Spanish is spoken by nearly 93% of the population of Mexico, but don't fool yourself into thinking Mexico is a linguistic wasteland.

Mexico is home to 68 indigenous languages, all of which are considered Amerindian. However, the classification of languages as Amerindian is somewhat controversial as this even includes various language families and even language isolates.

Mexico has the second-largest number of speakers of indigenous languages in the Americas after Peru. However, as a percentage of the population the figure appears surprisingly low.

The most widely-spoken of Mexico's indigenous languages is Nahuatl, which is spoken natively by more than a million Mexicans and 1.5 million people across the globe. Nahuatl was the language spoken by the Aztecs since around the 7th century.

Comalcalco, a Mayan archaeological site.
Yucatec Maya, known natively as Màaya t'àan, is a Mayan language spoken by over 700,000 people in Mexico. The Mayan languages were and are spoken by the Maya people who are generally distributed across southern Mexico and northern Central America.

Mexico's third-largest indigenous language, Mixtec, has around 400,000 speakers in Mexico, particularly in the states of Oaxaca, Puebla, and Guerrero. Mixtec speakers can also be found in the American state of California, but in very low numbers.

Zapotec languages are spoken by just under half a million people and are found in a similar distribution to Mixtec languages. In addition to the states of Oaxaca, Puebla, and Guerrero, Zapotec languages are also spoken to some degree in the state of Veracruz.

There are of course many, many more languages in Mexico, far too many to have in today's post. However, we hope we've given you a quick idea of the linguistic landscape of one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the Americas.