Mesoamerican Languages

Nora C. England and Roberto Zavala Maldonado

in Linguistics

ISBN: 9780199772810
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Mesoamerican Languages

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  • Linguistics
  • Anthropological Linguistics
  • Language Families
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Mesoamerica as a linguistic area extends from central Mexico south and east through Guatemala and Belize and into western Honduras and El Salvador. Five large language families are found in Mesoamerica—Uto-Aztecan (only those languages of the Aztec group), Otomanguean, Totonacan, Mixe-Zoquean, and Mayan—and five small language families or language isolates: P’orhepecha (Purhépecha, Tarascan), Huave, Chontal of Oaxaca, Xinca, and Cuitlatec (extinct). More contemporary linguistic work on Mesoamerican languages has been done on Mayan languages than on the others, but most of the latter are currently receiving significant scholarly attention that should help to redress the imbalance. All Mesoamerican languages are endangered in the sense that there are at least some families or some communities where children are not learning the language; some are severely endangered, and some have no speakers. In spite of the degree of endangerment, there are still at least two languages with about a million speakers (Nahua or Nahuatl, and K’ichee’), and many with between 200,000 and 750,000 speakers (for instance, Otomí, Mixtec, Zapotec, Totonac, Tzotzil, Tseltal, Mam, Yucatec, Kaqchikel, Q’eqchi’). The names of Mesoamerican languages, especially Mayan languages, have a variety of spellings. We indicate some of the variation and in general use the spelling preferred by the community, where we know it. In the individual annotations we generally use the spelling preferred by the author, and sometimes indicate variant spellings in parentheses.

Article.  10866 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Anthropological Linguistics ; Language Families ; Psycholinguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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