Indian Languages of Mexico

The Spanish language arrived with the Spanish conquerors and is the most widespread language in Mexico, used by 99% of its citizens.

During the time of the Conquest, many Spanish missionaries were dedicated to studying the languages of the Indians to function as a communication bridge with the goal of easing the evangelism process. In 1696, King Carlos II decreed Spanish would be the only language used in official matters and colonizers stopped studying autochthonous tongues.

Since Mexico’s Independence, the government began a Hispanicization process pretending the complete adoption of the Spanish language and the elimination of ethnic differences in order to integrate Indians into the nation under “conditions of equality”, with an utmost lack of respect for their ancient cultures. Unfortunately, this process was often accompanied by genocide, as in the case of the Yaqui War (1825-1897) and the War of the Castes (14848-1901)

Even so, there are still some words of pre-Hispanic origin in the national vocabulary, especially those referring to objects of the Mesoamerican culture that didn’t exist in Spain. There are also many words of Nahuatl origin that have been adopted to the world’s Spanish language and approved by the Real Academia Española, such as: aguacate, guacamole, jitomate, chocolate, chile, chicle, popote, hule, nopal, tianguis, pulque, cacahuate, guajolote and mezcal.

In 1992, article 4º of the Mexican Constitution was reformed to recognize the country’s multicultural nature. In 1999, Congress approved the Law of Linguistic Rights for Indian Towns and Communities, setting in motion mechanisms for the preservation and promotion of Indian languages.

In Mexico, there are 62 Indian languages in use, this multi-ethnic characteristic represents an important cultural heritage expressed in relation to nature, myths, legends, music, songs, dance and art objects, among many other cultural expressions. Forming Mexico’s immense heritage with a cultural profile supported on its Indian groups.

The National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics (INEGI) estimates Mexico’s Indian population is formed by 12.7 million persons, representing 13% of the total national population. The main Indian languages still in use are Náhuatl, Maya, Mixteco, Zapoteco, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Otomí and Totonaca.

Artículo Producido por el Equipo Editorial Explorando México.
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