Nahuatl of Mecayapan and
Tatahuicapan of Juárez, Veracruz
(ISO code nhx)

Listen to a greeting.
A girl seated on an icpal



This page is available in Nahuatl here: [Ipan tomela'tájto̱l]

The Nahuatl language of Mecayapan and Tatahuicapan, Veracruz is one of the more divergent variants of Nahuatl. Its nearest neighbor, both geographically and linguistically, is the Pajapan variant. They are located in the northern part of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and for this reason they have together been known as Isthmus Nahuatl.

Map: Where Nahuatl of Mecayapan and Tatahuicapan is spoken
Map of the Mecayapan and Tatahuicapan area

The two municipalities had a combined population of about 30,000 according to the census taken in 2000.

The speakers of this language sometimes refer to it as Mejicano 'Mexican', but more often they call it mela'tájto̱l, which comes historically from melac 'straight, right, true' plus tájto̱l 'word'. The related verb mela'tajtohua (literally 'talk true') means 'talk Nahuatl'.

This variant of Nahuatl uses t where other variants have tl in word initial and medial positions. Word final t and k become glottal stops. So the word meaning 'man', which is tla̱catl in most Nahuatl, is sound ta̱ga' in this variant.

Vowel length, which is written with an underline, is more noticeable and functional than in most other variants. For instance 'salt' is sound ista' and 'white' is sound ista̱'; 's/he/it passed' is sound panoj and 's/he/it will pass' is sound pano̱j.

This variant is also unusual in having voiced stops, such as the b in sound babasoti', 'disheveled', the d in sound dadapoti' 'rough (surface)' or the g in sound go̱xi, '(spinning) top'. [You can clearly hear the final glottal stop on babasoti' when it is pronounced before the suffix -san 'only', in the word sound babasoti'san 'only disheveled'. The lack of a final glottal stop is equally clear when -san is added to go̱xi to form the word sound go̱xisan 'only a top'.]


Bandstand and Municipal offices, Mecayapan

Church and central park, Tatahuicapan
(San Martín volcano in background)


This seems to be the only variant of Nahuatl which differentiates first person plural inclusive ['you and I (and perhaps others)'] from exclusive ['I and others (but not you)']. sound Matia̱ca̱n means 'let us inclusive go', sound mania̱ca̱n means 'let us exclusive go'. The object prefixes on the verb do not mark plurality. Plurality in such cases is only marked by a suffix, and the suffix is ambiguous as to whether it refers to the subject or the object. Thus sound quitamacaquej, with the plural past tense suffix -quej, could mean 's/he/it fed them' or 'they fed them' or 'they fed him/her/it'. Nimitztamacaquej can mean 'I fed you pl.', 'we fed you pl.', or 'we fed you sg.'.


--Christopher L. Hurst


The recorded words were pronounced by Esteban Pérez Ramírez

[Ipan tomela'tájto̱l]

Mecayapan in 1969
A street in Mecayapan
Circa 1969
From the collection of Carl Wolgemuth, used by permission


Icpal - Wooden chair
The icpal is a wooden chair of ancient design
which can still be found in the Mecayapan and Tatahuicapan area.


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