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The Mixtec language spoken in Santa María Zacatepec is a variety of Coastal Mixtec. Like all varieties of Mixtec, it belongs to the Mixtec language family, which is part of the Oto-manguean stock. Most of the speakers of the language call it tacuate in Spanish. According to the 2000 INEGI census, this language is spoken by 4000 people in Santa María Zacatepec, Putla District, Oaxaca, Mexico, and also in Santiago Ixtayutla, Jamiltepec District. These two towns are in the southwestern part of the state of Oaxaca, to the north and northeast of the city of Pinotepa Nacional.
The word tacuate comes from Náhuatl (Aztec), whose speakers dominated this area in the prehispanic era. They named the Mixtecs of this area tata-coatl "Serpent lord". As time passed, the name became tacuate in Spanish.
The word Zacatepec, as in the name of the town Santa María Zacatepec, is also a náhuatl word that means "mountain of dry stalks". They say that it was called this because there used to be many houses made of dry stalks there and they could be seen from far away. The "tacuates", when they speak of their own town, call it Ñoo, which means "our town" in their language. Some of the Mixtecs who come from the coast call the town Yuku Chatuta. Some say that means "mountain of dry stalks" in Mixtec, while others say that it means "mountain of those who give atole". (Atole is a hot beverage made with corn flour, or oatmeal.)
General information about the Mixtec town
The majority of the "tacuates" work in the fields; for subsistence living, they grow corn, beans, and squash. They raise chilis to sell. The income from those sales barely covers the cost of the fertilizer and insect spray.
Because of this, many townspeople get discouraged and stop working their fields and go to cities in various parts of Mexico or elsewhere. Because of the migration, the "tacuate" language and customs are in grave risk of extinction.
Tacuate has two different pronouns for first person plural. One is yo , or its dependent form -o; this pronoun includes the listeners and it is called "inclusive", as in the example below.
Our son is very sick. (A man speaks to his wife about their son.)
The other, ndyu'u, or its dependent form ndi, does not include the listeners and it is therefore called "exclusive". Note the difference.
Doctor, our son is very sick. (A man speaks to a doctor about his and his wife's son, not the doctor's son, obviously.)
In Tacuate, the first person plural inclusive pronoun has two additional functions. The first such use is in speaking in general, not referring to anyone in particular with this pronoun.
Íyo yi ña
It is necessary
we will eat
You always have to wash your hands before you eat.
The first person plural inclusive pronoun is also used when speaking to oneself.
shall I do
What shall I do now? There's a wild animal coming at me.
—Douglas and Linda Towne