Triqui of San Juan Copala
(ISO code trc)

Weaving with flower tree design


Triqui of Copala, Oaxaca, is one of the languages that form the Triqui branch of the Mixtecan family. Copala Triqui is spoken mainly in the town of San Juan Copala, which is a municipal agency under the municipality of Juxtlahuaca, in the western part of the state of Oaxaca where it borders on Guerrero. This language is also spoken in some adjoining communities that belong to the district of Putla, Oaxaca.

Because the speakers of this language do not have their own municipality, they do not appear as a separate group in census data, despite their ethnic distinctiveness. According to the 2000 census, there are 16,225 speakers of indigenous languages in the municipality of Juxtlahuaca; this figure includes speakers of Mixtec as well as speakers of Triqui. Included in this figure are 4483 monolinguals, most of whom are probably speakers of Triqui.

Map: location of San Juan Copala in Mexico
Map: the principal Trique towns in Oaxaca

The Triqui language is also known as Trique, and the spellings Triki and Trike are sometimes used as well. Copala Triqui is also called Lowland Triqui because it is spoken in the Lowland Mixtec region, whereas the other four Triqui towns are part of the Highland Mixtec region. These five Triqui towns do, however, adjoin each other, and they form a linguistic island completely surrounded by Mixtec-speaking towns.

The territory belonging to Copala extends from an altitude of 2200 meters at the northern edge, where it borders on Yucunicoco, down to less than 900 meters at the southern edge, where it borders on the district of Putla, and it therefore spans a range of vegetation zones. The Triqui people have a rich knowledge of the many plants that grow in their territory and the uses to which they are put. There are also names for a wide range of animals, and a body of folklore about them that includes many sayings. For example, they say that the bird called cuvíj says ico güii “twenty days”. This bird is the whippoorwill (Caprimulgus vociferus), and English speakers say that it says, “Whip poor Will.”

Even though the lands belonging to Copala are fertile, producing coffee and bananas, and could economically sustain the people, there are many conflicts in the region and continuing violence, which has encouraged many Triquis to emigrate to other parts of Mexico, and also to parts of the United States and Canada. At first, people left the area seasonally to do agricultural work, but now many are living year-round in other places. The two largest concentrations of immigrants, each with several thousand speakers of Copala Triqui, are presently found in northern Mexico. One is in the San Quintín valley in Baja California Norte, and the other is in Miguel Alemán in the municipality of Hermosillo, Sonora.


A woman of Copala weaving on a backstrap loom


The women of Copala are known for their attractive red tunics (huipils), which they weave on a pre-Hispanic backstrap loom; wherever a group of them gathers, they present an attractive sight. The photographs of a woman weaving, and of market day in San Juan Copala were taken during the 1960s and 1970s.


Market day in San Juan Copala

Triqui women living outside of Copala often earn money by adapting their weaving for the tourist market. The brightly colored design at the top of this page is called chruun yaj “flower tree”, and it was used to decorate a poncho. This design is traditionally used as part of the breast panel of tunics.

Linguistic features

Languages in the Otomanguean stock are characterized by short words and complex tone systems, and Copala Triqui has both of these features. Many roots have only a single syllable. Some have two, but the word stress always falls on the final syllable, which is the syllable that also shows most of the tone patterns.

Tone patterns

In Copala Triqui, there are pairs of words that have the same consonants and vowels, but different tone patterns. One example of this is found in the words for “green” and “red”. The word for “green” has a downglide from mid to low on the double vowel at the end, and the word for “red” has an upglide from low to mid on this vowel. The low tone is marked by underlining the vowel. Listen to these two words. WAV (295 KB) MP3 (54 KB)

  se maree a verde (green)
  se maree a rojo (red)

Another example of words that differ only by tone is found in the words for “plow”, “knife”, and “meat”. Listen to the difference among a level mid tone, a downglide from a mid tone to a tone just a little lower, and a downglide from a mid tone to a very low tone. WAV (400 KB) MP3 (73 KB)

  nee a arado (plow)
  neê a cuchillo (knife)
  nee a carne (meat)

Tone is also used to distinguish different grammatical categories; one such use is found in the verbs. The past tense of a verb has the basic tone, and the future tense is formed by changing this to a lower tone. Listen to two different verbs in these two tenses. WAV (684 KB) MP3 (125 KB)

  PAST: Cachráá so' a. Él cantó. (He sang.)
  FUTURE: Cachraa so' a. Él cantará. (He will sing.)
  PAST: Cacaa chraa a. La tortilla se quemó. (The tortilla burned.)
  FUTURE: Cacaa chraa a. La tortilla se quemará. (The tortilla will burn.)

The different ways in which a word can end

In Copala Triqui many important differences among words are found at the very end. A word can end in a double vowel, which is quite long, or it can end in a single vowel, which is very short. Listen to the difference between the words for “milk” and “grindstone”. WAV (175 KB) MP3 (32 KB)

  too a leche (milk)
  to a metate (grindstone)

Words can also end with a glottal stop, written with a saltillo ('), which cuts the word off abruptly, or they can end with a j, which represents a slight puff of air. Listen to the differences among the following three words; the first one ends with a glottal stop, the second one ends with a j, and the third one ends with a double vowel. WAV (323 KB) MP3 (59 KB)

  yu've' a hielo (ice)
  yu'vej a hilo (thread)
  yu'vee a plaza (marketplace)

—Barbara E. Hollenbach


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