The language spoken in San Marcos Tlacoyalco is a member of the Popolocan language family. San Marcos Tlacoyalco is located in the state of Puebla in southern Mexico, about 25 miles north of Tehuacán and five miles southeast of the municipal seat of Tlacotepec de Juárez. It is also spoken in the nearby town of San José Buenavista and in a high valley on the other side of the mountain just to the east of San Marcos. The towns and hamlets of that valley are Piedra Incada, Palo Verde, San Juan Sacabasco, San Martin Esperilla, Sopantle and San Francisco Esperilla. Speakers of this language often use the name Ngigua to refer to it. It has sometimes been referred to as Northern Popoloca.
(Underlined names correspond to towns where a variety of Ngigua (Popoloca) is spoken)
The population of all the towns speaking the San Marcos variety of Ngigua is about 30,000 with the vast majority living in San Marcos itself.
The area occupied by the town of San Marcos is high (at an altitude of approximately 1970 meters or 6450 feet) and very dry. The towns and hamlets of Piedra Incada, Palo Verde, San Juan Sacabasco, San Martin Esperilla, Sopantle and San Francisco Esperilla are considerably higher, at approximately 2450 meters (8000 feet) altitude.
In the past, many people used the wool from their sheep to weave blankets, as well as sarapes for the men and shawls and strength belts (“ceñidores” in Spanish) for the women. The shawls were blue with edges of yellow, for which the yellow dye was obtained from a parasitic vine ( (Cuscuta sp.), and known as kasa in Popoloca. This vine is often seen in trees in the area. The strength belt (kakje), when sewn to a woven palm strip produced in nearby San Luis Temalacayuca, is used to support the back during manual labor. Older people and those that dance traditional dances still wear this item; some younger women wear them after childbirth. There are still several people in the village who make them and sell them.
An interesting feature of Ngigua is that there are two distinct types of t in the language, written in the orthography as t and th. The one written as t is a dentalstop (pronounced with the tongue against the back of the front teeth, or between the upper and lower teeth); and is very similar to the t of Spanish. The other, written as th, is an alveolar stop (pronounced with the tongue against the aveolar ridge) and is very similar to the English t.) This distinction has been noted in several other varieties of Ngigua, but in none of the others is it as important as in the San Marcos variety where there are approximately as many occurrences of th as of t. The difference between the two sounds is extremely difficult for an outsider to hear, however, as may be appreciated by listening to the recorded examples of minimal pairs below.
‘they are, they live, they exist’
‘there are ten of us’
These same consonants also occur in combination with other consonants. When followed by j, they sound like aspirated stops.
‘a type of rock’
When preceded by n, they are voiced. Local writers have decided to write the dental t as d because the combination sounds like the sequence nd in the Spanish word tienda 'store'. But the alveolar stop is written as th in this as in all other contexts.
Like other Otomanguean languages, Ngigua is a tonal language. There are minimal pairs for tones. One example of this is found in the words for ‘eight’ and ‘blood’. The word for ‘eight’ has a high tone, and the word for ‘blood’ has a mid tone. (High tone is marked orthographically by an acute accent on the vowel. Mid tone is unmarked.) Listen to this pair.
Another pair of words is that for ‘work’ and ‘hair’. The word for ‘work’ has a mid tone and that for ‘hair’ has a low tone. (Low tone is marked by an underlined vowel.) Listen to this pair.
In Ngigua, tone is usually the main distinction to indicate person in verbs and in possessed nouns. Note the various possessed forms of the noun meaning ‘tooth’.