SIL Mexico

Amuzgoan Family

Amuzgo weaving


The Amuzgoan languages form one of the smallest families of the Otomanguean stock. There are three main varieties of Amuzgo, all spoken in the mountains of the Sierra Madre del Sur where the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca meet. The variety spoken in the southeastern part of the state of Guerrero in and around Xochistlahuaca has the most number of speakers. The other two varieties, both endangered, are spoken in the southwestern part of the state of Oaxaca, in San Pedro Amuzgos and in Santa María Ipalapa.

Map of Mexicowhere the Amuzgoan languages are spoken

The Amuzgos base their economy primarily on subsistence agriculture combined with local cottage industries such as ceramics, sewing, and handcrafts. They are famous internationally for their wonderfully intricate weavings, which use designs based either on geometric figures or small stylized representations of animals.

The name “Amuzgo” comes from the Nahuatl expression “amoxco”, which can be translated ‘place of books’. If this explanation is correct, the word probably refers to Xochistlahuaca as the political and religious center of the region at the time of the Spanish conquest. However, this is not the Amuzgos’ own name for their language. In Xochistlahuaca, people call it Ñomndaa; in San Pedro Amuzgos the name is Ñonndaa or Jñon'ndaa.

Like other Otomanguean languages, Amuzgo is tonal, which means that the pitch with which a word is pronounced is so important that a change in the pitch can change one word into an entirely different one. The sound system uses nasalization and a rare contrast between ballistic and controlled syllables. (A similar contrast is found in Chinantec languages.) There are a moderate number of prefixes and suffixes on some words (especially verbs). The word order in clauses is Verb-Subject-Object and possessors follow the noun they possess.

Featured publications

Publications organized by variety name

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