SIL Mexico

Jalapa de Díaz Mazatec

(ISO code maj)

embroidered bird


Jalapa de Díaz Mazatec is spoken in thirteen towns in the Sierra Mazateca in northern Oaxaca and Veracruz.

Map: Mazatec speech area
Map: Location of Jalapa de Diaz

According the 2000 INEGI census, the indigenous population of Jalapa de Díaz is 18,493 people. The name of the town in Mazatec is Ntájxo, which means “sandy water”. The name of the language, in the language, is Én Ntájxo, which means“language of Jalapa.” The word “én” can refer to a word, a language, or a message, depending on the context.


The town center of Jalapa de Diaz
The town center of Jalapa de Díaz


Sunday market in Jalapa
Sunday market in Jalapa de Díaz
Cerro Rabón
Jalapa de Díaz is at the foot of Cerro Rabón

Mazatec is a tonal language. Because the tone is so important in conveying the meaning, Mazatec can also be whistled sometimes to communicate at a distance. Generally it is men who whistle, as they are in the outlying areas more often where they communicate across long distances. Women generally are working within the home and so do not develop the habit of whistling, as it is not required there. However, women who work in the fields or who communicate with many people do learn the basics of whistle speech (for example: names, affirmation, negation, calling someone). The ones who use whistle speech are the ones who enjoy doing so.

Normally whistling is used to communicate with a friend, acquaintance, or relative. It is an informal mode of communication and is not used with someone who is due a high level of respect. Usually what is whistled are short simple sentences (for example: negation, affirmation, names, or to call someone's attention). In Mazatec, complex sentences or conversations cannot be communicated by whistling as confusion arises. Whistling works well to answer someone or to call their attention without bothering them to come out of the house or to get up from the hammock or mat.

It is more appropriate to whistle to call someone's attention or to inform them, than to yell. Yelling could be seen as offensive or impolite, so whistling is used instead.

Huipil made in Jalapa, with a shawl
Huipil made in Jalapa, with a shawl

An important and ancient artisan activity in Jalapa de Díaz, is the elaboration of huipiles (embroidered tunics). Historically all the women wore one of two styles of huipil: the lace huipil, ts'ú xu'ba in Mazatec, and the embroidered huipil, ts'ú chjine. Currently, no one younger than 40 years old uses a huipil, nor do most women who are between 40 and 50 years of age.

Some women use both styles of huipil; others prefer to use just one style. The use of the huipil does not indicate social status. The prices can range from $300 pesos to $1500 pesos, depending on the quality of the materials used. The lace used in decoration is the most costly part of the huipil. The huipiles made in Huautla, Ixcatlán and Ayautla are different from those used in Jalapa de Díaz.


--Felix Ventura Lucio, Terry Schram, and Judith Schram


Publications available on this site


Én Cháha Ntáxjo. 2008. 2nd ed.

Ventura Lucio, Felix 2006. “La situación sociolingüística de la lengua mazateca de Jalapa de Díaz en 2006”. in Stephen A. Marlett (ed.) Situaciones sociolingüísticas de lenguas amerindias. Lima: SIL International and Universidad Ricardo Palma.

Kirk, Paul L. 1970. “Dialect intelligibility testing: The Mazatec study.”