SIL Mexico


Tlapanecan Family
Me'phaa (Tlapanec)

Tlapanec fiesta


Languages or varieties of Me'phaa (best known to outsiders as Tlapanec) are spoken primarily in the state of Guerrero. There are at least seven major varieties, which can be identified by the larger towns in the area where they are spoken: Acatepec, Azoyú, Malinaltepec, Teocuitlapa, Tlacoapa, Zapotitlán Tablas (including Huitzapula, which some regard as distinct), and Zilacayotitlán. While some varieties are spoken by thousands of people of all ages, some varieties (such as that of Azoyú) are endangered. The variety spoken in Nanzintla is apparently now extinct.

It is difficult to determine which of these varieties are separate languages because many speakers have learned more than one variety. and the differences between varieties can be smaller or larger, depending on which pair of varieties is compared.

The now-extinct Subtiaba language of Nicaragua was also in this family.

Map of MexicoMap: where the Tlapanecan languages are spoken

The name “Me'phaa”, which speakers use for their own language, has recently been promoted by bilingual school teachers and others. (The teachers in the bilingual schools are all native speakers of Me'phaa.) They prefer it to the traditional name “Tlapaneco”, which is derived from Nahuatl. (The form “Me'phaa” is the one used by Malinaltepec speakers; other varieties have slightly different forms of the name, such as “Me'paa” in Acatepec and “Mi'phaa” in Tlacoapa.)

Like for most groups in southern Mexico, the diet of the people consists chiefly of corn (maize) tortillas, beans, squash, and chilies. At lower altitudes, bananas are also important, and jamaica is used to make a beverage. Coffee is a major cash crop for those living in coffee growing areas. Those who do not live in these areas often emigrate to the United States to find work. Wool serapes are woven in one area by the men and in another area by the women.

Like other languages of the Otomanguean stock, languages in the Tlapanecan family are tonal. That is, the pitch with which a word is pronounced is so important that, if it is changed, the meaning of the word can change completely. Tones can sometimes be the only indication of grammatical distinctions such as first versus third person. One variety of Me'phaa can have a sequence of as many as four tones on the same syllable.

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