SIL Mexico

Yalálag Zapotec
(ISO code zpu)

Yalálag cross; Krus yonn


Yalálag Zapotec is spoken in the town of Yalálag, officially known as Villa Hidalgo, which is located in the district of Villa Alta in the state of Oaxaca, and pertains to the northern Zapotec region.


The town of Yalálag
The town of Yalálag
Location of Yalálag in Mexico
Map of the district of Villa Alta

According to the 2000 INEGI census the population of the town is 2,132. Many of the Zapotec-speaking inhabitants of Yalálag have emigrated to Oaxaca City, Mexico City, locations in the state of Veracruz, and the U.S.A.

There are various theories about the origin of the name Yalálag. Perhaps the most widely accepted etymology has it that the name means “spilling mountain.”

Yalálag women in fiesta attire
Women of Yalálag in festive attire
Detail of embroidery
Detail of embroidery

Women of Yalálag are easily recognized when dressed in their traditional attire—a white huipil and a wrap-around skirt. The huipil is adorned with colored tassels in front and back. A more elaborate version of the huipil is worn during wedding celebrations and other fiestas. It is embroidered with a floral design. On such occasions a black wool headdress may also be worn. The traditional costume also includes, as a pendant on a necklace, the triple cross (Krus yonn)—sometimes known as the Yalálag cross.

The economy of the area is based on agriculture, but many families in Yalálag are also engaged in the sandal making business. Men's huaraches and women's sandals are made for sale in Yalálag and surrounding communities.

The people and culture of Yalálag have become well known in part because of a classic monograph written by (Julio de la Fuente 1949/1977).

The variant of Zapotec spoken in Yalálag is similar to that of other towns in the southern half of the district of Villa Alta. In a test designed to measure intelligibility between related languages, speakers of Zapotec from Yalálag understood 93% of a recorded text from Zoogocho, 84% of a text from Betaza and 63% of a text from Yatzachi el Bajo (Egland 1978).

The language variants of the Villa Alta district are extensively documented in two dictionaries (Butler 1997 for Yatzachi and Long and Sofronio Cruz 1999 for Zoogocho). Butler also published a separate grammar: Gramática zapoteca: Zapoteco de Yatzachi el Bajo (1980).

A morphological study of the Zapotec verb in the Yalálag variant is available in López and Newberg (2005). In the indicative mood a verb form may display a number of affixes including tense[2]/aspect, repetition, motion, manner, number and person.

'They stood up again quickly.'

'Perhaps they have gone to sit down again.'

A study of 600 verb paradigms yields 44 conjugation types (which can be grouped into two major classes) defined according to the patterning of tense/aspect prefix forms and changes in the root.


—Ronald B. Newberg



Fuente, Julio de la. 1949. Yalálag; una villa zapoteca serrana. México: Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia. 1977. Clásicos de la Antropología Mexicana, Núm. 2. México: Instituto Nacional Indigenista.


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