SIL Mexico

Proposals for Writing Indigenous Languages of Mexico


This series of working papers is published as a clear and concise explanation of the orthographic conventions that are in use in certain linguistic communities in Mexico. The papers share several characteristics:

  1. They are descriptive and not prescriptive. The conventions are dynamic and may change in any given year, depending on the desires of the community. Therefore, it is important to take note of the year of publication of each description.

  2. They are orthographic conventions in use and not official recommendations by the Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.

  3. They are conventions and do not define the alphabet of the language.

  4. They do not define uniform comprehensive usage in the linguistic community; possible linguistic variation within the community may imply that usage of the conventions may be somewhat limited or that there is need for adaptation in some areas.

  5. The description of the basic phonology utilizes the symbols and terminology of the International Phonetic Association (IPA 1999; see also the official website of that association: Basic knowledge of that linguistic tradition is necessary for understanding the main section of the description.

  6. The intention of each paper is to explain the basic orthographic conventions that are presently in use in each linguistic community. In general, neither the history nor the reasons for each convention are explained. (In many cases, they represent proposals by persons within the community and/or national policies. They may also reflect a certain understanding of the phonological system or the influence of Spanish on the perception of the sounds.)

  7. Punctuation is not explained.

  8. In each work, a short text is included in order to illustrate the use of the symbols in complete sentences.

  9. In Appendix A of each paper, brief descriptions are given for the symbols that have very different pronunciations from their use in Spanish, or that are not used in Spanish. The material in this appendix is directed to the general public.

  10. In Appendix B of each paper, the phonemes of the language are presented very succinctly, reflecting a particular analysis — when possible, one that has been published. The material in this appendix is directed to readers who have a linguistic background.

The development of an efficient writing system for a language has to take into account many factors, including linguistic, sociolinguistic, educational, historic, aesthetic, practical, legal, and political ones. See Cahill & Rice (2014) for more information regarding these factors. Many times there is more than one option, more than one proposal; resolution depends on how the factors are taken into consideration and weighted.

An orthography is considered useful when there are writers who can efficiently write their ideas, readers who can efficiently read those ideas, and those abilities are passed on to another generation. The proposals presented in this series have achieved most of the expectations of an orthography. Nevertheless, it is only with the passage of time, as the community demonstrates the desire and will to utilize a proposal, that it can be deemed successful.



Cahill, Michael & Keren Rice, eds. 2014. Developing orthographies for unwritten languages. Dallas: SIL International.

IPA (International Phonetic Association). 1999. Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Stephen A. Marlett


Items in this series