Huave (also spelled Wabe) is a language isolate spoken by the indigenous Huave people on the Pacific coast of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The language is spoken in four villages on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the southeast of the state, by around 18,000 people.
The Huave people of San Mateo del Mar – who call themselves Ikoots, meaning “us” – refer to their language as ombeayiiüts, meaning “our language”.
In San Francisco del Mar, the corresponding terms are Kunajts (“us”) and umbeyajts (“our language”).
The term “Huave” is thought to come from the Zapotec languages, meaning “people who rot in the humidity”, according to the 17th-century Spanish historian Burgoa. However, Martínez Gracida (1888) claims the meaning of the term means ‘many people’ in Isthmus Zapotec, interpreting hua as “abundant” and be as a shortened form of binni (“people”). The etymology of the term will require further investigation. Neither of the above etymologies are judged plausible by Isthmus Zapotec speakers.
Although genetic relationships between the Huave language and several language families have been proposed, none have been substantiated and Huave continues to be considered an isolate (Campbell 1997 pg. 161). Paul Radin proposed a relationship between Huave and the Mayan and Mixe–Zoquean languages, and Morris Swadesh proposed a connection to the Oto-Manguean languages which has been further investigated by Rensch (1976), but all proposals have been inconclusive.
While Huave is still in use in most domains of social life in at least one of the four villages where it is spoken, it is an endangered language. Recently, fieldwork and revitalization projects have been carried out in the Huave communities by universities of different countries.
As of 2011, it is reported that teenagers have taken to texting in Huave, so as to be able to communicate without their parents’ knowing what they are saying.(Interestingly, the Mexican Kickapoo’s whistled speech was developed around 1915 for much the same reason.) Also as of 2011, a radio station in San Mateo del Mar, Radio Ikoots, was broadcasting in Huave.