Tequistlatecan languages

The Tequistlatecan languages are part the proposed Hokan family, but are often considered to be distinct family. Campbell and Oltrogge (1980) proposed that the Tequistlatecan languages may be related to Jicaquean (see Tolatecan), but this hypothesis has not been generally accepted.

The Tequistlatecan languages, also called Chontal of Oaxaca, are three close but distinct languages spoken or once spoken by the Chontal people of Oaxaca State, Mexico:

  • Huamelultec (Lowland Oaxaca Chontal)
  • Tequistlatec (extinct),
  • Highland Oaxaca Chontal

Tequistlatecan consists of two related but mutually unintelligible languages, Huamelultec (Lowland Oaxaca Chontal), and Highland Oaxaca Chontal. There has been speculation that the languages may be part of the Hokan family of California, or perhaps the Jicaque family of Honduras.

Lowland Oaxaca Chontalis also known as Huamelultec, Huameluteca, Huamelula Chontal, , and Chontal de la Costa de Oaxaca. Speakers of Lowland Oaxacan Chontal are very bilingual (in Spanish) and the native language is in danger of extinction. About 1,060 people speak this language in South Oaxaca, Tehuantepec district, San Pedro Huamelula and Santiago Astata.

Highland Oaxaca Chontal, or Chontal de la Sierra de Oaxaca, is one of the Chontal languages of Oaxaca. It is sometimes called Tequistlatec, but is not the same as Tequistlatec proper, which is extinct.

About 3,600 people speak Highland Oaxaca Chontal in Southernmost Oaxaca, west of Tehuantepec isthmus, San José Chiltepec, San Lucas Ixcatepec, and 15 towns in southern Mexico.

The name “Chontal” comes from the Nahuatl, meaning “foreigner” or “foreign”, and is also applied to an unrelated language of Tabasco. The Chontal may have lived in the Villa Alta region to the east up to around 300 AD, but moved westward under pressure from the Mixes and moved to their present location in the 15th century due to Zapotec aggression.

Lowland Chontal is mostly spoken around San Pedro Huamelula and Santiago Astata in the Pacific coastal area of the western Tehuantepec District, which is in the west of the Istmo region. There may be about 200 fluent first-language speakers and another 750 semi-fluent speakers, all older than 40.

Lowland Chontal is considered an endangered language. The coastal lowlands cover about 870 km² made up of rugged foothills and mountain ridges 50–700 m above sea level. The climate is tropically hot and sub-humid with a dry season from October to May and a rainy season from June to September.

Some trees are suitable for lumber, but the region is becoming deforested. Mostly the people use slash-and-burn agriculture to cultivate maize.

As of 1990, about 3,600 spoke highland or Sierra Chontal. The speakers of this language live in the districts of Yautepec and Tehuantepec in the municipalities of San Carlos Yautepec, Santa María Ecatepec, Asunción Tlacolulita, San Miguel Tenango and Magdalena Tequisistlán.

They practice subsistence agriculture growing corn, squash, beans and vegetables as well as fruit trees such soursop, mamey, sapodilla, avocado, guava and nanche. They also grow maguey mezcal, sugar, pepper and coffee. Livestock includes chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats and cattle. Hunting and fishing provide alternative food sources.