A to Z challenge · Bloggers · languages

Z is for … Zapotec

Blogging from A to Z

Theme: Languages of the World


Zapotec is the name not of a single language, but of a group of 58 languages that, together with related Chatino group, belongs to the Otomanguean linguistic stock. Zapotec is one of the largest families in the Oto-Manguean stock in terms of the number of speakers since the Zapotecs are the third largest indigenous ethnic group in Mexico, after the Nahua and the Mayan people. Zapotec has more varieties than any other member of the Otomanguean linguistic stock with almost as many varieties as there are pueblos in which it is spoken.

There are approximately 450,000 speakers of Zapotec most of whom live in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Veracruz. While most are proficient in Spanish, there are also many who speak only one or more varieties of their native Zapotec.

Of the 58 varieties of Zapotech listed by Ethnologue, 49 have fewer than 10,000 speakers. Most have only from several hundred to several thousand speakers. Several are on the brink of extinction.

A funerary urn in the shape of a “Bat God”

Fascinating facts about the Zapotec

The Zapotec worshipped their ancestors and, believing in a paradisiacal underworld, stressed the cult of the dead.

They had a great religious centre at Mitla and a magnificent city at Monte Albán, where a highly developed civilisation flourished possibly more than 2,000 years ago.

The name Zapotec comes from Nahuatl tzapotēcah (singular tzapotēcatl). This word means “inhabitants of the place of sapote”. The Zapotec referred to themselves as Be’ena’a, which means “The People.”

The Zapotec developed a calendar and a special system of writing. This system has a separate glyph for each of the syllables of the language. It is one of several candidates thought to have been the first writings system of Mesoamerica. It is the predecessor of the writing systems developed by the Maya, Mixtec, and Aztec civilisations.

The Zapotecs believe their ancestors emerged from the earth, from caves, or that they turned from trees or jaguars into people, while the elite that governed them believed that they descended from supernatural beings that lived among the clouds, and that upon death they would return to such status. In fact, the name by which Zapotecs are known today resulted from this belief. In Central Valley Zapotec “The Cloud People’ is “Be’ena’ Za’a.”

Thanks for reading 🙂

On a side note:

It’s over!  I survived the A to Z Challenge. If you’ve read, like and commented … Thank you! I hope you learned something new, I know I did.

For sticking with me, this month, I invite you to celebrate … virtually, of course.


4 thoughts on “Z is for … Zapotec

  1. Reblogged this on Author_Iris_Chacon and commented:
    This is the last of a fabulous series of brief, entertaining, informative articles. If you missed any of the 26 languages described by linguist extraordinaire, Lynne Fellows, click on over to Lynne’s blog and catch up what you missed. You’ll thank me!

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