Languages of Mexico
Sign at Chichén Itzá in Spanish, Yucatec Maya and English
IndigenousNahuatl, Yucatec Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Mayo, Yaqui, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Chol, Totonac, Purépecha, Otomi, Mazahua, Mazatec, Chinantec, Mixe, Zoque, Popoluca, Popoloca language, Me'phaa, Wixarika, Chontal, Huave, Pame, Teenek, Kickapoo, Kiliwa, Paipai, Cucapá, Amuzgo, Triqui, Lacandon Maya, Mam Maya, Jakaltek, Matlatzinca, Tepehua, Chichimeca Jonaz, Pima Bajo, Ngiwa, Ixcatec, Ayapanec, Huasteco etc.
VernacularMexican Spanish
MinorityPlautdietsch, Chipilo Venetian dialect, Afro-Seminole Creole
ForeignEnglish, German, Greek, Italian, Arabic, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Russian
SignedMexican Sign Language
Yucatan Sign Language
Plains Sign Talk
American Sign Language
Keyboard layout

The Constitution of Mexico does not declare an official language; however, Spanish is the de facto national language spoken by over 99% of the population[1] making it the largest Spanish speaking country in the world.[2][3] The government also recognizes 63 indigenous languages spoken in their communities out of respect, including Nahuatl, Mayan, Mixtec, etc.

The Mexican government uses solely Spanish for official and legislative purposes, but it has yet to declare it the national language mostly out of respect to the indigenous communities that still exist. Most indigenous languages are endangered, with some languages expected to become extinct within years or decades, and others simply having populations that grow slower than the national average. According to the Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI) and National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI), while 9% of the population identifies as belonging to an indigenous group, around 5-6% speak an indigenous language.

Language history

See also: Academia Mexicana de la Lengua and Mexican Spanish

Approximate pre-contact distribution of native language families with presence in present-day Mexico (and elsewhere).
Grammar of Mexican language by Carochi.

From the arrival of the first Franciscan missionaries, Spanish, Latin, and indigenous languages played parts in the evangelization of Mexico. Many sixteenth-century churchmen studied indigenous languages in order to instruct native peoples in Christian doctrine. The same men also found Castilian and Latin appropriate in certain contexts. All told, there existed a kind of "linguistic coexistence" from the beginning of the colonial period.[4]

Some monks and priests attempted to describe and classify indigenous languages with Spanish. Philip II of Spain decreed in 1570 that Nahuatl become the official language of the colonies of New Spain in order to facilitate communication between the natives of the colonies.[5]

In 1696 Charles II reversed that policy and banned the use of any languages other than Spanish throughout New Spain.[5] Beginning in the 18th century, decrees ordering the Hispanization of indigenous populations became more numerous and Spanish colonizers no longer learned the indigenous languages.

After independence the government initiated an educational system with the primary aim of Hispanization of the native populations. This policy was based on the idea that this would help the indigenous peoples become a more integrated part of the new Mexican nation.[6][7]

Except for the Second Mexican Empire, led by the Habsburg Maximilian I, no Mexican government tried to prevent the loss of indigenous languages during the 19th century.[6]

The 1895 census records some 16% of the populous spoke various indigenous languages "habitually," while 0.17% did foreign languages. The rest, 83.71%, spoke primarily Spanish instead.[8]

For most of the 20th century successive governments denied native tongues the status of valid languages. Indigenous students were forbidden to speak their native languages in school and were often punished for doing so.[6][7][9][10][11][12]

In 2002, Mexico's constitution was amended to reinforce the nation's pluricultural nature by giving the State the obligation to protect and nurture the expressions of this diversity. On June 14, 1999, the Council of Writers in Indigenous Languages presented Congress with a document entitled "Suggested legal initiatives towards linguistic rights of indigenous peoples and communities", with the goal of beginning to protect the linguistic rights of indigenous communities. The Ley General de Derechos Lingüísticos de los Pueblos Indígenas was passed in March 2003, establishing a framework for the conservation, nurturing and development of indigenous languages. Critics claim that the law's complexity makes enforcement difficult.[13][14][15][16][17]

Indigenous languages

Mexico is home to some of the world's oldest writing systems (Epi-Olmec, Zapotec, Maya script). Maya writing used logograms complemented by syllabic glyphs, similar in function to modern Japanese writing.
Current distribution of indigenous languages of Mexico with more than 100,000 speakers.

Spanish is the de facto national language spoken by the vast majority of Mexicans, though it is not defined as an official language in legislation. The second article of the 1917 Constitution defines the country as multicultural, recognizes the right of the indigenous peoples to "preserve and enrich their languages" and promotes "bilingual and intercultural education".

In 2003, the Mexican Congress approved the General Law of Linguistic Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, which is a law that recognizes that Mexico's history makes its indigenous languages "national languages".[18] Accordingly, they "have the same validity [as Spanish] in their territory, location and context". At the same time, legislators made no specific provisions for the official or legal status of the Spanish language. This law means that indigenous peoples can use their native language in communicating with government officials and request official documents in that language. The Mexican state supports the preservation and promotion of the use of the national languages through the activities of the National Institute of Indigenous Languages.[19][20][21]

Mexico has about six million citizens who speak indigenous languages. That is the second-largest group in the Americas after Peru. However, a relatively small percentage of Mexico's population speaks an indigenous language compared to other countries in the Americas, such as Guatemala (42.8%), Peru (35%), and even Ecuador (9.4%), Panama (8.3%),[22] Paraguay and Bolivia.

The only indigenous language spoken by more than a million people in Mexico is the Nahuatl language; the other Native American languages with a large population of native speakers (at least 400,000 speakers) include Yucatec Maya, Tzeltal Maya, Tzotzil Maya, Mixtec, and Zapotec.

Language endangerment

Indigenous languages of Mexico
Language Speakers
Nahuatl (Nahuatl, Nahuat, Nahual, Macehualtlahtol, Melatahtol) 1,651,958
Yucatec Maya (Maaya t'aan) 774,755
Tzeltal Maya (K'op o winik atel) 589,144
Tzotzil Maya (Batsil k'op) 550,274
Mixtec (Tu'un sávi) 526,593
Zapotec (Diidxaza) 490,845
Otomí (Hñä hñü) 298,861
Totonac (Tachihuiin) 256,344
Ch'ol (Mayan) (Winik) 254,715
Mazatec (Ha shuta enima) 237,212
Huastec (Téenek) 168,729
Mazahua (Jñatho) 153,797
Tlapanec (Me'phaa) 147,432
Chinantec (Tsa jujmí) 144,394
Purépecha (P'urhépecha) 142,459
Mixe (Ayüük) 139,760
Tarahumara (Rarámuri) 91,554
Zoque 74,018
Tojolab'al (Tojolwinik otik) 66,953
Chontal de Tabasco (Yokot t'an) 60,563
Huichol (Wixárika) 60,263
Amuzgo (Tzañcue) 59,884
Chatino (Cha'cña) 52,076
Tepehuano del sur (Ódami) 44,386
Mayo (Yoreme) 38,507
Popoluca (Zoquean) (Tuncápxe) 36,113
Cora (Naáyarite) 33,226
Trique (Tinujéi) 29,545
Yaqui (Yoem Noki or Hiak Nokpo) 19,376
Huave (Ikoods) 18,827
Popoloca (Oto-manguean) 17,274
Cuicatec (Nduudu yu) 12,961
Pame (Xigüe) 11,924
Mam (Qyool) 11,369
Q'anjob'al 10,851
Tepehuano del norte 9,855
Tepehua (Hamasipini) 8,884
Chontal de Oaxaca (Slijuala sihanuk) 5,613
Sayultec 4,765
Chuj 3,516
Acateco 2,894
Chichimeca jonaz (Úza) 2,364
Ocuilteco (Tlahuica) 2,238
Guarijío (Warihó) 2,139
Q'eqchí (Q'eqchí) 1,599
Matlatzinca 1,245
Pima Bajo (Oob No'ok) 1,037
Chocho (Runixa ngiigua) 847
Lacandón (Hach t'an) 771
Seri (Cmiique iitom) 723
Kʼicheʼ 589
Kumiai (Ti'pai) 495
Jakaltek (Poptí) (Abxubal) 481
Texistepequeño 368
Paipai (Jaspuy pai) 231
Pápago (O'odham) 203
Ixcatec 195
Kaqchikel 169
Cucapá (Kuapá) 176
Motozintleco or Qato’k 126
Lipan Apache (Ndé miizaa) 120
Ixil 117
Oluteco 77
Kiliwa language (Ko'lew) 76
Kikapú (Kikapoa) 63
Aguacatec 20
Other languages1 150,398

1 mostly insufficiently specified languages

Only includes population 5 and older. Source: INEGI (2005)

According to the Law of Linguistic Rights, Mexico recognizes sixty-two indigenous languages as co-official National languages.[23] With Spanish being the dominant language, Mexico has become a site for endangered languages. "Indigenous people’s disadvantaged socioeconomic status and the pressure of assimilation into mestizo society have been influential on indigenous language loss."[24] The result of the conflict between indigenous languages and Spanish has been a language shift in Mexico from indigenous languages being spoken to more people using Spanish in every domain. Due to this situation there have been many language revitalization strategies implemented in order to create a language shift to try to reverse this language shift. Literature projects done with the Nahua people [25] include "Keeping the fire alive: a decade of language revitalization in Mexico" showing the experiences of language revitalization in South Mexico.[26]


Main articles: Indigenous languages of the Americas and List of endangered languages in Mexico

The following is a classification of the 65 indigenous languages grouped by family:

Language families with members north of Mexico

Toilet sign in Mexico in Spanish, English and Totonac.

Language families with all known members in Mexico

Language family with members south of Mexico

Language isolates:

*In danger of extinction.

Other languages

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Languages of Mexico" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (January 2023) (template removal help)
Dialect division of Spanish in Mexico, according to Lope Blanch.

The deaf community uses Mexican Sign Language, Mayan Sign Language, and, particularly among Mexicans who attended school the United States, American Sign Language. Other local sign languages are used or emerging, including Albarradas Sign Language, Chatino Sign Language, Tzotzil Sign Language, and Tijuana Sign Language.[27][28]

The non-Spanish and non-indigenous languages spoken in Mexico include English (by English-speaking as well as by the residents of border states). One example of this group is of the American Mormon colony of Nueva Casas Grandes in Chihuahua, which settled in the late 19th century. Afro-Seminole Creole, an English-based creole, is traditionally spoken by the Mascogos of Coahuila. Korean spoken mainly in Nuevo León. German (spoken mainly in Mexico City and Puebla), Greek (spoken mainly in Mexico City, Guadalajara and especially in Sinaloa state), Arabic, Venetian (in Chipilo), Italian, French, Occitan, Catalan, Basque, Galician, Asturian, Filipino, Polish, Hebrew, Korean, Ladino, Plautdietsch, Armenian, Japanese, Chinese and other languages are spoken by smaller numbers. Some of these languages (Venetian and Plautdietsch) are spoken in isolated communities or villages. The rest are spoken by immigrants or their descendants who tend to live in the larger cities and towns.

As far as second languages go, many educated Mexicans (and those with little education who have immigrated to the US and returned) have different degrees of fluency in English. Many Mexicans working in the tourist industry can speak some English.

In a study conducted by the Alliance française in 2019 revealed that Mexicans have begun to take a greater interest in studying the French language, with 250,000 people being French speakers and 350,000 learning French.[29]

Romani is spoken by the Mexican Roma minority.[30]

See also


  1. ^ "Population 3 or over that does not speak Spanish by State". INEGI. 2016.
  2. ^ "Lengua oficial y lenguas nacionales en México - Detalle de la obra - Enciclopedia de la Literatura en México - FLM - CONACULTA".
  3. ^ "Spanish Language History". Today Translations. Archived from the original on 17 April 2005. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
  4. ^ Wasserman-Soler, Daniel (2016). "Lengua de los indios, lengua española: Religious Conversion and the Languages of New Spain, ca. 1520–1585". Church History. 85 (4): 690–723. doi:10.1017/S0009640716000755.
  5. ^ a b Cifuentes, Bárbara (1998): Letras sobre voces. Multilingüismo a través de la historia. Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social – Instituto Nacional Indigenista. Historia de los Pueblos Indígenas de México. México. ISBN 968-496-338-6
  6. ^ a b c Suaréz, Jorge A. (1983). The Mesoamerican Indian Languages. Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-22834-3. OCLC 8034800.
  7. ^ a b Stavenhagen, Rodolfo (1990), "Linguistic Minorities and Language Policy in Latin America: The Case of Mexico", in Florian Coulmas (ed.), Linguistic Minorities and Literacy: Language Policy Issues in Developing Countries, Mouton Publishers, Berlin, pp. 56–62, at pp. 60–61.
  8. ^ "Población según el idioma habitual" (PDF), I Censo General de la República Mexicana 1895. Resumen general, Dirección General de Estadística, Secretaría de Fomento, pp. 462–487, 1899 [1897]
  9. ^ G. G. Patthey-Chavez (1994). Language Policy and Planning in Mexico: Indigenous Language Policy. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 14, pp 200–219
  10. ^ Grinevald, Colette. “Endangered Languages of Mexico and Central America”. Language Diversity, Endangered, Matthias Brenzinger. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co, 2007. 50–86.
  11. ^ "Is education destroying indigenous languages in Chiapas?". Retrieved 2015-12-30.
  12. ^ Sánchez, L. (2011), Mexican Indigenous Languages at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century edited by Margarita Hidalgo. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 15: 422–425.
  13. ^ [1] Archived February 5, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Margarita Hidalgo (ed.) . Mexican Indigenous Languages at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century (Contributions to the Sociology of Language, 91) . 2006 . Berlin, Germany : Mouton de Gruyter
  15. ^ Hamel, Rainer Enrique. “Indigenous Language Policy and Education in Mexico.” Encyclopedia of Language and Education. Vol. 1: Language Policy and Political Issues in Education. 2nd ed. New York: Springer, 2008. 301–313. Gail Virtual Reference Library. Amer. Univ. Bender Library. 5 April 2009.
  16. ^ Hamel, Rainer Enrique and Communities in Mexico. “Bilingual Education for Indigenous Communities in Mexico”. Encyclopedia of Language and Education. Vol. 5: Bilingual Education. 2nd ed. New York: Springer, 2008. 311–322. Gail Cambronne 42 Virtual Reference Library. Amer. Univ. Bender Library. 5 April 2009
  17. ^ *Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas [INALI] (14 January 2008). "Catálogo de las lenguas indígenas nacionales: Variantes lingüísticas de México con sus autodenominaciones y referencias geoestadísticas" (PDF online reproduction). Diario Oficial de la Federación (in Spanish). 652 (9). OCLC 46461036.
  18. ^ [2] Archived June 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "LEY GENERAL DE DERECHOS LINGÜÍSTICOS DE LOS PUEBLOS INDÍGENAS" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 27, 2006. Retrieved February 3, 2006.
  21. ^ "INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE LENGUAS INDIGENAS" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-12-30.
  22. ^ "Información estadística". Archived from the original on November 10, 2005. Retrieved August 11, 2006.
  23. ^ Terborg, Roland; Landa, Laura García; Moore, Pauline (2006-11-15). "The Language Situation in Mexico". Current Issues in Language Planning. 7 (4): 415–518. doi:10.2167/cilp109.0. ISSN 1466-4208. S2CID 143601300.
  24. ^ Yoshioka, Hirotoshi (2010-01-01). "Indigenous Language Usage and Maintenance Patterns Among Indigenous People in the Era of Neoliberal Multiculturalism in Mexico and Guatemala". Latin American Research Review. 45 (3): 5–34. doi:10.1017/S0023879100011092. JSTOR 40926268. S2CID 142934657.
  25. ^ Farfán, José Antonio Flores (2011). "Keeping the fire alive: a decade of language revitalization in Mexico". International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 2011 (212): 189–209. doi:10.1515/ijsl.2011.052. S2CID 143758486.
  26. ^ Hernández, Lorena Córdova (2016-02-05). "Consumo literario en lenguas indígenas: experiencias de revitalización desde el Sur de México". Revista CS (in Spanish) (18): 37–61. doi:10.18046/recs.i18.2053. ISSN 2011-0324.
  27. ^ Ramsey, Claire; Peña, Sergio (2010). "Sign Language Interpreting at the Border of the Two Californias". In McKee, Rachel Locker; Davis, Jeffrey E. (eds.). Interpreting in Multilingual, Multicultural Contexts. Gallaudet University Press. pp. 4–5.
  28. ^ "Lenguas de señas en México". SIL México (in Mexican Spanish).
  29. ^ "Oui! Los mexicanos quieren aprender más francés". Radio France Internationale. 20 March 2019. Retrieved 2021-06-27.
  30. ^ Mexico's Hidden Romani Heritage
Josserand, Judith K (1983). Mixtec Dialect History, PhD Thesis. Tulane University.
Lewis, P. M.; Simons, G. F.; Fennig, C. D., eds. (2013). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (16th ed.). Dallas, TX ( SIL International. ISBN 978-1556712166.