|Linguistic classification||Totozoquean ?|
The Totonacan languages (also known as Totonac–Tepehua languages) are a family of closely related languages spoken by approximately 290,000 Totonac (approx. 280,000) and Tepehua (approx. 10,000) people in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, and Hidalgo in Mexico. At the time of the Spanish conquest Totonacan languages were spoken all along the gulf coast of Mexico. During the colonial period, Totonacan languages were occasionally written and at least one grammar was produced. In the 20th century the number of speakers of most varieties have dwindled as indigenous identity increasingly became stigmatized encouraging speakers to adopt Spanish as their main language.
The Totonacan languages have only recently been compared to other families on the basis of historical-comparative linguistics, though they share numerous areal features with other languages of the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area, such as the Mayan languages and Nahuatl. Recent work suggests a possible genetic link to the Mixe–Zoque language family, although this has yet to be firmly established.
The family is divided into two branches, Totonac and Tepehua. Of the two, Tepehua is generally considered to consist of three languages—Pisaflores, Huehuetla, and Tlachichilco—while the Totonac branch is considerably more diverse. MacKay (1999) divides Totonac into four divisions, based on García Rojas (1978):
Ethnologue currently recognizes 12 languages in the Totonacan family, three Tepehua languages and nine Totonac:
|Language||ISO code||Locations||Number of speakers|
|Huehuetla Tepehua||tee||Huehuetla, northeast Hidalgo; Mecapalapa, Puebla||3,000 (1982 SIL)|
|Pisaflores Tepehua||tpp||Pisaflores, Hidalgo; Ixhuatlán de Madero, Veracruz||4,000 (1990 census)|
|Tlachichilco Tepehua||tpt||Tlachichilco, Veracruz||3,000 (1990 SIL)|
|Papantla Totonac||top||Around Papantla, central lowland Veracruz||80,000 (1982 SIL)|
|Coyutla Totonac||toc||Coyutla, Veracruz||48,000 (2000 WCD)|
|Highland Totonac||tos||Around Zacatlán, Puebla, and Veracruz||120,000 (1982 SIL)|
|Filomeno Mata Totonac||tlp||The town of Filomeno Mata, highland Veracruz, adjacent to Highland Totonac||15,000 (2000 WCD)|
|Xicotepec Totonac||too||In 30 villages around Xicotepec de Juárez in the Sierra Norte de Puebla and Veracruz||3,000 (2000 SIL)|
|Ozumatlán Totonac||tqt||Ozumatlán, Tepetzintla, Tlapehuala and San Agustín in northern Puebla||1,800 (1990 census)|
|Misantla Totonac||tlc||Yecuatla and Misantla in southern Veracruz||500 (1994 SIL)|
|Upper Necaxa Totonac||tku||Patla, Chicontla, Cacahuatlán and San Pedro Tlaloantongo in northeastern Puebla||3,400 (2000 INEGI)|
|Tecpatlán Totonac||tcw||Tecpatlán, northeastern Puebla||540 (2000 INEGI)|
This classification is the basis of the latest version of the ISO language codes for Totonacan, although some of these classifications are disputed.
The Mexican Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas (INALI) recognizes 10 distinct languages or "linguistic variants" in the family, 3 Tepehua and 7 Totonac (INALI 2008):
|Language||population (2005 census)|
|Western Tepehua (also known as Tlachichiloco)||9,200|
|Northern Tepehua (also known as Pisaflores)||2,800|
|Southern Tepehua (also known as Huehuetla)||1,800|
|Southeastern Totonac (also known as Misantla)||490|
|Coastal (also known as Papantla)||58,200|
|North Central (also known as Xicotepec)||15,100|
|South Central (also known as Highland)||114,900|
|High Central (also known as Filomeno Mata)||8,700|
|Cerro del Xinolatépetl (also known as Ozumatlán)||1,000|
Coyutla Totonac is grouped with South Central Totonac by INALI while Tecpatlán Totonac is included in the North Central Totonac group. Other recent attempts at classification have suggested that some of these divisions, particularly North Central, Costal, and South Central, and are far too broad and include varieties that might also be classified as separate languages (Beck 2011; Brown et al. 2011; Levy & Beck (eds.) 2012).
A further drawback of the Ethnologue and INALI classifications is the lack of lower-level subgroups beyond the two-way division into Totonac and Tepehua. In the Totonac branch of the family, Misantla is the most distinctive, and the remaining languages form a more closely related group (Arana Osnaya 1953). Divisions amongst the latter group, which might be referred to as "Central Totonac," are unclear, though most researchers agree that there is at least a three-way division between Northern, Southern/Sierra, and Lowland/Coastal varieties (Arana Osnaya 1953; Ichon 1969; Brown et al. 2011). Recent efforts at reconstruction and evidence from lexical similarity further suggest that Southern/Sierra and Lowland group together against Northern (Brown et al. 2011), although this is still uncertain, pending more exhaustive investigation. The most recent proposal for the family is as follows (Brown et al. 2011; Levy & Beck (eds.) 2012):
Lexical comparison also suggests that, for Tepehua, Pisaflores and Huehuetla may be more closely related to each other than either is to Tlalchichilco (Brown et al. 2011).
MacKay and Trechsel (2018) provide the following internal classification:
There is some variation is the sound systems of the different varieties of Totonac and Tepehua, but the following phoneme inventory can be considered a typical Totonacan inventory (Aschman 1946).
This consonant inventory is essentially equivalent to that reconstructed for proto-Totonacan by Arana Osnaya (1953), with the exception of the two back fricatives, /x/ and /h/. Most modern languages phonemically have only one of these, but show some allomorphic variation between the two, with one or the other being considered basic. However, Coatepec Totonac is reported to have both phonemes (McQuown 1990), and more recent reconstructions of the proto-Totonacan consonant inventory have proposed that both were present in that language (Davletshin 2008; Brown et al. 2011). The glottal stop is a marginal phoneme in most of the languages and is posited primarily for morphological reasons. The phonological system is fairly typical of Mesoamerica.
Most Totonacan languages have a three-vowel system with each quality making distinctions of length and laryngealization. The following is the "typical" Totonacan vocalic inventory.
|Close||ḭ ḭː||i iː||ṵ ṵː||u uː|
|Open||a̰ a̰ː||a aː|
Tepehua has lost the phonemic laryngealization of vowels and has ejective stops where Totonac has creaky vowels preceded by stops (Arana Osnaya 1953). Some Totonac languages have five-vowel systems, having developed /e/ and /o/ phonemes, whereas in others [e] and [o] are clearly allomorphs of /i/ and /u/, respectively, conditioned by proximity to uvular stops or fricatives.
From a typological perspective, the Totonac–Tepehua family presents a fairly consistent profile, and exhibits many features of the Mesoamerican areal type, such as a preference for verb-initial order, head-marking, and extensive use of body part morphemes in metaphorical and locative constructions (Levy & Beck (eds.) 2012). The Totonacan languages are highly agglutinative and polysynthetic with nominative/accusative alignment and a flexible constituent order governed by information structure. Syntactic relations between the verb and its arguments are marked by agreement with the subject and one or sometimes two objects. There is no morphological case on nouns and many languages in the family lack prepositions, making use instead of a rich system of causatives, applicatives, and prefixes for body parts and parts of objects. Possession is marked on the possessed noun, the head of the NP. Otherwise, nouns are uninflected, number being an optional category and grammatical gender being absent from the languages. Numerals quantifying nouns bear classificatory prefixes, something that is unusual cross-linguistically as affixal classifiers tend heavily to be suffixes (Aikhenvald 2003). Totonacan languages are also known for their use of sound symbolism.
Totonacan languages have a wide assortment of morphemes for increasing the valency of a verb.
All Totonacan languages have at least one causative morpheme, a prefix ma:- (Levy & Beck (eds.) 2012):
|Filomeno Mata Totonac|
|tiːnoː štamaːʔaqstoqmáːna ʔaqšáːq|
|‘those who were gathering heads’ (McFarland 2012, p. 278)|
|čáʔa̰ɬ máalákȼḭ́n líitamáaɬkúulátača|
|‘He got there and saw that they had made a fire.’ (MacKay & Trechsel 2012a, p. 112)|
In many of the languages, the causative prefix is regularly or obligatorily associated with a suffix:
|Upper Necaxa Totonac|
|tsa̰x kmaːka̰tsiːniːyáːn mat wan|
|‘ “I'm just letting you know”, he says.’ (Beck 2012, p. 202)|
In some languages like Upper Necaxa, the suffix is analyzed as part of the causative morpheme (Beck 2012), but in others it is treated as a separate transitivizer (Levy & Beck (eds.) 2012).
One of the most frequently used valency-increasing affixes in the Totonacan languages is the dative or benefactive suffix (Levy & Beck (eds.) 2012):
|na.lḭːn.ˈka̰ ni.tʃu ʃtʃuh|
|‘They will take him his food.’ (Roman Lobato 2012, p. 338)|
|Cerro Xinolatépetl Totonac|
|tɐmɑqɑ̰n ḭɬ čúčutʰ nɐkʰšušúm|
|‘They threw water for her on the hot stones.’ (Andersen 2012, p. 186)|
All the languages of the family have a comitative construction in which both an actor and a co-actor of a verb are specified (Levy & Beck (eds.) 2012). For instance, in Huehuetla Tepehua a verb such as tamakahuːn 'stay, be in a place' is intransitive but can take a comitative prefix to form a verb ta̰ːtamakahuːn meaning 'stay with someone', someone being the co-actor:
|haː laːy k’alakt’aːtamakahuː|
|‘Can I stay with you guys?’ (Smythe Kung 2012, p. 78)|
Similarly, the Papantla Totonac verb muxuː ‘bury something’ is transitive but becomes ditransitive when it takes the comitative prefix:
|‘I will bury her with you’ (Levy 2012, p. 375)|
The third applicative prefix that is shared across the family is analyzed in most of the languages as an instrumental applicative and is used to add an object used as an instrument or a means to a clause:
|pues liːˈlɑqpɑqɬe ˈntʃiwiʃ] [tɘlɑqˈpitsiɬ]|
|‘So he broke the rock with it, it was split.’ (Tino 2012, p. 297)|
|kít čáaču ʔút̰ ʔí k̰ líiteríkuɬ wí ɬ̰ kák̰ máawán|
|‘ “I just got rich with (i.e. selling) those ashes”, he says.’ (MacKay & Trechsel 2012b, p. 135)|
In some of the languages, the instrumental can also be used for the expression of motives:
|Upper Necaxa Totonac|
|ʔeː čuːnúː paɬ tsḭ́n ʔsa̰ liːta̰sáya̰ pus|
|‘ “And if you’re hungry, that’s why you cry out, then.’ (Beck 2012, p. 236)|
|porke laqɬuw tumin ɬiːk’uč’ukaɬ|
|‘Because they cured him for a lot of money.’ (Watters 2012, p. 56)|
As seen in the last example, this prefix is ɬi- in Tepehua languages rather than liː- as it is in Totonac, and in Tlachichilco (Watters 2012) and Huehuetla (Smythe Kung 2012) it is analyzed as a directional ("DIR") rather than an instrumental. The prefix seems to be less frequent in Tepehua than in Totonac.
The Totonacan languages exhibit a phenomenon similar to noun incorporation whereby special prefixing combining forms of body-parts may be added to verbs (Levy 1999), (Levy 1992). When these prefixes are added, they generally serve to delimit the verb's locus of affect; that is, they indicate which part of the subject or object is affected by the action.
|waː naː maː laʔapuːtanuːy šlaʔapuːtanuːti|
|‘He put the mask on his face.’ (Smythe Kung 2012, p. 81)|
The prefixes can also be used to specify the shape of an affected object:
|aɬ túku wanikán čaː̰káː̰ tasun|
|‘He went to, what do you call it?, cut a birch tree,’ (Levy 2012, p. 353)|
It is worthwhile to note that the prefixation does not decrease the valency of the verb, differentiating this process from true noun incorporation as the term is usually understood (Mithun 1984).
Another important role that bodypart prefixes play in Totonacan languages is in the formulation of expressions of the spatial location of objects, which combine a part-prefix with one of four posture verbs (words for ’sit’, ‘stand’, ‘lie’, and ‘be high’):
|Upper Necaxa Totonac|
|taa̰kpuːwilanáɬ čiwíš spuːníːn|
|‘the birds are sitting on the rock’ (Beck 2011, p. 94)|
These constructions alternate with expressions using the independent (full) form of the part as a preposition-like element:
|Upper Necaxa Totonac|
|líbɾu ša̰kpúːn mesa wiːɬ|
|‘the book is on the table’ (Beck 2004, p. 12)|
In the last sentence, the independent form of a̰kpuː- ‘crown’ is formed by combining this prefix with a base -n which is sometimes (as here) analyzed as a nominalizing suffix. Because words for body parts are inflected for possession, a̰kpuːn ‘crown’ has a third-person singular possessive prefix, linking it to mesa ‘table’, the object on whose crown the book is located (see the section below on Possessive constructions).
Possessive constructions in Totonacan languages are marked on the possessed noun rather than on the possessor noun:
|Upper Necaxa Totonac|
|‘Juan’s corn’||(Beck 2011, p. 47)|
The person of the possessor is indicated by a prefix and the number of the possessor by a suffix, as shown by the follow paradigm from Upper Necaxa (Beck 2011, p. 47):
|Upper Necaxa Totonac|
In several of the languages, kinship terms and words referring to parts of the body and objects are inherently possessed—that is, they are obligatorily marked for a possessor. When an inherently possessed noun is used in a generic expression, a special indefinite possessor prefix (ša- in most of the languages that have it) is used—e.g. Upper Necaxa šapúškṵ ‘an elder brother/elders brothers in general’ (Beck 2004, p. 19).
Numerals in Totonacan languages are bound roots that require a classificatory prefix which changes based on the type, shape or measure of object being counted. This is illustrated for one of the languages Upper Necaxa Totonac in the table below (Beck 2011):
‘one banana tree’
‘one full bunch of bananas’
‘one small bunch of bananas’
|heːtin sḛ́ːʔna̰ |
‘two banana trees’
‘two full bunches of bananas’
‘two small bunches of bananas’
|heːtṵ sḛ́ːʔna̰ |
‘three banana trees’
‘three full bunches of bananas’
‘three small bunches of bananas’
|heːtṵtun sḛ́ːʔna̰ |
‘four banana trees’
‘four full bunches of bananas’
‘four small bunches of bananas’
|heːtṵtun sḛ́ːʔna̰ |
In total, Upper Necaxa has around 30 classificatory prefixes (Beck 2011).
The following table compares the numeral bases of six Totonacan languages. 
A prominent feature of Totonacan languages is the presence of sound symbolism (see Bishop 1984; Levy 1987; McQuown 1990; MacKay 1999; Smythe Kung 2006; McFarland 2012; Beck 2008). The most common (but by no means only) sound-symbolic pattern in Totonacan involves fricative alterations, typically /s/ ~ /š/ ~ /ɬ/ and occasionally /ts/ ~ /č/ ~ /š/ correlated either with increasingly more energetic or forceful action or with the size of an event participant,(Beck 2008, p. 8) as in the following examples from Upper Necaxa Totonac (Beck 2008):
|laŋs ‘hand striking hard’
laŋš ‘blow striking with force’
laŋɬ ‘blow striking with great force’
|spipispipi ‘small person or animal trembling’|
špipišpipi ‘person or animal shivering or shaking slightly’
ɬpipiɬpipi ‘person or animal shaking or having convulsions’
Comparative as well as language-internal evidence suggests that the pattern of consonantal alternations may have their origins in affixes indicating grade—s- ‘diminutive‘, š- ‘medium’, ɬ- ‘augmentative’) (see McQuown 1990; Beck 2008; Brown et al. 2011). In general, the productivity of the sound-symbolic alternations is highly variable within and across languages of the family, and many languages preserve for a given stem only one of a set of two or three alternates that can be reconstructed for proto-Totonacan (Brown et al. 2011).
The following selection of Proto-Totonacan reconstructions and descendants is taken from MacKay and Trechsel (2018), using data from several other studies. The reconstructions and descendants are written in Americanist notation.
|Proto-Totonacan||Misantla||Apapantilla||Upper Necaxa||Filomeno Mata||Highland||Papantla||Pisaflores||Huehuetla||Tlachichilco|
|*maa-ɬi||'is lying down'||má̰a̰ɬ||ma̰a̰||maaɬ||máa̰h||ma̰h||má||máh||má||máaɬ||maaɬ||maa|
Totonacan-language programming is carried by the CDI's radio station XECTZ-AM, broadcasting from Cuetzalan, Puebla.
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