What Languages Are Spoken In Mexico?

A large number of languages are spoken in the ethnically diverse country of Mexico, with Spanish being the most popular one.

Origin Of Mexican Languages

Although today the vast majority of the Mexican population speaks Spanish, the original languages of the country are Amerindian, or indigenous. The origin of many of these indigenous languages is in Mesoamerican, with linguistic data dating back to around 5,000 years ago. Prior to 2,000 BC, Mesoamerica was in the Archaic period which produced 3 major language families: Mayan, Mixe-Zoquean, and Oto-Manguean. With the rise of the Olmec civilization beginning around 2,000 BC, many people began migrating across the region and taking their languages with them. The Olmec borrowed from the Mixe-Zoquean family, the Oto-Manguean language dispersed into central Mexico, and the Mayan language began to diversify as its speakers migrated north. With the decline of the Olmec civilization came the rise of other civilizations, bringing with them their language families, like Uto-Aztecan, and further developing the other languages. Certain civilizations, like the Aztec, Mixtec, and Zapotec, remained in power and influenced the spoken language within their region of power. Some of those languages continue to be spoken today.

Indigenous Languages Of Mexico

The most widely spoken indigenous language of Mexico is Nahuatl. This language belongs to the Uto-Aztecan family which researchers believe originated in the southwestern region of the US. Around 500 AD, speakers of the language migrated to Central Mexico. Nearly 100 years later, Nahuatl became the most powerful language of the region, used by the Aztec Empire. With the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, Nahuatl gradually lost its position as the dominant language. Today, 1,376,026 continue to speak the language, 14.9% of them are monolingual. Women make up the majority of the monolingual population. The language can be heard in the states of Hidalgo, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Puebla, and Veracruz.

The Yucatec Maya language, referred to as Maya, belongs to the Mayan language and is principally spoken in the Yucatan Peninsula. It originates from a 5,000-year old language family, Proto-Mayan. These speakers migrated to the Yucatan Peninsula around 1,400 BC. Over time, they became a powerful civilization, co-existing with other major civilizations like the Olmec. Around the 9th century, the empire began to collapse although, a large Maya population continued to exist in the Yucatan region. Today, approximately 759,000 people continue to speak the language particularly in the states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, and Campeche.

The third most widely spoken indigenous language is Mixtec which belongs to the previously mentioned Oto-Manguean family. This language grew in and around the region of present-day Oaxaca, Puebla, and Guerrero, also referred to as La Mixteca. The Mixtec culture has existed since pre-Columbian times and was a main competitor of the Zapotec culture. The Mixtec rose to power in the 11th century, but fell with the arrival of the Spanish. Today, 423,216 people speak the language.

Foreign Languages In Mexico

Mexico has been a major immigrant destination country for hundreds of years. Immigrants have mainly come from Europe, the US, Latin America, and Asia. Many are foreign-born and many others are descendants of immigrants. They have brought with them, and many continue speaking, their native languages. These include: English, German, Greek, Italian, Arabic, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Japanese.

Endangered Languages In Mexico

Although the government uses Spanish almost exclusively, it is not technically the official language of Mexico. In fact, the Constitution of the country defines the country as multilingual, recognizes the right of indigenous people to use and preserve their languages, and promotes bilingual education. Additionally, the government enacted the Law of Linguistic Rights, recognizing 62 indigenous languages as co-official national languages. Despite this effort to preserve and promote indigenous languages, many of them are endangered today. Spanish continues to dominate the society with younger generations discarding the language of their ancestors. This is indirectly encouraged through classist attitudes, pressures to assimilate into “modern culture,” and the lower socioeconomic situation of many indigenous peoples. Today, at least 21 languages are listed as critically endangered, 38 are definitely endangered, 32 are severely endangered, and 52 are considered vulnerable.

What Languages Are Spoken in Mexico?

A large number of languages are spoken in the ethnically diverse country of Mexico, with Spanish being the most popular one.

What Languages Are Spoken In Mexico?

1Nahuatl (Nahuatl, Nahuat, Nahual, Macehualtlahtol, Melatahtol)1,376,026
2Yucatec Maya (Maaya t'aan)759,000
3Mixtec (Tu'un sávi)423,216
4Zapotec (Diidxaza)410,901
5Tzeltal Maya (K'op o winik atel)371,730
6Tzotzil Maya (Batsil k'op)329,937
7Otomí (Hñä hñü)239,850
8Totonac (Tachihuiin)230,930
9Mazatec (Ha shuta enima)206,559
10Ch'ol (Mayan) (Winik)185,299
11Huastec (Téenek)149,532
12Chinantec (Tsa jujmí)125,706
13Mixe (Ayüük)115,824
14Mazahua (Jñatho)111,840
15Purépecha (P'urhépecha)105,556
16Tlapanec (Me'phaa)98,573
17Tarahumara (Rarámuri)75,371
18Amuzgo (Tzañcue)43,761
19Chatino (Cha'cña)42,791
20Tojolab'al (Tojolwinik otik)43,169
21Popoluca (Zoquean) (Tuncápxe)54,004
22Chontal de Tabasco (Yokot t'an)43,850
23Huichol (Wixárika)35,724
24Mayo (Yoreme)32,702
25Tepehuán (O'dam and Ódami)31,681
26Trique (Tinujéi)24,491
27Cora (Naáyarite)17,086
28Popoloca (Oto-manguean)18,926
29Huave (Ikoods)15,993
30Cuicatec (Nduudu yu)12,610
31Yaqui (Yoem Noki or Hiak Nokpo)14,162
33Tepehua (Hamasipini)10,625
34Pame (Xigüe)9,768
35Mam (Qyool)8,739
36Chontal de Oaxaca (Slijuala sihanuk)5,534
38Tacuate (Mixtec de Santa María Zacatepec) (Tu'un Va'a)2,067
39Chichimeca jonaz (Úza)1,987
40Guarijío (Warihó)1,905
41Chocho (Runixa ngiigua)1,078
42Pima Bajo (Oob No'ok)836
43Q'eqchí (Q'eqchí)835
44Lacandón (Hach t'an)731
45Jakaltek (Poptí) (Abxubal)584
46Matlatzinca/Ocuilteco (Tlahuica)522
47Seri (Cmiique iitom)518
51Paipai (Jaspuy pai)221
52Cucapá (Kuapá)206
53Mototzintleco (Qatok)186
54Kumiai (Ti'pai)185
55Pápago (O'odham)153
56Kikapú (Kikapoa)144
58Cochimí (Laymón, mti'pá)96
59Kiliwa language (Ko'lew)55
61Other languages337

About the Author

Amber is a freelance writer, English as a foreign language teacher, and Spanish-English translator. She lives with her husband and 3 cats.


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