Zihuateutla Totonac

Zihuateutla Totonac is spoken by the Totonacan community who live in the larger municipality of Zihuateutla, in the mountainous regions of the eastern half of the Sierra Madre of Puebla State, Mexico. The majority of people who live in the Zihuateutla  community are native speakers of the language. However, only 24 of the 1,124 residents   recorded in the 2010 census consider themselves monolingual.



Zihuateutla Totonac is purported to be a divergent language within the central-northern branch of the Totonacan family (Central → Northern → Upper Necaxa, Tecpatlán, Zihuateutla, Ozumatlán, Apapantilla, Pantepec, and Cohuahuitlán) (Brown, et. al. 2011). Until recently, there was no documentation, written or recorded, of Zihuateutla Totonac by linguists. In fact, within the linguistic community at large, Zihuateutla Totonac was not recognized as its own language, and was grouped as a dialectal variant of Xicotepec de Juarez (more recently Apapantilla Totonac, ISO 639-3). However, we have reason to believe that there are major differences in the syntax and phonological inventory of Zihuateutla Totonac that does not make it mutually intelligible with Apapantilla Totonac.


One of our current documentation projects aims to create a trilingual lexical and textual database with Totonac, Spanish, and English translations, including audio recordings of Zihuateutla Totonac. The project so far includes: (1) the collection of basic vocabulary items (i.e. body-part and kinship terms, plants, animals, foods, and other socially important items and natural phenomena) and other basic linguistic information (i.e. numerals, numeral classifiers, wh- questions) elicited with previously constructed questionnaires (MacKay and Trechsel); (2) short texts of cultural histories and stories with transcriptions in Spanish and English; (3) documentation of the morphosyntactic properties of the language, and quality recordings for the acoustic description of the phoneme inventory.


At the very least, we hope the project will provide historical records of the language, and vital information for teachers, academics, and other linguists interested in typology and in historical and comparative reconstruction. We further hope to provide resources for members of the community who are interested in maintaining their language. By better understanding the language and connecting with speakers, we hope to be in a better position to help the community with language maintenance and revitalization in the future.