Chiapas Languages

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Indigenous Languages of Chiapas[edit | edit source]

The state of Chiapas has about 13.5% of all of Mexico's indigenous population, and it has been ranked among the ten "most indianized" states.[1] Among the indigenous groups of Chiapas are the Tzeltal, the Tzotzil, the Chol, the Zoque,  and the Tojolabal. 

Tzeltal and Tzotzil are both Mayan languages; they represent about 11.5 percent of all indigenous speakers in Mexico. The vast majority of their numbers live in Chiapas. Chol is also a Mayan language, though its speakers make up only three percent of speakers of indigenous speakers. 87 percent of speakers of Chol live in Chiapas.[2]

One of the few non-Maya groups living in Chiapas are the Zoque, a very small portion of Mexico's indigenous speakers (less than a percent). The Zoque live primarily in Chiapas and Oaxaca.  [3]

The Tojolabal group, making up less than a percent of Mexico's native language speakers, is also a Mayan language. Tojolabal speakers live almost exclusively in Chiapas. [4]

Indigenous Languages of Mexico[edit | edit source]

Most materials used in Mexican research are written in Spanish. However, you do not need to speak or read Spanish to do research in Mexican records. However, you will need to know some key words and phrases to understand the records.

The official language of Mexico is Spanish, which is spoken by 90 percent of the people. Indian languages of the Aztecs, Mayans, and other tribes are still spoken throughout the country. Originally there may have been more than 200 roots of native languages.

In 1889, Antonio García Cubas estimated that 38% of Mexicans spoke an indigenous language, down from 60% in 1820. By the end of the 20th century, this figure had fallen to 6%.

In the early history of Mexico after the Spanish conquest, the spiritual leaders knew Latin, and where schools were established, Latin was a required subject, so you may find some Latin terms included in church records.

Hundreds of native languages and dialects existed although very few written records survived the European conquest. Of these the Náhuatl language, spoken by the Aztecs of the Central Plateau region, is predominant, followed by the Mayan of the Yucatan Peninsula and Northern Central America. The Zapoteco, Mixteco, and Otomi languages follow in importance.

In the early records a great many Indian words, especially names and localities, found their way into the Spanish language. Many of them were modified to make them more pronounceable to the Spanish conquerors.

Spanish phonetics may affect the way names appear in genealogical records. For example, the names of your ancestor may vary from record to record in Spanish. For help in understanding name variations, see Mexico Names, Personal.

Language Aids[edit | edit source]

The Family History Library provides the following aids:

The following English-Spanish dictionaries can also aid you in your research. You can find these publications listed below and similar material at many research libraries:

Cassell’s Spanish-English, English-Spanish Dictionary New York: Macmillan, 1978. (FHL book 743.21 C272c 1978.)

Velázquez de la Cadena, Mariano. A New Pronouncing Dictionary of the Spanish and English Languages New York: Appleton- Century-Crofts, 1942. (FHL book 463.21 V541n.) y también volumen 2 del mismo.

Diccionario de Autoridades (Dictionary of Authorities). 3 vols. Madrid: Edit. Gredos, 1963. (FHL book 463 D56ld.)

Additional language aids, including dictionaries of various dialects and time periods, are listed in the "Place Search" section of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


They are also listed in the "Subject" section of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


And remember that a great free resource is always Google Translate.

  2. John P. Schmal, "Indigenous languages in Mexico" (Mexconnect Mexico Culture and Arts,
  3. John P. Schmal, "Indigenous languages in Mexico" (Mexconnect Mexico Culture and Arts,
  4. John P. Schmal, "Indigenous languages in Mexico" (Mexconnect Mexico Culture and Arts,