Guanajuato Languages

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Indigenous Languages of Guanajuato[edit | edit source]

Of all the Mexican states, Guanajuato has the fourth lowest number of speakers of an indigenous language. The native languages spoken are Chichimeca Jonaz, Otomí and Náhuatl.[1] 

The Chichimeca Jonaz are a remnant of the once-numerous Chichimeca people; after the Spanish conquest, the only Chichimeca group left were the Chichimeca Jonaz. The Chichimeca Jonaz refer to themselves and other indigenous as "uza" (singular) or "ézar" (plural), which roughly translates to "Indian." Their language is Oto-Pamean and related to their neighbors, the Otomí. Many Chichimecas live in San Luis de la Paz, Rancho Uza, or Misión Chichimeca.[2] 

Guanajuato is also home to large numbers of Otomí. Speakers of Otomí represent 3.99 percent of Mexico's indigenous speakers. The Otomí language is part of the Oto-Manguean linguistic group.[3] In pre-Hispanic times, the Otomí were nomadic desert-dwellers; during the Spanish conquest they traveled north with the Spanish. There are small numbers of Otomí in Guanajuato, mostly concentrated in Cieneguilla and the neighboring community of Tierra Blanca. Today most Otomí do not teach the language to their children, making it in danger of extinction.[4]

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.

Indigenous Languages of Mexico[edit | edit source]

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 Náuatl language, spoken by the Aztecs of the Central Plateau region, is predominant, followed by the Mayan of the Yucatan Pennisula 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 Personal Names.

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.

  1. Wikipedia, Guanajuato, Demographics, Indigenous peoples, "Perfil Sociodemográfico [Sociodemographic profile]" (in Spanish). Enciclopedia de los Municipios de México Estado de Guanajuato. Mexico: Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal. 2005. Retrieved November 29, 2010.
  2. Wikipedia, Guanajuato, Demographics, Indigenous peoples, Jimenez Gonzalez, p. 18 (
  3. John P. Schmal, "Indigenous Languages in Mexico" (Mexconnect Mexican Culture and Arts,
  4. Wikipedia, Guanajuato Demographics, Indigenous peoples,