HISTORY OF MEXICO
An educational project of the
Houston Institute for Culture
INDIGENOUS MEXICO STATISTICS: THE 2005 CONTEO
By John P. Schmal
The results of the 2005 Mexican Conteo (Count) have been published and a comparison with the 2000 Mexican Censo (Census) indicates a decline in the overall number of Mexican citizens who speak indigenous languages. The overall number of indigenous speakers has dropped from 6,044,547 to 6,011,202 persons five years of age and older. This represented a drop in the national percentage of indigenous speakers from 7.2% to 6.7%.
Náhuatl remains the most widely spoken language in Mexico with 1,376,026 persons five years of age and older using that tongue. Náhuatl speakers, in fact, represented 22.89% of the indigenous speakers in the entire Republic in the 20005 Conteo. Some of the other prominent languages are:
2. Maya (759,000 speakers - 12.63% of all indigenous speakers)
3. Mixtec Languages (423,216 - 7.04%)
4. Zapotec Languages (410,901 - 6.84%)
5. Tzeltal (371,730 - 6.18%)
6. Tzotzil (329,937 - 5.49%)
7. Otomí (239,850 - 3.99%)
The Náhuatl, Maya, Mixtec and Zapotec languages are found in considerable numbers in many states far from their traditional homelands, in large part because of migration to the north and urban areas.
The states with the largest number of indigenous speakers are, in terms of absolute numbers and percentages, are:
1. Oaxaca (1,091,502 indigenous speakers - 35.3% of the state population)
2. Yucatán (538,355 speakers - 33.5% of the state population)
3. Chiapas (957,255 speakers - 26.1% of the state population)
4. Quintana Roo (170,982 speakers - 19.3% of the state population)
5. Hidalgo (320,029 - 15.5% of the state population)
6. Guerrero (383,427 - 14.2% of the state population)
7. Campeche (89,084 - 13.3% of the state population)
8. Puebla (548,723 - 11.7% of the state population)
9. San Luis Potosí (234,815 - 11.1% of the state population)
10. Veracruz (605,135 - 9.5% of the state population).
With the exception of the Chiapas dialects, many of the most populous indigenous languages have declined in absolute numbers, possibly due to immigration to the United States and other countries. It is also possible that many indigenous migrants who move from Oaxaca, Puebla, Guerrero, or Campeche to large urban areas in Mexico City or the North may have children who, in the absence of a nurturing mother culture, may tend to assimilate and perhaps stop speaking their mother tongue as they socialize and work with their non-indigenous friends, associates, and neighbors.
We continue to see large numbers of Zapotec and Mixtec speakers dominating the indigenous landscape in many western and northern states, in large part because of decades of migration from Oaxaca to other parts of the country. A long distance from their traditional lands, the Mixtecs represent significant percentages of the indigenous-speaking people in several states, including Baja California (38.2% of indigenous speakers), Baja California Sur (21.5%), Distrito Federal (10.4%), Sinaloa (10.2%) and Estado de México (6.8%).
Similarly, the Zapotecs make up significant portions of the indigenous-speaking populations of several states, including Baja California (9.6%), Baja California Sur (8.7%), Distrito Federal (8.4%), Colima (6.5%) and Sinaloa (5.6%). Nevertheless, both the Zapotec and Mixtec languages saw significant overall population drops between 2000 and 2005 and large-scale immigration to the United States is certainly a compelling factor in that trend.
In the states of the Yucatán Peninsula, the Yucatec Maya dialect continues to dominate. For example, in the State of Yucatán, there are 527,107 Maya speakers, who represent 97.9% of the total indigenous-speaking population of the state.
While many languages have declined in absolute numbers, several of the most important Mayan tongues in Chiapas actually increased between the 2000 Censo and the 2005 Conteo. The five most widely spoken languages of Chiapas have all increased in absolute numbers:
1. Tzeltal (362,658 indigenous speakers - 37.9% of the state's indigenous population)
2. Tzotzil (320,921 indigenous speakers - 33.5%)
3. Chol (161,794 speakers - 16.9%)
4. Zoque (43,936 speakers - 4.6%)
5. Tojolabal (42,798 - 4.5%)
This increase may be related to the high visibility and sense of pride that many Chiapas Indians have begun to feel towards their indigenous heritage, and, in fact, people who did not previously speak Tzotzil or Tzeltal fluently, may be learning the language to take part in the Cultural Renaissance now occurring.
The Náhuatl language continues to dominate many of the Mexican states. In Veracruz, for example, the 318,626 Náhuatl speakers make up 52.7% of the State's indigenous speakers. The other widely spoken languages in Veracruz are the Totonac (19.2%), Huasteco (8.4%), Popoluca (5.3%), and Otomí (2.8%).
The Tarahumara Indians, one of the few surviving remnants of Chihuahua's indigenous heritage, continue to represent 77.3% of Chihuahua's people who speak Indian languages. But indigenous speakers only represent 3.4% of the total state population five years of age and older.
In Sonora, the two surviving traditional languages still dominate the indigenous-speaking population: the Mayo number 24,470 people (47.3%) and the Yaqui number 13,552 people (14.7%). But, here again, the indigenous speakers represent only 2.5% of Sonora's entire population five years of age and older.
Mexico's total population increased from 97,483,412 in the 2000 Censo to 103,263,388 in the 2005 Conteo. Interestingly, women outnumber men by 51.34% by 48.66%, a telling reminder that many breadwinners may have left the country to find gainful employment elsewhere.
Below is a graphic interpretation, illustrating the contrast in the indigenous speaking populations of Mexico's states between the 2000 Censo and the 2005 Conteo:
Below is a second illustration indicating the evolution of Mexico's indigenous languages in terms of their total numbers within the Mexican Republic.
Copyright © 2007, by John P. Schmal. All rights reserved.
Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (INEGI). Conteos de Población y Vivienda, 2005.
John Schmal is an historian, genealogist, and lecturer. With his friend Donna Morales, he coauthored "Mexican-American Genealogical Research: Following the Paper Trail to Mexico" (Heritage Books, 2002) and "The Dominguez Family: A Mexican-American Journey" (Heritage Books, 2004). He has degrees in History (Loyola-Marymount University) and Geography (St. Cloud State University) and is a board member of the Society of Hispanic Historical Ancestral Research (SHHAR). He is an associate editor of SHHAR's online monthly newsletter, www.somosprimos.com. John is presently collaborating with illustrator Eddie Martinez on a manuscript entitled "Indigenous Mexico: Past and Present."
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