From the United States to Oaxaca, the Zapotec language of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec refuses to disappear


Juan Francisco Esteva works at the University of Berkeley to form collaborative groups focused on promoting Zapotec, achieving the formation of the Colectivo Binni Ranaxhi Didxazá/People who love Zapotec. The first product they finalized is a lottery in Zapotec with elements of everyday life.

Juchitán.— It all started a year ago with a call posted on Facebook by Juan Francisco Esteva, a Zapotec from Santo Domingo Tehuantepec who works at the University of Berkeley, United States, to form collaborative groups focused on promoting Zapotec among speakers and non-speakers. , thus achieving the formation of the Collective Binni Ranaxhi Didxazá/People who love Zapotec.

This group began to form with Istmeños living in different states of the Mexican Republic and in the United States, all concerned about the critical situation that the language is going through, due to a marked loss of speakers. 

With video calls on the Zoom platform and the support of the University of Berkeley, in California, USA, to carry out Zapotec analysis and teaching workshops, the Covid-19 contingency was the ideal pretext to organize the first virtual candle.


The first product that the collective created is a lottery in Zapotec with elements of everyday life. The board game is the result of a year of work.

The main concern of the group is the loss of Zapotec due to various factors such as social discrimination, not promoting its daily use, loss of identity, lack of interest of mothers, fathers and society in the teaching of the mother tongue among the new generations. .

Víctor Miguel Cruz Ortiz, a retired professor from the National Pedagogical University ( UPN ), explains that the board game, known colloquially as chalupa, is designed for natives and non-natives of the Isthmus, so that they can identify the intonation used in the written word of the letters.

Agonizan lenguas originarias en el Istmo: en una década, 24 municipios  perdieron hablantes | Oaxaca

For the writing, the rules established by the researchers and teachers Desiderio Degyves Ruiz and Manuel López Mateos in the book Runda Didxa-zá Ti Preu were taken as a basis.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Information ( Inegi ), Zapotec is going through a crisis that extends to more than 20 municipalities, since so many speakers have been lost in a decade that it is considered that this language is moving towards a slow extinction.

In 24 of the 43 municipalities in the region, a collapse ranging from 1% to 30% is observed.

Of this group, some such as Mixtequilla barely reach 1.5% of speakers. Of its 4,690 inhabitants, only 71 retain a language.

In Tehuantepec, for example, out of 67,739 inhabitants, there are only 8% Zapotec speakers. This municipality went from 5 thousand 517 speakers in 2010, to 5 thousand 428 in 2020, all adults.

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