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Native American languages

Languages of Mexico and Central America

Of the languages of Mexico and Central America, about 24 linguistic groups, or stocks, have been identified; it is still not clear which of these can be classified together to reduce the number of groups. Among these groups is Yuman, whose tongues are spoken in Baja California and are related to the Yuman languages found in the United States. In both, Yuman falls within the larger Hokan-Siouan classification, which, in Mexico and parts of Central America, also includes the Coahuiltecan, Guaycuran, and Jicaque stocks, or groups. The Otomian stock (current in central Mexico and including the Otomí language) forms part of the larger Macro-Otomanguean division, in which the Mixtecan and Zapotecan stocks of Mexico are often placed. The Nahuatlan group, as indicated earlier, is classified under Uto-Aztecan, some of whose languages are found in Mexico and parts of Central America. Uto-Aztecan is itself a branch of the greater Aztec-Tanoan stock. Nahuatl, or Aztec, is a language of the Nahuatlan group. Mayan, which is found in Yucatán and parts of Central America and to which the language Maya belongs, is part of the larger Penutian linguistic stock. The Penutian stock also has as members the Huave, Mixe-Zoque, and Totonacan branches, whose languages are spoken in Mexico and Guatemala. In Mexico and parts of Central America, there are still about 4 million speakers of the modern dialects of Maya proper, which was the official language of the ancient Mayan empire before the Spanish conquest of the New World. The languages of two South American stocks, Cariban and Chibchan, can also be found in Central America.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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