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Documentation of Matlatzinca, an Oto-Manguean language of Mexico

Deposit page image for the collection "Documentation of Matlatzinca, an Oto-Manguean language of Mexico"

Landing page image for the collection “Documentation of Matlatzinca, an Oto-Manguean language of Mexico”. People in the photograph: Leonardo Carranza, Filigonia Torres; Photographer: Luis Armando Salazar; Year: 2018; Caption: Filigonia Torres and Leonardo Carranza talk in Matlatzinca in July 2018 about the plants in San Francisco Oxtotilpan (State of Mexico, Mexico), while Luis Salazar records them. Click on image to access collection.

Language Matlatzinca
Depositor Enrique L. Palancar
Affiliation CNRS – Structure et Dynamique des Langues (SeDyL), Paris-Villejuif
Location Mexico
Collection ID 0455
Grant ID MDP0351
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This project is documenting Matlatzinca, an endangered Oto-Manguean language of Mexico, spoken in the village of San Francisco Oxtotilpan in the State of Mexico. We have collected a great number of high-quality videos involving interviews carried out in Matlatzinca, which are mainly about life stories, anecdotes and cultural traditions. Much of the material has been transcribed and translated. We are currently focusing on annotation in ELAN. The project will also produce a book with texts on Matlatzinca folklore and history. Most of the documentation activities are carried out by members of the community based in San Francisco Oxtotilpan.


Group represented

Matlatzinca is still a vibrant language in the community because it still has young speakers, but the language ceased to be passed on to children about 20 years ago. We have so far worked with 26 different speakers. We have targeted mature speakers because they are regarded as the ones that speak the most prestigious form of the language having been brought up in a monolingual environment. This is a project that is perceived by the community as a community project. The project has created a sense of pride and a sense of trust that things are moving in the right direction. This is always positive for community spirit. Matlatzinca is only spoken in San Francisco Oxtotilpan. The closest and completely unintelligible sister language is Tlahuica, spoken about a 100 kms to the east of the village as the crow flies. Because of this, the indigenous community at San Francisco Oxtotilpan has a strong sense of being unique among other indigenous peoples of Mexico. The downside of this from the scientific perspective is that this self-awareness has also produced a sense of mistrust against everyone who is a foreigner to the community, and who is judged by some to come to take advantage of this cultural uniqueness for their own purposes. This is not always good; especially for science. However, the fact that the project is actively carried out by people from the community has opened almost all doors to us. In other words, the vast majority of the people we have spoken to have given us their full support. Most speakers feel confounded by the fact that the language is no longer spoken by the younger generations, they do not understand why this is happening, and see the project as a possible opportunity to overturn this state of affairs. We have explained that the project’s aim is not to revitalise the language, but to set up the base and the right materials for possible revitalisation projects, should they happen in the future.


Language information

Matlatzinca is spoken in Mexico in the village of San Francisco Oxtotilpan, municipality of Temascaltepec in the State of Mexico. The closest language to Matlatzinca is Tlahuica (also known as Ocuiltec or Atzingo Matlatzinca). They are sister languages although mutually unintelligible. They both derive from a common ancestor language once spoken in the 5th c. AD by the different Matlatzinca tribes living in the Toluca Valley of Central Mexico. This valley was known as “Matlatzinco” in Nahuatl, thus the name “Matlatzinca” for both the inhabitants and their language. Matlatzinca and Tlahuica form the Atzincan branch of Otomian, and they are distantly related to Mazahua and the Otomi languages. All such languages belong to the Oto-Pamean branch of the Oto-Manguean phylum of Mesoamerica.


Collection contents

This collection is a corpus of linguistic and cultural data of the Matlatzinca people through many testimonies in the Matlatzinca language. The database will consist of 30 hours of linguistic and cultural manifestations of San Francisco Oxtotilpan. The collection includes 15 hours of transcribed materials translated into Spanish, and of these, 10 hours are glossed and annotated. The inguistic data contains narrative texts, spontaneous conversations, instructions and other natural uses of the language in cultural context. The collection also includes samples of the ‘choyata speech’; a special speech used for ceremonial purposes still mastered by a few members of the community. The samples of choyata speech include a version with a careful articulation, annotated and translated, and samples in actual, natural performance. To the audio-visual materials, we have also annotated one hour of a collection of few raw materials dating from the 90’s archived in AILLA.

The collection also includes a book of selected oral narratives on Matlatzinca folklore, mythology and history of San Francisco Oxtotilpan compiled from the database. The book includes an edited version of the texts in both Matlatzinca and Spanish followed by the texts in their natural oral rendition. There is also a glossary and a basic grammar of Matlatzinca.

There is also a small dictionary of Matlatzinca that includes terms for representative items of the material culture of the village, terms for the flora and fauna, and an addendum of toponyms for both natural accidents and settlements. The dictionary was the outcome of community efforts and is intended to serve as material for use in language revitalization workshops.
We have just completed Y2 of the project. So far the collection contains the following materials:

    More than 27 hours of recorded audio-visual interviews
    2 hrs of translated-only material (into Spanish)
    13 hrs of transcribed and translated material
    3 hrs of fully annotated materials (transcribed, translated and glossed)


Other information

None of the data in this collection may be used as evidence in any court


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Palancar, Enrique L. & Leonardo Carranza. 2019. Documentation of Matlatzinca, an Oto-Manguean language of Mexico. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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