Beyond Spanish


Mexico has an incredibly rich linguistic heritage that is present in every aspect of Mexicans’ lives - and yours too! Many of the words you use are derived from nahua words, like “chocolate”, “coyote” and “chipotle”.

The local language

Mexico is one of the few countries in the world that does not have an official language. It does, however, boast an impressive 68 indigenous languages apart from Spanish. These 68 languages are recognized by the government and can always be used in official communications. These languages are part of 11 linguistic families and they have 364 variants across the country. Over a hundred indigenous languages have already been forgotten, and many more are at risk of disappearing. This led to the creation of the Law of Linguistic Rights to protect indigenous tongues. While Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in Mexico, more than 7.4 million people speak an indigenous one. Of those 7.4 million, around 7.1 million speak Nahuatl. Apart from Nahuatl, the other most widely spoken languages are Mayan, Tseltal, and Mixteco. 

Some of these languages have been passed on through generations for more than 2,000 years - an impressive feat considering they were banned from being spoken as far back as the period following the 1521 conquest of Mexico, and have only recently been protected under law. 

Languages are subtly ingrained into every part of a Mexican’s life, from the food people eat to displays of emotion. Indigenous languages have an innate spirituality that is hard to find elsewhere. For example, in Mayan you ask, “wach’ am ak’o’o”, which means: ‘Are you okay inside?’ These linguistic nuances shape the way Mexicans interact with each other.

Further reading

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