Tlapanec language

Last updated
Native to Mexico
Region Guerrero, Morelos
Ethnicity Tlapanec
Native speakers
150,000 (2020 census) [1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Variously:
tcf   Malinaltepec (east)
tpc   Azoyú (south)
tpl   Tlacoapa (central)
tpx   Acatepec (west)
qpc Tlapanec
Glottolog subt1249   Tlapanec + Subtiaba
ELP Tlapanec
Otomanguean Languages.png
Tlapanec (Ochre, number 13) and the rest of the modern Oto-Manguean languages

Tlapanec /ˈtlæpənɛk/ , or Mephaa, is an indigenous Mexican language spoken by more than 98,000 Tlapanec people in the state of Guerrero. [2] Like other Oto-Manguean languages, it is tonal and has complex inflectional morphology. The ethnic group themselves refer to their ethnic identity and language as Me̱pha̱a̱[meʔpʰaː]. [3]


Before much information was known about it, Tlapanec (sometimes written "Tlappanec" in earlier publications) was either considered unclassified or linked to the controversial Hokan language family. It is now definitively considered part of the Oto-Manguean language family, of which it forms its own branch along with the extinct and very closely related Subtiaba language of Nicaragua. [4]

Mephaa people temporarily move to other locations, including Mexico City, Morelos and various locations in the United States, for reasons of work.


Ethnologue distinguishes four Tlapanec languages: [5]

Other sources of information, including native speakers and the Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas of the Mexican government, identify eight or nine varieties, which have been given official status: Acatepec, Azoyú, Malinaltepec, Tlacoapa, Nancintla, Teocuitlapa, Zapotitlán Tablas (with Huitzapula sometimes considered distinct), Zilacayotitlán. [6] These share mutual intelligibility of 50% between Malinaltepec and Tlacoapa, though Acatepec has an 80% intelligibility of both.

The Azoyú variety is the only natural language reported to have used the pegative case, though it is verbal case like other 'case' markers in Tlapanec. [7]


Tlapanec is an ergative–absolutive language. However, while most languages of this type have an overt ergative case, Tlapanec is one of the rare examples of a marked absolutive language, that is, an ergative language that overtly marks the absolutive and leaves the ergative unmarked. [8]


The following presents one view of the phonology of the Malinaltepec Tlapanec language, [9] but a view that looks at Tlapanec language with a broader view has resulted in a quite different analysis. [10]


Front Central Back
Close oral i u
nasal ĩ ĩː ũ ũː
Mid oral e o
nasal ẽː õ õː
Open oral a
nasal ã ãː


Bilabial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless t͡s t͡ʃ
voiced d͡ʒ
Fricative s ʂ h
Nasal m n ɲ
Rhotic r
Approximant l j w

Allophones of the sounds /vbɡʂnr/ include [fβɣʃŋɾ~ʐ]. In the existence of the cluster /hw/, an allophone [ ɸ ] may be heard.

The glottal stop is written with a saltillo Ꞌ ꞌ.


Tlapanec-language programming is carried by the CDI's radio station XEZV-AM, broadcasting from Tlapa de Comonfort, Guerrero.


  1. Lenguas indígenas y hablantes de 3 años y más, 2020 INEGI. Censo de Población y Vivienda 2020.
  2. INEGI 2005
  3. Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas. 2008. Catálogo de las lenguas indígenas nacionales: Variantes lingüísticas de México con sus autodenominaciones y referencias geoestadísticas. Diario Oficial 14 enero, Primera Sección: 31–78, Segunda Sección: 1–96, Tercera Sección: 1–112.
  4. See Suárez (1977; 1986).
  5. Computer-generated list of Tlapanec languages at Ethnologue (2013)
  6. A 2008 proposal to divide the ISO code for Acatepec into Acatepec proper, Teocuitlapa, Zapotitlan Tablas, and Huitsapula was rejected.
  7. Wichmann (2005).
  8. Donohue, Mark (2008).
  9. Weathers, Mark and Esther L. (1984). A Sketch of Malinaltepec Tlapanec Phonology.
  10. Marlett, Stephen; Weathers, Mark (2018). "The sounds of Me'phaa: A new assessment". SIL-Mexico Electronic Working Papers. 25: 1–31.

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