Spanish Reference Library

Languages in Mexico

Many different languages are spoken in Mexico. The Mexican government recognizes 68 national languages (63 of which are indigenous)., including around 350 dialects of those languages. Mexican Sign Language is spoken by much of the deaf population, and there are one or two indigenous sign languages as well.


The name "Mixteco" is of Nahuatl orogin, from mix 'cloud' and teka 'inhabitant of the place of'. Speakers of Mixtec use an expression (which varies by dialect) to refer to their own language: dzaha dzavui; or dzaha Ñudzahui.

The Mixtec languages are closely related to the Trique and Cuicatec languages. They are spoken by over half a million people. Identifying how many Mixtec languages there are in this complex dialect continuum poses some challenges. Depending on the criteria for separating dialects from languages, there may be as many as fifty Mixtec languages.


Nahuatl (also known as Aztec) is a language or group of languages of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Varieties of Nahuatl are spoken today by about 1.7 million Nahua peoples, most of whom live in central Mexico.

Many words from Nahuatl have been borrowed into Spanish and, from there, into countless other languages. Most of these loanwords denote things indigenous to central Mexico which the Spanish heard mentioned for the first time by their Nahuatl names. English words of Nahuatl origin include avocado, chayote, chili, chocolate, atlatl, coyote, peyote, axolotl and tomato.

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For the most part, Spanish is the dominate language in Mexico and is spoken and understood by the majority of the population (in the latest census, 89% of the Mexican population speaks or understands Spanish).

Even though the government of Mexico uses Spanish for most official purposes, it is not an official primary language. The Law of Linguistic Rights establishes Spanish as one of the country's national languages, along with the indigenous languages.

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Yucatec Maya

Yucatec Maya (Màaya t'àan) is a Mayan language spoken in the Yucatán Peninsula and northern Belize. To native speakers, the proper name is Maya and it is known only as Maya. The word "Yucatec" is what the language world uses to distinguish it from other Mayan languages (such as K'iche' and Itza'). Thus the use of the term Yucatec Maya to refer to the language is scientific jargon or nomenclature.

In the Mexican states of Yucatán, some parts of Campeche, Tabasco, Chiapas, and Quintana Roo, Maya remains many speakers' first language today, with 800,000 speakers. There are 6,000 speakers in Belize.

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The Zapotec languages are a group of around 50 closely related indigenous languages spoken by the Zapotec people from the southwestern-central highlands of Mexico. The 2010 Mexican census reports 425,000 speakers, with the majority inhabiting the state of Oaxaca. Zapotec-speaking communities are also found in the neighboring states of Puebla, Veracruz, and Guerrero. Due to Labor Migration in the United States, California and New Jersey also have a large number of Zapotec speakers. Most Zapotec-speaking communities are highly bilingual in Spanish.

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Other Languages

In addition to the indigenous languages, other minority languages are spoken by immigrant populations, such as Arabic, the German-speaking Mennonites, and speakers of the Chipilo dialect of the Venetian language.


1. Facts and Statistics

2. Languages in Mexico

    a. Mixtec

    b. Nahuatl

    c. Spanish

    d. Yucatec Maya

    e. Zapotec

3. Culture & Society

4. Social Etiquette and Customs

5. Dining Etiquette

    a. Table Manners

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