San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya is located in the Tlacolula Valley in Oaxaca, Mexico. Tlacochahuaya is about 18 kilometers east of Oaxaca City, a 40-minute drive from the city’s historical center, and has around 2,300 inhabitants. Like most towns in the area, there are three parts of Tlacochahuaya’s name. San Jerónimo (Saint Jerome) is the patron saint of the town. Tlacochahuaya is the town’s Nahuatl name, and the official name used by the state. And of course, Tlacochahuaya also has a Zapotec name: Zunni ro’o. Incidentally, the word Zapotec also comes from Nahuatl. In Tlacochahuaya, they call Zapotec people Bënza, and the language is Dizhsa.
The word Zapotec does not refer to a single language, but to a language family containing dozens of individual languages. The Zapotec language family has a high level of dialect variation; in the Tlacolula Valley, every town speakers a slightly distinct variety of Zapotec. This forms what linguists call a “dialect chain”, where any two towns next to each other will be quite similar, but towns on opposite ends of the chain will speak very differently. In this context, the difference between a “language” and a “dialect” is hard to define. Tlacochahuaya Zapotec is certainly its own variety within the Valley, but for example it has many similarities to the Zapotec spoken in San Lucas Quiaviní (near Tlacolula, which is marked in orange on the map above).
Tlacochahuaya Zapotec grammar is something I’ll expand upon in other posts (click here for all posts about Zapotec), but here are some basic facts:
|'Tomorrow, Juan will harvest corn'|
In Tlacochahuaya, the youngest (fluent) speaker of Zapotec is in his early 40s. Because children are no longer learning the language — and because of the socioeconomic and cultural pressure of Spanish — linguists consider Tlacochahuaya Zapotec to be highly endangered. There are some towns in the Tlacolula Valley where Zapotec is still spoken by children, but this is very rare, partly because of discrimination against indigenous languages in schools. However, activists in Tlacochahuaya have started language workshops for both adults and children, which are generously supported by the local government.
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