Huave language

Huave language

Infobox language
speakers=>18,000 (1990 (Ethnologue))
fam2=Language isolate

Huave (also spelled Wabe) is a language isolate spoken by the indigenous Huave people on the Pacific coast of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The language is spoken in four villages on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the southeast of the state, by around 18,000 people (see table below). The Huave people of San Mateo del Mar — who call themselves "Ikoots", meaning "us" — refer to their language as "ombeayiiüts," meaning "our language". The term "Huave" is thought to come from the Zapotec languages, meaning "people of the sea".

Although there has been proposed genetic relationships between the Huave language and several language families, none of these have been substantiated and Huave remains considered an isolate (Campbell 1997 pg. 161). Paul Radin proposed a relationship between Huave and the Mayan and Mixe-Zoquean languages, and Morris Swadesh proposed a connection to the Oto-Manguean languages which has been further investigated by Rensch (1976), but all proposals have been inconclusive.

While still in use in most domains of the social life in at least two of the four villages where Huave is spoken, it is an endangered language and recently, fieldwork and revitalization projects has been carried out in the Huave communities by American Universities.


Huave of San Mateo del Mar is partly tonal, distinguishing between high and low tone in penultimate syllables only. Huave is one of only two Mesoamerican languages not to have a phonemic glottal stop (the other is P'urhépecha).

The phonemic inventory, reconstructed for the common ancestor of the four existing Huave varieties as presented in Campbell 1997, is as follows:

Consonants — IPA| [p, t, ʦ, k, kʷ, mb, nd, ŋɡ, ɡʷ, s, l, r, w, h] (and IPA| [ɾ, j, ð] as marginal phonemes)

Vowels — IPA| [i, e, a, ɨ, o, u] (+ vowel length, low and high tone).

Reduplication is a very productive phonological process in Huave.


Huave is spoken in the four coastal towns of San Francisco del Mar, San Dionisio del Mar, San Mateo del Mar and Santa Catarina del Mar. The most vibrant speech community is in San Mateo del Mar which was fairly isolated until recently. Negative speakers' attitudes towards their language and a strong social pressure from the dominant Spanish language are the main reasons for the endangerment of Huave.

ample of written Huave

The Huave do not have a standard orthography for their language. The following text-sample is a passage from the New Testament (Mark 1:36). []

"Quiaj tasaj nejiw Teat Jesús":

—"Masey, nganüy tabaats tiül meáwan cambaj najlüy ninguiájan naquiaach quiaj aton, cos áag tiünas narang —aj nejiw"


* Campbell, Lyle, 1997, "American Indian Languages - The historical linguistics of Native America", Oxford studies in Anthropological Linguistics, Oxford University Press
* Suaréz, Jorge A, 1975, "Estudios Huaves", Collección Lingüistica 22 INAH, Mexico.
* Radin, P, 1929, "Huave Texts", International Journal of American Linguistics 5, 1-56
* Rensch, Calvin R,1976 "Oto-Manguean isoglosses" In "Diachronic, areal and typological linguistics", ed. Thomas Sebeok 295-316 Mouton, the Hague

External links

* [ soundsample from the New testament read aloud in Huave at the Bible League website]
* [ Information from the University of Pennsylvania about Huave]
* [ A .pdf file with sociolinguistic information about Huave from UC Berkeley]
* [ A practical description of Huave of San Mateo del Mar can be read online at the Archivo de Lenguas indigenás]
* [ Ethnographical description of the Huave people at the INI homepage] (Spanish)

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