Totonacan languages

Totonacan languages

Infobox Language family
name = Totonacan

region = Mexico
familycolor = American
family = isolated language family (part of the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area)
child1 = Tepehua
child2 = Totonac
iso2 =

The Totonacan Languages are a family of closely-related languages spoken by approximately 200,000 Totonac and Tepehua people in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, and Hidalgo in Mexico. The Totonacan languages are not demonstrably related to any other languages, although they share numerous areal features with other languages of the Mesoamerican Sprachbund, such as the Mayan languages and Nahuatl.


Although the family is traditionally divided into two languages, Totonac and Tepehua, the various dialects thereof are not always mutually intelligible and thus Totonac and Tepehua are better characterized as families in themselves. The following classification is the one made by the Ethnologue, although some of these groups can probably be seen as forming subgroups of their own. Standard terminology is used for the dialects that the Ethnologue names differently from published scholarly works, e.g. "Upper Necaxa Totonac" instead of "Totonac of Patla-Chicontla".


Grammatical traits

Like many American-Indian languages, the Totonacan languages are highly agglutinative and polysynthetic. Furthermore, they exhibit many features of the Mesoamerican areal type, such as a preference for verb-initial order, head-marking, and extensive use of body part roots in metaphorical and locative constructions.

Two features distinctive of Totonacan are worth mentioning in further detail: first, the comitative construction, and secondly, body-part incorporation. Most of the examples that follow are taken from Misantla Totonac, but illustrate processes found in all the Totonacan languages.

The Comitative Construction

Languages of the family have a comitative construction in which both an actor and a co-actor of a verb are specified. For instance, a verb such as 'go' can take a comitative prefix to form a verb meaning 'go with someone', someone being the co-actor. In some of the languages of the family, these constructions specify the co-actor as an object:

:Upper Necaxa Totonac:"ikta:a'na:n" :"ik–ta:–a'n–a:–n":"1sg.sub–COM–go–IMPF–2obj":"I go with you"

In other languages, the co-actor can be inflected as a second subject. For example, a verb "run" may be inflected with both 1st person and 2nd person subject affixes simultaneously to give a sentence meaning "You and I run", "You run with me", or "I run with you".

:"Iklaatsaa'layaa'n.":"Ik-laa-tsaa'la-yaa-'-na":"1s-COM-run-imperf-2s-COM":"You and I run"."

Body-Part Incorporation

The Totonacan languages exhibit noun incorporation, but only special prefixing combing forms of body-part roots may be incorporated. When these roots are incorporated, they serve to delimit the verb's locus of affect; that is, they indicate which part of the subject or object is affected by the action.

:"Ikintsuu'ksaan.":"Ik-kin-tsuu'ks-yaa-na":"1s-nose-kiss-imperf-2o":"I kiss your nose." (Lit: "I nose-kiss you.")

:"Tuuxqatka'n.":"tuu-xqat-kan-' ":"foot-wash-REFL-2s":"You wash your foot/feet" (Lit: "You foot-wash yourself".)

A body-part root acting as a non-agentive subject may also be incorporated.

:"Ikaa'ka'tsan.":"Ik-kaa'k-ka'tsan":"1s-head-hurt":"My head hurts." (Lit: "I head-hurt".)

It is worthwhile to note that Totonacan noun incorporation never decreases the valency of the verb, making Totonacan very typologically unusual. The lack of valency-reducing noun incorporation, which is the cross-linguistically the most common type, may well be due to the very tight semantic restrictions on incorporable nouns.

ound Symbolism

A prominent feature of Totonacan languages is the presence of sound symbolism. Through this trait, the meaning of words can be altered slightly by substituting one consonant for another, e.g. indicating intensification or size.


Totonacan-language programming is carried by the CDI's radio station XECTZ-AM, broadcasting from Cuetzalan, Puebla.


*cite book | author=Anonymous| title=Arte Totonaca. Facsimile edited by Norman McQuown| publisher=UNAM, Mexico
*Harvrefcol|Surname=Arana Osnaya|Given=Evangelina|Year=1953|Title=Reconstruccion del protototonaco|Journal=Revista Mexicana de estudios Antropologicos|Vol=13|Pages=1-10
*Harvrefcol| Surname=Aschman|Given=H.P.|Year=1946 |Title=Totonaco phonemes|Journal=International Journal of Applied Linguistics|Vol=12|Issue=1|Pages=34-43
*Harvrefcol| Surname=Beck|Given=David|Title=Upper Necaxa Totonac|Place=Munich|Publisher=Lincom GmbH |Year=2004 | id=ISBN 3-89586-821-3
*Harvrefcol| Surname1=de Léon|Given1=Lourdes|Given2=Stephen C.|Surname2=Levinson|Year=1992|Title=Spatial Description in Mesoamerican Languages (Introduction)|Journal=Zeitschrift für Phonetik, Sprachwissenschaft und Kommunikationsforschung|Vol=45|Issue=6|Pages=527-29
*Harvrefcol|Surname=Levy|Given=Paulette|Year=1987|Title=Fonologia del Totonaco de Papantla|Publisher=UNAM|Place=Mexico
*Harvrefcol|Surname=Levy|Given=Paulette|Year=1992|Chapter=Body Part Prefixes in Papantla Totonac|Editors=Léon, de Lourdes and Stephen C. Levinson|Title=Spatial Description in Mesoamerican Languages|Pages=530-542
*Harvrefcol|Surname=MacKay|Given=Carolyn|Title=A Grammar of Misantla Totonac |Place=Salt Lake City |Publisher=University of Utah Press|Year=1999|id=ISBN 0-87480-455-8
*Harvrefcol|Surname=McQuown|Given=Norman|Year=1983(1940)|Title=Gramatica lengua totonaca (coatepec, sierra norte de puebla)|Publisher=UNAM|Place=Mexico
*Harvrefcol|Surname1=Reid|Given1=A.A.|Given2=Ruth G.|Surname2=Bishop |Year=1974|Title=Diccionario de Totonaco de Xicotepec de Juarez, Puebla|Place=Mexico D.F.|Publisher=Instituto Lingüístico de Verano (ILV)

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