Zapotec Language Interpreters and Translators

Cal Interpreting & Translations (CIT) offers Zapotec (or Zapoteco) interpreters and translators with legal, medical, and specialty experience, including criminal and civil matters, employee meetings, engineering, patent cases, labor disputes, immigration, and more.

CIT offers comprehensive Zapotec language services including interpretation, translation, and transcription, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, worldwide. Our interpreters and translators are native speakers who have been screened, certified, provided credentials, field tested, and kept up to date with developments in both English and Zapotec languages through means such as lectures, conferences, and travel.  Cal Interpreting & Translations’ Zapotec language interpreters and translators possess in depth knowledge of the Zapotec language, as well as of the culture and history of the Zapotec people, allowing them to provide informed and complete interpretation and translation.

 

A History of the Zapotec Civilization

The Zapotec civilization was an indigenous civilization from the Valley of Oaxaca. Zapotec culture dates back more than 2,500 years. The name Zapotec comes from the Nahuatl term for “inhabitants of the place of sapote” (sapote is an edible fruit that grows throughout Mexico). The ancient city, Monte Alban, was home to the Zapotec people, and the site that the Zapotec left many archeological artifacts, including buildings, tombs, elaborate jewelry, and more. Monte Alban was one of the first cities in Mesoamerica, and was the center of the Zapotec state. The Zapotec territory covered much of the modern day state of Oaxaca.

The Zapotec civilization began in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca in the late 6th century BC. The three valleys of Oaxaca were divided into three separate societies. These societies were separated by large swaths of “no-man’s-land”. Archeological evidence shows that these three societies competed and warred against each other. However, sometime around 500 BC, the valley’s greatest settlement, San Jose Mogote, lost most of their numbers. During the same time, the remaining people from San Jose Mogote as well as the Zapotec people form the other settlements came together, likely against a threatening outside force, according to archeologists. They formed a large settlement on top of a mountain overlooking the three settlements, which would eventually become Monte Alban. The Zapotec civilization began expanding at this point, and today artifacts are often found in regions outside the valley, suggesting that the Zapotec people colonized and conquered many surrounding civilizations.

 

A History of a Language

Zapotec belongs to the ancient Oto-manguean language family. Linguists estimate that modern day Oto-manguean languages branched off from a common root language sometime around 1500 BC. The Zapotecan language group includes the Zapotec languages, as well as the closely related Chatino.

Today, Zapotec is spoken in parts of the Northern Sierra, the Southern Sierra, the Central Valleys, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and parts of the Pacific Coast in Mexico.

 

Zapotec Languages and Dialects

There are seven different Zapotec languages, and over a hundred dialects. The Mexican government officially recognizes sixty dialects. There are an estimated 425,000 Zapotec speakers currently living in Mexico, mainly in Oaxaca. Zapotec communities also exist in Puebla, Veracruz, and Guerrero. Due to labor migration, there is also a large diaspora of Zapotec speakers in Los Angeles and New Jersey.

Many varieties of Zapotec are mutually unintelligible. Zapotec is divided into four broad geographic groups: Zapoteco de la Sierra Norte (Northern Zapotec), Valley Zapotec, Zapoteco de la Sierra Sur (Southern Zapotec), and Isthmus Zapotec. The northern Zapotec languages are linked to the Northern Sierra Madre mountain range in Oaxaca, the southern Zapotec languages are spoken in the Southern Sierra Madre mountains, Valley Zapotec languages are spoken in the Valley of Oaxaca, and Isthmus Zapotec languages are linked to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, though Valley Zapotec and Isthmus Zapotec are often grouped together as Central Zapotec. This broad division ignores the Papabuco and Western Zapotec dialects.

Zapotec, as a tonal language, consists of four tonemes: high, low, rising, and falling. The meaning and context of words is thereby determined by the pitch or tone.

 

Zapotec Today

In the 16th century Franciscan friars published a grammar and vocabulary of Zapotec. In the last hundred years efforts have been made to create Zapotec orthographies and written documentation. In the 1950’s the Isthmus Zapotec alphabet was founded. This alphabet is in use today.

Though in the past the Zapotec languages were not thoroughly studied and documented, in more recent years the languages have begun to receive serious linguistic academic attention.

The number of speakers and therefore the language’s status varies widely from variety to variety. For example, Loxicha Zapotec has over 70,000 active speakers, while San Felipe Tejalapan Zapotec has maybe ten speakers remaining, all elderly. Sadly, government teachers historically discouraged students from using Zapotec, contributing greatly to the loss of the language. Today, some areas still reportedly punish children for speaking their mother tongue in public schools, while some areas, such as the Isthmus, proudly encourage their children to speak Zapotec and maintain their heritage.