Spatial language and cognition in Mesoamerica


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Cora is a Southern Uto-Aztecan language spoken in Northwest Mexico by around 17, 000 thousand speakers. The data used in this research Project comes from the Meseño dialect of Cora spoken in the towns of Presidio de los Reyes and Santa Cruz del Guaybel. Meseño Cora is an SOV language with a nominative-accusative alignment. It has several sets of clitics and one set of prefixes for marking subject. As a primary object language, it has only one set of prefixes for marking primary object. Morphological causatives are very productive as well as periphrastic ones. The system of applicatives is also very productive since there are few postpositions in the language. Complex sentences are characterized for being finite, and relative clauses are adjoined similar to the Australian type, although in Cora they do not have the adverbial reading. This feature has lead to the fact that Cora is one of the non-configurational languages of Mesoamerica. It does have depictive predicates, middle voice, and it has an innovation for marking plural in inanimates nouns very different from the strategies of the other Uto-Aztecan languages in the Southern area. It is well known for having several locative prefixes that are pervasive in the verb, it lacks the category of adjectives as a lexical word class. These two features, the pervasive system of locative prefixes and the lack of adjectives, as well as the a great deal of cognates in the lexicon, are shared by Huichol, a sister language that forms the corachol branch of Uto-Aztecan.


The Ombeayiüts language (Huave) is one of the languages spoken in the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, in the municipality of San Mateo del Mar. It is a language isolate that has an absolute reference system that are known in the western world as North, South, East and West. This implies a system of coordinates with fixed points of location, that can take into account the point of view of the person and its location, although it doesn't depend on them. This situation is evident in the language, manifested in the system of codification used for spatial location. Another use of the system of reference is related directly with deictics of place used in specific contexts. For instance, in a context in which someone is given the order to go to their room, the sentence is:


¡kalüy           Jose!

 North   José


The only interpretation in this context is ‘José, go to your room!’. It i implied that it means the room, since it is located north (kalüy) respect of José (both the room and José located south of the speaker).


In the case of meronyms, the language has mainly terms for body parts; these terms can be used to name parts of objects in a metaphoric extension that can be applied to small things, like a bottle or big things, like a mountain. Unlike the Indo-European languages in which there are metaphorical extensions of use of body parts on objects parts, in Huave there is a global system of mapping between body parts and object parts.

Huehuetla Tepehua

Huehuetla Tepehua (Totonacan langauge family) is a moribund language that is spoken by fewer than 1,500 people in Huehuetla, Hidalgo and Mecapalapa, Puebla, which are located in the northeast of Mexico. The term Tepehua is an exonym of Nahuatl origin. The Huehuetla Tepehua speakers call themselves Maqalhqama', and they call their language Lhiimaqalhqama'. Tepehua is a polysynthetic, head-marking language with complex morphology that is both prefixing and suffixing. The basic word order tends towards VSO and SVO, but varies depending on clausal pragmatics. Though there is a reference grammar of Hueuetla Tepehua that describes its phonology, morphology, morphosyntax, and syntax (see Kung, A descriptive grammar of Huehuetla Tepehua, PhD dissertation in linguistics, University of Texas at Austin, 2007) the language remains largely under-documented.

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Ayutla Mixe

Ayutla Mixe is a Mixe-Zoque language spoken in Southern Mexico, in the state of Oaxaca. Even though Ayutla Mixe can be regarded as one of the six dialects of South Highlands Mixe -one of the three languages of the proper Mixe branch- each community constitutes the locus of linguistic interaction and it is arguable that each community has a different linguistic system. How different all of the South Highlands Mixe dialects are from each other and even from other Mixe languages is still an unknown matter given the scarce documentation of these languages.

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Pajapan Nawat


P'orhepecha (Tarasco)

Tarascan or P’orhépecha is an isolate language spoken in the northwest of Michoacán, México. It is an agglutinating and dependent-marking language with morphological case of the nominative-accusative type, and Primary Object constructions.  Most of Tarascan’s lexical roots are verb roots from which words functioning as nouns and nominal modifiers are constructed.  There is a set of classificatory verb roots that convey information about form and position of objects.  These roots blend with a rich system of spatial suffixes of  (lexical affixes) in order to allow the localization of objects in space.



The Seri people, or as they refer to themselves, Comcáac, ‘the People’, live along the northern coast of the Sea of Cortez in Sonora, Mexico. As of 2000 (Gordon, 2005), there were about 800 inhabitants of the Comcáac territory.
The Seri language, or cmiique iitom ‘what a Seri person speaks’, is a linguistic isolate. It has been suggested that it is part of the putative Hokan stock (Kroeber, 1915). However, conclusive evidence to support or disprove this relation has yet to materialize (Marlett, 2001).

San Lucas Quiaviní Zapotec

San Lucas Quiaviní Zapotec (SLQZ) is a member of the Central (or Valley) Zapotec dialects. The language is spoken in San Lucas Quiaviní, a community under the jurisdiction of the municipio of Tlacolula, in the central valleys region of the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca. It is also spoken by the growing SLQ sister community in the Los Angeles, CA area. SLQZ, as other Zapotec languages, is VSO; in its phonology, it exhibits fortis/lenis consonantal distinction, complex vowel phonation and tone. Of particular interest to the MesoSpace project is the use of body-part derived terms in spatial description.



Tecpatán Zoque


Yucatec Maya

Yucatec is the largest member of the Yucatecan branch of the Mayan language family. It is spoken by approximately 760,000 people in the Mexican states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucat‡n,  and approximately 5,000 in the Cayo District of Belize (Ethnologue 2005). Yucatec is the language whose autodenomination, Maya, has been adapted by scholars to name the Mayan language family. Dr. Bohnemeyer has worked extensively on the expression of spatial, temporal, and causal relations and on argument structure and lexical aspect in Yucatec.

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