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Multidialectal orthography and the writing of vowels in Mixe

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Title: Multidialectal orthography and the writing of vowels in Mixe
Authors: Romero-Méndez, Rodrigo
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: This paper deals with the challenges of achieving a unified writing system for all Oaxaca Mixe languages, something that many community members deem necessary for defending the identity and culture of the Mixe people.

The Mixe orthography was created in the 80’s as the result of the collaboration between community members and linguists (cf. Valiñas, 1991). One explicit goal of that process was to create a single writing system for all the dialects. Nowadays, this system is a wide spread orthography as it is used almost officially in some communities, it appears in recent publications (Díaz, 2008; Zavala, 2013a, b; inter alia), and it is taught in some high schools and in two colleges throughout the Mixe territory. It is intended to be a deep orthography (Seifart, 2006; Katz & Frost, 1992; inter alia), with a high correspondence between phonemes and graphemes (Reyes, 2005). While it can be easily adapted to write the consonants for all dialects, it has several problems for writing vowels.

Due to the lack of phonological descriptions thirty years ago, the vowels systems of many Mixe languages were not taken into account. Furthermore, there was little understanding of the phonological processes that changed the vowel systems from six vowels in proto-Mixe (Wichmann, 1995) to a range of six to nine (or even ten) vowels in the present day Mixe languages (Author, forthcoming). Thus, it was difficult to realize that seemingly phonetically equivalent vowels are phonologically different across dialects and how differently sounding vowels are in fact phonologically equivalent between two given dialects. Thus, in many cases there is disagreement as to how some vowels should be represented. In addition, for some communities, using different conventions for writing vowels provides a distinctive identity (Suslak, 2003).
Based on a comparative study of the vowel system in twenty six Mixe dialects (Author, forthcoming), this paper shows how the problems for writing vowels could been solved once there was a better understanding of the phonological processes that changed the vowel systems in Mixe languages. However, this solution would involve a compromise between a deep and a shallow writing system. Finally, I will discuss how non-linguistic factors make very difficult to actually achieve the desire of having a unified orthography.


Author. Forthcoming. La evolución de los timbres vocálicos en lenguas mixes. Los efectos de la palatalización. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Díaz, J. G. 2008. Ii’pyxyukpët Ayuujk. México: CEA-UIIA

Katz, L. & R. Frost. 1992. The reading process is different for different orthograpies: The orthographic depth hypothesis. In Frost y Katz (eds.) Orthography, phonology, morphology, and meaning, pp. 67-84. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Reyes, J. C. 2005. Aportes al proceso de enseñanza aprendizaje de la lectura y la escritura de la lengua ayuuk. Oaxaca, México: CEA-UIIA.

Seifart, F. 2006. Orthography development. In Gippert, Himmelmann & Mosel (eds.), Essentials of Language Documentation, pp. 275-299. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Suslak, D. 2003. The story of ö: Orthography and cultural politics in the Mixe Highlands. Pragmatics 13 (4): 551-563.

Valiñas, L. 1991. Apuntes para una dialectología del mixe. Anales de Antroplogía 28: 437-456.

Wichmann, S. 1995. The relationship among the Mixe-Zoquean languages of Mexico. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Zavala, L. (comp.). 2013a. Nëwempët matya’aky. Aguilar (trad.). México: Ediciones del Hermitaño.

Zavala, L. (comp.). 2013b. Nëwempït matyä’äky. Comix (trad.). México: Ediciones del Hermitaño.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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