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Trique Language

The Triqui (/ˈtriːki/), or Trique, languages are Oto-Manguean languages of Mexico spoken by the Trique people of the state of Oaxaca and the state of Baja California (due to recent population movements). They belong to the Mixtecan branch together with the Mixtec languages and Cuicatec.

oto-manguean mexico cuicatec

1. Varieties

Ethnologue lists three major varieties:

  • Triqui de Copala spoken by 15,000 people (1990 census) in San Juan Copala, Oaxaca (and recently due to migrations in the San Quintín valley, Baja California).
  • Triqui de San Andrés Chicahuaxtla spoken by 6,000 people in San Andrés Chicahuaxtla, Oaxaca.
  • Triqui de San Martín Itunyoso spoken by 2,000 people (1983 survey) in San Martín Itunyoso, Oaxaca.

Mexico's federal agency for its indigenous languages, Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas (INALI), identifies four varieties of Trique in its Catálogo de las lenguas indígenas nacionales published in early 2008.[1] The variants listed by INALI are:

Varieties of Triqui (trique), per INALI[2]
Variant (name in Spanish) Autonym Localities
Triqui de San Juan Copala xnánj nu' a Oaxaca: Santiago Juxtlahuaca
Triqui de La Media sná'ánj nì' Oaxaca: San Martín Itunyoso
Triqui de La Alta nánj nï'ïn Oaxaca: Putla Villa de Guerrero
Triqui de La Baja tnanj ni'inj Oaxaca: Constancia del Rosario, Putla Villa de Guerrero

2. Phonology

All varieties of Triqui are tonal and have complex phonologies. The tone system of Copala Triqui is the best described and has eight tones.[3]

Tones in Triqui languages are typically written with superscript numbers,[3] so that chraa5 'river' indicates the syllable chraa with the highest (5) tone, while cha3na1 'woman' has the middle (3) tone on the first syllable and the lowest (1) tone on the second syllable.

Of the Triqui languages, the Copala dialect has undergone the most vowel loss, with many non-final syllables losing their vowels. The result, as in many other Oto-Manguean languages, is a complex set of consonant clusters. So, for instance, the word si5kuj5 'cow' in Itunyoso Triqui corresponds to skuj5 in Copala Triqui.

The tonal phonology of other Triqui languages is more complex than Copala Triqui. The tone system of Itunyoso Triqui has nine tones.[4] The tone system of Chicahuaxtla Triqui has at least 10 tones [5] but may have as many as 16.[6]

3. Orthography

Triqui has been written in a number of different orthographies, depending on the intended audience. Linguists typically write the language with all tones fully marked and all phonemes represented. However, in works intended for native speakers of Triqui, a practical orthography is often used with a somewhat simpler representation.

The following Copala Triqui example is written in both the linguistic and the practical orthographies:[7]

Practical orthography Me síí rihaan a'mii so' ga
Linguistic Me3 zii5 riaan32 a'mii32 zo'1 ga2
Gloss wh 3rd person to speak 2nd person interrogative

'To whom are you speaking?' (¿Con quién estás hablando?)

4. Morphology

Triqui morphology is fairly limited. Verbs take a /k-/ prefix (spelled c- or qu-) to show completive aspect:

A'mii32 zo'1. 'You are speaking'.

C-a'mii32 zo'1. 'You spoke'.

The same /k-/ prefix plus a tonal change shows the potential aspect:

C-a'mii2 zo'1. 'You will speak.'

The tonal changes associated with the potential aspect are complex but always involve lowering the tone of the root (Hollenbach 1984).

There are also complex phonological processes that are triggered by the presence of root-final clitic pronouns. These pronouns (especially the first- and the second-person singular) may change the shape of the stem or alter its tone.

As a language subfamily, Triqui is interesting for having a large tonal inventory, complex morphophonology, and interesting syntactic phenomena, much of which has yet to be described.

5. Syntax

Copala Triqui has a verb-subject-object word order:

A’nii5 Mariia4 chraa3 raa4 yoo4 a32.
put Maria tortilla in tenate declarative

'Maria put the tortilla in the tenate.'

Copala Triqui has an accusative marker maa3 or man3, which is obligatory for animate pronominal objects but optional otherwise:

Quene'e3 Mariia4 (maa3) chraa4 a32.
saw Maria acc tortilla declarative

'Maria saw the tortilla.'

Quene'e3 Mariia4 *(maa3) zo'1 a32.
saw Maria acc you declarative

'Maria saw you.'

This use of the accusative before some objects and not others is what is called differential object marking.

The following example (repeated from above) shows a Copala Triqui question:

Me3 zii5 riaan32 a'mii32 zo'1 ga2
wh 3rd person to speak 2nd person interrogative

'To whom are you speaking?' (¿Con quién estas hablando?)

As this example shows, Copala Trique has wh-movement and pied-piping with inversion.

Copala Triqui syntax is described in Hollenbach (1992).

Triqui is interesting for having toggle processes as well. For negation, a completive aspect prefix signifies the negative potential. A potential aspect prefix in the same context signifies the negative completive.

6. Sample Text

The following is a sample of Copala Triqui taken from a legend about the sun and the moon.[8] The first column is Copala Triqui, the second is a Spanish translation, and the third is an English translation.

Copala Triqui: Spanish: English:
(1) Niánj me 'o̱ nana̱ maa ga̱a naá ca̱ta̱j riaan zoj riaan zo̱' riaan me ma'a̱n ze co̱no̱ maa niánj ne̱
(2) 'O̱chrej me ze güii a̱ güii ca'ngaa, [ne'é] zo̱', chumii̱ taj nii me ze ñáán, [ne'é] zo̱', 'o̱ xcua'án' 'na̱j Ca'aj ne̱
(3) Ñáán, [ne'é] zo̱, xcua'án' Ca'aj me ze me ndo rá yo' ga̱ ta'níí ne̱
(4) Me ndo rá ga̱ ta'níí ne̱ za̱ a ne̱ tiempó yo' ga̱a ne̱ tiempó xrmi̱' me ne̱
(5) Navij rá, [ne'é] zo̱', navij rá xcua'án' Ca'aj.
(6) Ga̱a ne̱ “Vaa nica̱j” taj ne̱
(1) Esta es una historia antigua que les voy a relatar a ustedes, para tí, para cualquier persona que pueda escuchar esto.

(2) Erase una vez, cuando nació el universo, una abuela que se llamaba Ca'aj.

(3) Vivía la abuela Ca’aj, quien deseaba mucho tener hijos.

(4) Deseaba mucho tener hijos, pero aquel tiempo era tiempo de tinieblas.

(5) Se preocupó, se preocupó la abuela Ca’aj.

(6) Entonces ella dijo, “Tengo esposo!”

(1) Here is an ancient legend that I am going to tell you all, you, and anyone who can hear this.

(2) Once upon a time, when the universe was born, they say that there lived a grandmother named Ca’aj.

(3) There lived our Grandmother Ca’aj, who wanted to have children very much.

(4) She wanted to have children very much, but that time was a time of darkness.

(5) Our Grandmother Ca’aj worried, worried.

(6) Then she said, “I have a husband!”

7. Media

Triqui-language programming is carried by the CDI's radio stations XEQIN-AM, based in San Quintín, Baja California, and XETLA, based in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca.

8. Use

As of 2012, the Natividad Medical Center of Salinas, California was training medical interpreters bilingual in one of the Oaxacan languages (including Trique, Mixteco, or Zapotec), as well as in Spanish.[9] In March 2014, Natividad Medical Foundation launched Indigenous Interpreting+, "a community and medical interpreting business specializing in indigenous languages from Mexico and Central and South America," including Trique, Mixteco, Zapotec, and Chatino.[10]

A Trique-speaking community has also settled in Albany, New York,[11][12] as well as in northwestern Washington.


  1. The catalogue is the result of a project completed by INALI in 2007 in fulfillment of its obligations under Mexican federal law to document and enumerate the indigenous languages of Mexico. The catalogue was published in the federal government's official gazette, the Diario Oficial de la Federación (DOF).
  2. Table data source: see "triqui" , online extract reproduced from Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas (2008), p.5 [third section/Tercera Sección].
  3. Hollenbach, Barbara. The Phonology and Morphology of Tone and Laryngeals in Copala Trique. Ph.D Thesis, University of Arizona. 1984
  4. DiCanio, Christian. The Phonetics and Phonology of San Martín Itunyoso Trique. Ph.D Thesis, University of California, Berkeley. 2008. Available here
  5. Good, Claude. Diccionario Triqui, volume 20 of Serie de Vocabularios Indigenas. Summer Institute of Linguistics, Mexico. 1979.
  6. Longacre, Robert E. Proto-Mixtecan. In Indiana University Research Center in Anthropology, Folklore, and Linguistics, volume 5. Indiana University Research Center in Anthropology, Folklore, and Linguistics, Bloomington. 1957
  7. Hollenbach, Barbara. Vocabulario breve del triqui de San Juan Copala. 2005
  8. Lopéz, Román Vidal; Broadwell, George Aaron (2009-01-01) (in es). The origin of the sun and moon: a Copala Triqui legend. Lincom Europa. 
  9. Melissa Flores (2012-01-23). "Salinas hospital to train indigenous-language interpreters". Retrieved 2012-08-05. 
  10. "Natividad Medical Foundation Announces Indigenous Interpreting+ Community and Medical Interpreting Business". Market Wired. 2014-03-07. Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  11. Claudio Torrens (May 28, 2011). "Some NY immigrants cite lack of Spanish as barrier". Retrieved February 10, 2013. 
  12. Carleo-Evangelist, Jordan (April 14, 2014). "Keeping a language alive: Dictionary project aims to save native tongue of the Triqui community". Times Union (Albany). Retrieved June 4, 2016. 
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