World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Purépecha language

Article Id: WHEBN0006780699
Reproduction Date:

Title: Purépecha language  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Huarache (shoe), Huandacareo, Karuk language, Chimariko language, Mono language (California)
Collection: Agglutinative Languages, Indigenous Languages of Mexico, Mesoamerican Languages, Purépecha, Purépecha Language
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Purépecha language

Pronunciation [pʰuˈɽepet͡ʃa]
Region Michoacán, Mexico
Native speakers
240,000  (2005 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
tsz – Eastern
pua – Western
Glottolog tara1323[2]
Distribution of P'urhepecha in the Mexican state of Michoacán

Purepecha AKA P'urhépecha (Phorhé, Phorhépecha), also known as Tarascan (Spanish Tarasco), is a language isolate or small language family spoken by a quarter million P'urhépecha people in the highlands of the Mexican state of Michoacán. Even though it is spoken within the boundaries of Mesoamerica, P'urhépecha does not share many of the traits defining the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area, probably due to a long adherence to an isolationist policy.

P'urhépecha was the main language of the pre-Columbian Tarascan state and became widespread in northwestern Mexico during its heyday in the late post-classic period (~ 1400-1521).


  • Classification 1
  • Demography 2
  • History 3
  • Orthography 4
  • Phonology 5
    • Vowels 5.1
    • Consonants 5.2
  • Grammar 6
    • Typology 6.1
    • The Noun 6.2
    • The Verb 6.3
  • Media 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


P'urhépecha has long been classified as a language isolate, unrelated to any other known language. This judgement is repeated in Campbell's authoritative classification.[3] Greenberg assigned it to the Chibchan language family,[4] but this proposal was rejected by specialists.[3] Statistical studies by Swadesh have suggested relationships to Zuñi, Quechua, Mayan and Aymara, but these conclusions remain unproven.[5][6]

There are a number of dialects,[7] which SIL divides into two languages, but Campbell (1997) considers P'urhépecha to be a single language.


The P'urhépecha language is mostly spoken in rural communities in the highlands of Michoacán. The former center of the P'urhepecha state was around Lake Pátzcuaro and this remains an important center of the P'urhépecha community. Ethnologue counts P'urhépecha as two languages: a central language spoken by approximately 40,000 people (2005) around Pátzcuaro, and a western highland language spoken by 135,00 speakers (2005) around Zamora, Los Reyes de Salgado, Paracho, and Pamatácuaro, all of which are in the vicinity of the Paricutín volcano. Due to recent migration, there are also communities of speakers in the cities of Guadalajara, Tijuana and Mexico City and in the United States. The total population of speakers is rising (from 58,299 in 1960 to 96,016 in 1990 and 121,409 in 2000[8]), but the percentage of speakers relative to non-speakers is falling, and the degree of bilingualism is rising - making the language endangered. Today the percentage of monolingual speakers is below 10%.[8]


A bilingual P'urhépecha/Spanish school in the P'urhépecha community of Janitzio, Michoacán. Following Mexico's 2000 indigenous language law, indigenous languages, including P'urhépecha, share the same status as Spanish in the areas where they are spoken, and many schools offer curriculum in indigenous languages.

The P'úrhépecha are not known to have migrated from elsewhere to their current location, even though their tradition includes stories of having traveled from the Pacific Ocean to their current locations. Ethnohistorical accounts mention them as a people dwelling in the same region of Michoacán inhabited by them today as early as the 13th century CE. According to the Relación de Michoacán the communities around Lake Pátzcuaro were gathered into one strong state by the leader of the Uacúsecha group of P'urhépecha speakers, Tariácuri. Around 1300, he undertook the first conquests of other and installed his sons Hiripan and Tangáxoan as lords of Ihuatzio and Tzintzuntzan respectively, while he himself ruled from Pátzcuaro city. By the time of the death of Taríacuri (around 1350), his lineage was in control of all the major centers around Lake Pátzcuaro. His son Hiripan continued the expansion into the area surrounding Lake Cuitzeo. In 1460 the Tarascan state reached the Pacific coast at Zacatula, advanced into the valley of Toluca, and also, on the northern rim, reached into the present-day state of Guanajuato. In the 15th century the Tarascan state was at war with the Aztecs. Many Nahua speakers who had until then lived side by side with P'urhépecha speakers were relocated outside of the Tarascan frontiers, whereas speakers of Otomí, fleeing the Aztec expansion, resettled on the border between the two polities. This created a fairly homogeneous area of P'urhépecha speakers with no other languages spoken in the core area around Lake Pátzcuaro.Pollard (1993)

With the Spanish conquest, the Tarascan state was at first peacefully incorporated into the realm of New Spain, but with the killing of Cazonci Tangaxuán II by Nuño de Guzmán the relation became one of Spanish dominance by force. Exceptions to this were the Hospital communities of Vasco de Quiroga, such as Santa Fé de la Laguna, where P'urhépecha could live with a degree of protection from Spanish domination. Through Spanish friars, the P'urhépecha learned to write in the Latin script, and P'urhépecha became a literary language in the early colonial period. There is a body of written sources in P'urhépecha from this period, including several dictionaries, confessionaries, and land titles. Among the most important colonial works are the grammar (1558)[9] and dictionary (1559)[10] of Fray Maturino Gilberti, and the grammar and dictionary (1574) by Juan Baptista de Lagunas [11] From ca. 1700 the status of P'urhépecha changed, and throughout the twentieth century the Mexican state pursued a policy of castellanización, under which speakers of indigenous languages were actively encouraged to abandon their languages in favor of Spanish. However, in accord with international changes in favor of recognizing the linguistic rights of indigenous peoples and promoting multiculturalism in colonial states, in 2003 the Mexican Congress approved the General Law of Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples, giving P'urhépecha and Mexico's other indigenous languages official status as national languages.


The official alphabet is the P’URHEPECHA JIMBO KARARAKUECHA (P'urhépecha Alphabet):

a b ch ch' d e g i ï j k k' m n nh o p p' r rh s t t' ts ts' u x.[12][13]

The three letters b, d, g occur in spelling only after the nasal letters m, n: mb, nd, ng. Their use is not consistent with orthography on the phonemic principle, because the sounds /p, t, k/ are automatically voiced, shifting in pronunciation to [b, d, ɡ] respectively, after a nasal consonant.


In all dialects of P'urhépecha, stress accent is phonemic. As in Spanish orthography, the stressed syllable is indicated by the acute accent. Examples of minimal pairs are:

karáni 'write' — kárani 'fly'
p'amáni 'wrap it' — p'ámani 'touch a liquid'

Usually the second syllable of the word is stressed, occasionally the first.

The phonemic inventory of the Tarécuato dialect is presented below.[14] The Tarécuato dialect differs from other dialects in having a velar nasal phoneme. The table of phonemes uses International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols and also gives the alphabet equivalents (enclosed in parentheses) in nonobvious cases.


Front Central Back
Close i ɨ ( ï ) u
Mid e o
Open ɑ

The two mid vowels /e, o/ are uncommon; /o/ is especially rare.

The high central vowel occurs almost exclusively after /s/ or /ts/, and is almost a predictible allophone of /i/ in that position.

The final vowel of a word is usually whispered or deleted, unless the word is at the end of a phrase or sentence.

Sequences of vowels do occur, but are very rare except for sequences generated by adding grammatical suffixes such as the pluralizers -echa or -icha, the copula -i, or the genitive -iri; and a sequence of vowels (sounds, not letters) virtually never occurs as the first two sounds of a word.


P'urhépecha is one of the minority of languages in the Mesoamerican region which do not have a phonemic glottal stop (a distinction shared by the Huave language and by some dialects of Nahuatl). It lacks any laterals ('l'-sounds). However, in the speech of many young speakers, the retroflex rhotic has been replaced by [l], due to Spanish influence.[15] There are distinct series of nonaspirated and aspirated plosives and affricates; aspiration is spelled with an apostrophe. There are two rhotics ('r'-sounds; one of them retroflex).

Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar
or palatal
Velar Labio-
Nasal m n ŋ (nh)
Plosive plain p t k (ku)
aspirated (p') (t') (k') kʷʰ (k'u)
Affricate plain ts (ts) (ch)
aspirated tsʰ (ts') tʃʰ (ch')
Fricative s ʃ (x) x (j)
Rhotic r ɽ (rh)
Approximant j (i) w (u)

The official orthography does not have distinct representations for the four phonemes /kʷ/, /kʷʰ/, /w/, /j/. It uses the letter 'i' for both the phonemes /i, j/ and the letter 'u' for both of the phonemes /u, w/ (These two semivowels are fairly rare). When k and k' are followed by u and another vowel this virtually always represents the labio-velar phonemes.

Intervocally, the aspirated consonants become pre-aspirated; when following nasals, they lose their aspiration entirely. The unaspirated consonants become voiced when following nasals.



The P'urhépecha language is agglutinating, although phonetic erosion has led to a certain degree of fusion. It is sometimes considered polysynthetic due to the complex morphology and often long words.[16] Unlike most other languages considered polysynthetic, it has no noun compounding or incorporation. The language is exclusively suffixing and has a large number of suffixes (as many as 160[17]) and clitics. The verb distinguishes thirteen aspects and six modes. The language is double-marking in the typology of Johanna Nichols, meaning that it marks grammatical relations on both the dependent phrases and phrasal heads.

The language has both case, and postpositions. The case system distinguishes among nominative, accusative, genitive, comitative, instrumental and locative cases, but there are also a large number of nominal derivational affixes. Word order is flexible and the basic word order has been described as either SVO,[18] or SOV,[19] but both authors note that other word orders are frequently used for pragmatic purposes such as focus or topic tracking.[20]

The Noun

Nouns are inflected on the basic formula Noun + Number + Case.

The grammar distinguishes between plural and unspecified numbers, having no dedicated singular form.[21]

Plural of a noun is formed by a suffix -echa/-icha or -cha.

kúmi-wátsï 'fox' - kúmi-wátsïcha 'foxes'
iréta 'town' - irétaacha 'towns'
warhíticha tepharicha maru 'some fat women' (lit. women-PL fat-PL some).

The nominative case is unmarked. The accusative case (also called objective case) is used to mark direct and sometimes indirect objects, is marked by a suffix -ni:

Pedrú pyásti tsúntsuni 'Pedro bought the pot'
Pedrú pyá-s-ti tsúntsu-ni
Pedro buy-PRF3P pot-ACC

The genitive case is marked by -ri -eri:

imá wárhitiri wíchu 'that woman's dog'
imá wárhiti-ri wíchu
that woman-GEN dog

The locative case is marked by -rhu, -o

kúntaati Maríao 'He'll meet him at María's place'
ku-nta-a-ti María-o
meet-ITERFUT3IND Maria-LOC[22]

The instrumental case is marked by the particle jimpó or the suffix -mpu

jiríkurhniniksï tsakápu k'éri má jimpó 'They hid behind some big rocks'
jiríkurhi-ni=ksï tsakápu k'éri má jimpó
hide-INF3PL rock big one INS[23]
ampémpori ánchikuarhiwa 'What will he/she work with?'
ampé-mpu=ri anchikuarhi-wa-Ø
what-INS work-future tense3SG[24]

The comitative case is marked by the particle jinkóni or the suffix -nkuni

apóntini warhíti má jinkóni 'to sleep with a woman'
apónti-ni wárhiti má jinkóni
Sleep-INF woman one COM[25]
xi niwákani imánkuni 'I'll go with him/her'
xi ni-wa-ka-=ni imá-nkuni
I go-FUT-1st/2nd-1P DEMCOM[26]

Discourse-pragmatic focus on a noun or noun phrase is indicated by the clitic -sï.[18]

Ampé arhá Pedrú? 'What did Pedro eat?'
ampé-sï arh-∅-∅-á Pedrú
what-FOC eat-PRFINT Pedro
kurúcha atí. 'he ate fish' (i.e., 'fish is what he ate')
Kurúcha-sï a-∅-tí
fish-FOC eat-PRF3P

The Verb

The P'urhépecha verb inflects for aspects and modes, as well as for person and number of subject and object. There are also a number of suffixes expressing shape, position or body parts affecting or affected by the verbal action.[27][28][29]

Transitivity is manipulated by suffixes forming transitive verbs with applicative or causative meaning or intransitives with passive or inchoative meanings.


P'urhépecha-language programming is broadcast by radio station XEPUR-AM, based in Cherán, Michoacán. This radio station is an enterprise of the CDI.


  1. ^ Eastern at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Western at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Tarascan". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b Campbell 1997.
  4. ^ Greenberg 1987.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Friedrich 1971a.
  8. ^ a b Villavicencio Zarza (2006:53)
  9. ^ Gilberti, Fray Maturino. 1987. Arte de la lengua de Michuacan [facsimile 1558] Benedict Warren (ed.) Morelia, Michoacán: Fimax.
  10. ^ Gilberti, Fray Maturino. 1991. Vocabulario en lengua de Mechuacan [Facsimile 1559] Benedict Warren (ed.) Morelia, Michoacán: Fimax.
  11. ^ Lagunas, Juan Baptista de. 1984. Arte y Dictionario Con Otras Obras en Lengua Michuacana. Benedict Warren (ed.) Morelia, Michoacán: Fimax.
  12. ^ Pahuamba et al 1997.
  13. ^
  14. ^ De Wolf (1989)
  15. ^ Chamoreau (2003b:25)
  16. ^ Villavicencio Zarza (2006:61)
  17. ^ Pollard (1993)
  18. ^ a b Capistrán (2002)
  19. ^ Friedrich (1984)
  20. ^ Villavicencio Zarza (2006:71)
  21. ^ Villavicencio Zarza (2006:74–75)
  22. ^ Villavicencio Zarza (2006:306)
  23. ^ Villavicencio Zarza (2006:331)
  24. ^ Villavicencio Zarza (2006:339)
  25. ^ Villavicencio Zarza (2006:376)
  26. ^ Villavicencio Zarza (2006:381)
  27. ^ Friedrich (1969)
  28. ^ Friedrich (1970)
  29. ^ Friedrich (1971b)


Capistrán, Alejandra (2002). ""Variaciones de orden de constituyentes en p'orhépecha"". In Paulette Levy. Del cora al maya yucateco: estudios lingüísticos sobre algunas lenguas indígenas mexicanas (in Español). Mexico City: UNAM. 
Chamoreau, Claudine (2003b). "Purépecha de Jarácuaro, Michoacán". Archivo de lenguas indígenas de México (in Español) (Mexico City: El Colegio de México) 25. 
Chamoreau, Claudine (2003). Parlons Purépecha (in Français). Paris: L'Harmattan.  
Chamoreau, Claudine (2009). Hablemos Purépecha (in Español). Morelia, Mexico: Universidad Intercultural Indígena de Michoacán.  
De Wolf, Paul (1989). Estudios Lingüísticos sobre la lengua P'orhé (in Español). Mexico City: Colegio de Michoacán. 
De Wolf, Paul (1991). Curso básico del tarasco hablado (in Español). Zamora: Colegio de Michoacán.  
Foster, Mary LeCron (1969). "The Tarascan Language". University of California publications in linguistics 56. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
Foster, Mary LeCron (1971). Jesse Sawyer, ed. "Studies in American Indian Languages'". Berkeley: University of California Press. 
Friedrich, Paul (1984). "Tarascan: From Meaning to Sound.". In Munro Edmonson. Supplement to the Handbook of Middle American Indians 2. Austin: University of Texas Press. 
Friedrich, Paul (1969). "On the meaning of the Tarascan suffixes of Space". International Journal of American Linguistics (Indian University Press). Memoir 23. 
Friedrich, Paul (1970). "Shape in Grammar". Language 46 (2, Part 1): 379–407.  
Friedrich, Paul (1971a). "Dialectal Variation in Tarascan Phonology". International Journal of American Linguistics 37 (3): 164–187.  
Friedrich, Paul (1971b). The Tarascan suffixes of locative space: meaning and morphotactics. Bloomington: Indiana University.  
Friedrich, Paul (1975). A phonology of Tarascan. Chicago: University of Chicago, Department of Anthropology.  
Friedrich, Paul (1971c). "Distinctive Features and Functional Groups in Tarascan Phonology". Language 47 (4): 849–865.  
Greenberg, Joseph (1987). "Language in the Americas". Stanford: Stanford University Press. 
Hernández Dimas, Ma. Guadalupe; et al. (1999). Curso de lengua p'urhépecha (in Español). Mexico City: UNAM. 
Monzón, Cristina (1997). Introducción a la lengua y cultura tarascas (in Español). Valencia, Spain: Universidad de Valencia.  
Pahuamba, Juan Velázquez; et al (1997). Vocabulario práctico bilingüe p'urhépecha-español. Dirección General de Culturas Populares, PACMyC. 
Villavicencio Zarza, Frida (2006). P'orhépecha kaso sïrátahenkwa: Desarrollo del sistema de casos del purépecha (in Español). Mexico, DF: Colegio de México, Centro de Investigaciones Superiores en Antropología Social.  

External links

  • Purepecha Swadesh list of basic vocabulary words (from Wiktionary's Swadesh-list appendix)
  • Field recordings of P'urhépecha carried out by linguist William Shipley, archived at the Berkeley Language Center
  • The P'urhépecha WEB page From Michoacán, México. (In Spanish)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.