Amuzgo - Orientation

Identification. The name "Amuzgo" comes from a Nahuatl word to which various interpretations have been given. According to one version, the term derives from amoxtli, "place of books or papers"; another version—perhaps a more plausible one—translates the word amoxko to mean "place of clouded water" (the greenish slime floating on the surface of rivers). There is no known general self-designation for the group, although one form of ethnic self-recognition is evident in their reference to those who speak hñonda, a term that is difficult to translate but that expresses the idea of "word [language] of water"; other languages are referred to as kñosko, "word [language] of leaves."

Location. The Amuzgo live near the Pacific Ocean, in the lower portions of the Sierra Madre del Sur, along the coasts of the Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca (known as La Costa Chica). The area they occupy, located between 16° and 17° N and between 98° and 99° W, has an average elevation of 500 meters and a semihumid climate. The main Amuzgo settlements in the state of Guerrero are the municipios of Xochistlahuaca, Tlacoachistlahuaca, and Ometepec. In Oaxaca, the main settlements are San Pedro Amuzgos and Santa María Ipalapa.

Demography. In 1990 the number of Amuzgo speakers was calculated at 32,637: 27,629 in the state of Guerrero and 5,008 in Oaxaca. These figures include children under 5 years of age with Amuzgo-speaking parents. The actual number of Amuzgo could be higher, however, because it is difficult to count people living in small and dispersed settlements. The 1990 census counted temporary migrants at their location of migration rather than in their home communities. The Amuzgo area is also the home of mestizo, Afro-Mexican, Mixtec, and Nahua populations.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Amuzgo language is classified as an independent branch of the Otomanguean Language Family. Amuzgo shows dialectal differences but maintains relative mutual intelligibility. It is marked by enough diversity that people who know the language can identify the home territory of a speaker. In the Amuzgo area of Guerrero, monolingualism reaches 50 percent, and in Oaxaca, 20 percent. Bilingualism is the result of migration, schooling, and contact with mestizos in the capitals of the municipios.

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