Identification. The Chatino are an indigenous group of the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The term "Chatino" is a Spanish rendering of the word cha'tnǫ, which glosses literally as "words work." The Chatino use this word to refer both to their language and themselves. As a group, they distinguish themselves from neighboring Zapotec who speak cha'mstye, "crazy words," and from the bordering Mixtec who speak cha'puta, "whore's words."
Location. There are some fifty Chatino communities along the Pacific coast of Oaxaca from 16°00′ to 16°36′ N and from 97°30′ to 97°34′ W. The majority of these communities are in eight municipios in the district of Juquila—San Juan Lachao, San Juan Quiahije, San Miguel Panixtlahuaca, Santa Catarina Juquila, Santa Maria Temaxcaltepec, Santos Reyes Nopala, Tataltepec de Valdéz, and Santiago Yaitepec. The rest are in the municipio of Santa Cruz Zenzontepec in the district of Sola de Vaga. The area is mountainous. From a narrow coastal plain, the Sierra Madre del Sur, which transects the region from east to west, rises to over 2,500 meters. Numerous rivers and streams have carved narrow valleys and deep gorges into the landscape. Ecologically, three zones may be distinguished: tropical lowlands; a temperate zone above 800 meters of deciduous oak-climax forests; and coniferous, cold country above 1,600 meters. There are two seasons: rainy and dry. The former extends from mid-May through October. The region receives between 100 and 200 centimeters of precipitation annually.
Demography. There are approximately 30,000 Chatino speakers. National census figures for the region, however, are notoriously poor, and, if anything, tend to underestimate the populations of their communities, particularly the percentage of Chatino speakers. Where careful demographic studies have been made, they indicate that Chatino populations are young and growing rapidly. Birthrates run 40 to 50 per 1,000, compared, for instance, with the national average of 29 in 1993. Even so, infantmortality rates, which run more than 65 deaths per 1,000 live births, are more than twice the national average, regardless of various methods of measurement. Death rates, which average 25 per 1,000, are likewise nearly five times the national figures. As a result, compared with 68 for males and 76 for females nationally, Chatino life expectancy is in the 40s and 50s. Such disparities are symptoms of the greater poverty and malnutrition and relative lack of medical services that this indigenous population copes with in its daily struggles to survive.
Linguistic Affiliation. Chatino belongs to the Macro-Mayan Phylum of languages, to the Oaxacan Subphylum, and the Zapotecan Family. There are at least three distinct dialects of Chatino, with centers in Yaitepec, Tataltepec, and Zenzontepec.