Identification. The name "Chinantla" derives from the Nahuatl word chinamitl, meaning "enclosed space" or "near the canes." There is no Chinantec term to describe this region. The unity of the contemporary Chinantec derives from the group's self-differentiation from neighboring non-Chinantec communities rather than from any internal political or social cohesion. A paucity of research, particularly comparative work, makes it difficult to determine what is shared Chinantec culture and what is peculiar to a particular village or hamlet. Few data exist on pre-Conquest Chinantec culture. The terms "traditionally" and "in the past" here refer to the period between the Spanish Conquest and the mid-1950s.
Location. The Chinantec reside, as their ancestors did aboriginally, in northern Oaxaca, Mexico, within the Papaloapan River Basin, generally to the south and east of the Santo Domingo and Valle Nacional rivers, which join near the city of Tuxtepec. Today there are fourteen Chinantec townships, each with several lesser dependent communities. The area is very mountainous and characterized by high humidity and extremely heavy rainfall.
Linguistic Affiliation. Chinantec is a branch of the Otomanguean Language Family. Its closest linguistic relations are with Amuzgan and Popolocan, but Chinantec has been separated from them for about 3,500 years. Fourteen dialects are recognized.
Demography. There were 12,000 Chinantec speakers in 1876, the date of the earliest population estimate. The 1980 census reports an estimated 67,000 Chinantec speakers, 17,000 of whom speak no Spanish.