Identification. Speakers of Mixtec live in the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Puebla. Mixtec speakers usually refer to themselves as "Ñuu Savi" (people of the rain).
Location. The Mixteca, the homeland of the Mixtec people, has traditionally been divided into three broad geographical zones: the Mixteca Alta, a mountainous, forested region; the Mixteca Baja, a high, dry area northwest of the Alta; and the Mixteca de la Costa, a low-lying tropical area bordering the Pacific Ocean. Within each of these zones, the sharply faulted topography has created a great deal of environmental diversity. A lack of economic opportunity has caused many Mixtec speakers to migrate from this area, and there are now substantial colonies of Mixtec speakers located in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region, in Oaxaca City, in Mexico City, in Baja California, and in various places in the United States. Groups of Mixtec labor migrants have been reported to be working as far north as Alaska.
Demography. Prior to the Spanish Conquest, the population of the Mixteca (which included non-Mixtec-speaking groups) was over 500,000. The plagues of the sixteenth century reduced the population by 90 percent. After reaching a nadir in the early seventeenth century, the population has steadily recovered, to the point where by 1980 there were 323,137 speakers of Mixtec in Mexico, making them the fourth-largest indigenous group in the country.
Linguistic Affiliation. Mixtec is classified as an Otomaguean language, although sharp dialectal differences mean that the Mixtec spoken in one area is often not intelligible to speakers of Mixtec in other areas. The Summer Institute of Linguistics has identified twenty-nine "dialects" of Mixtec that fall below the 70-percent intelligibility level with one another.