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Mexico’s Indigenous Languages

February 21 is International Mother Language Day as declared by UNESCO in 1999. This special date is meant to promote awareness of multilingualism, as well as cultural and linguistic diversity.

Mother Language Day is also an important time to celebrate indigenous languages.

Here are some important facts about Mexico’s indigenous languages:

- There are 68 indigenous languages, including 364 regional varieties (dialects), spoken in Mexico.

- According to a 2010 census report, there are 6,913,362 speakers of an indigenous language in Mexico.

- 6.6% of Mexico’s total population speaks an indigenous language.

- Oaxaca is Mexico’s most linguistically diverse state with 15 distinct indigenous languages, including 179 dialects of these languages. 31% of the state’s population speaks an indigenous language, the highest rate of any state in the nation.

- Nahuatl is the most spoken indigenous language of Mexico with 1,544,968 native speakers.

- Maya (796,113), Mixteco (471,710), Zapoteco (425,123), Otomi (284,992), Totonaco (244,033), Mazateco (223,073) all have more than 200,00 native speakers.

- Huasteco (161,121), Chinanteco (131,382), Mazahua (135,897), Mixe (132,759), Purépecha (124,494), Tlapaneco (120,072) all have more than 100,00 native speakers.

- Despite much being made about languages dying out in Mexico, the total numbers of indigenous language speakers is increasing.

- Indigenous speakers have been emigrating in larger numbers to the United States. In California alone, there are 23 indigenous languages spoken by people from 13 Mexican states, as registered by INALI.

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