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Zapotec Pronunciation and Spelling Guide

Welcome to our Zapotec alphabet page! The following charts show the pronunciation for the Isthmus Zapotec orthography we have used on our site, as well as some alternate spellings that you may find in other books and websites.

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Zapotec Vowels

We Use:
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Zapotec pronunciation:
a    a Like the a in father.
e    e Like the e sound in Spanish, similar to the a in gate.
i    i Like the i in police.
o    o Like the o in note.
u   u Like the u in flute.

Zapotec Consonants

We Use:
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Zapotec pronunciation:
b    b Like the b in boy.
c  s, k  s ~ k As in the Spanish alphabet (from which the Zapotec alphabet was adapted), c represents both a 'hard c' (as in cold) and a 'soft c' (as in city). It is pronounced hard before a, o, or u and soft before e or i.
ch  ch  t Like ch in chair.
cu  kw kw ~ kw Like qu in English queen.
d    d Like the d in day.
dx  j  d Like the j in jar.
g    g Like the g in gate.
hu  w  w Like w in way.
j    h Like h in hay.
l    l Like l in light.
m    m Like m in moon.
n    n Like n in night.
ñ    ny Like Spanish ñ, somewhat like ny in canyon.
p    p Like the p in pie.
qu  k  k As in the Spanish alphabet (from which the Zapotec alphabet was adapted), both qu and c can represent the k sound in English key).
r     ~ r Like the r in Spanish pero or the r in Spanish perro.
s    s As in the Spanish alphabet (from which the Zapotec alphabet was adapted), both s and c can represent the s sound in English sun).
t    t Like the t in tell.
tz  ts  ts Like ts in cats.
x  sh   ~ Like the soft French j in Jacques, which can be heard at the end of the English word garage. Before a consonant it is pronounced like sh in shell.
xh  sh   Like the sh in shell.
y    j Like y in yes.
z    z Like z in zoo.
    A pause sound, like the one in the middle of the word "uh-oh."

Zapotec Languages and Dialects

This pronunciation guide is for Isthmus Zapotec (Zapoteco del Istmo.) There are more than 80 different varieties of Zapotec spoken in Mexico today, most of which are difficult for speakers of another variety to understand. Some are so different that linguists consider them distinct languages (between 12 and 60 distinct languages, depending on the linguist.) The Zapotecan languages are all similar to one another, like Spanish, Italian and French, but the pronunciation of Isthmus Zapotec cannot correctly be used for another Zapotecan language any more than French pronunciation could correctly be used for Spanish.

Zapotec Tones

Zapotec is a tone language. Some syllables are pronounced with higher pitch than others. In English, the last syllable of a question is pronounced with high pitch, so you can hear the difference between sentences like "You see a man." and "You see a man?" In Zapotec pronunciation, such high and low tones are used in nearly every word, giving the language a lively sound.

Tonality is different in different Zapotecan languages. Some have as many as twelve disinct tones. Ishtmus Zapotec has four: high, low, rising, and falling. The tone of a word can change its meaning in Zapotec -- for example, rati means "he dies" when the final syllable has a falling tone and "he is thirsty" when the final syllable has a rising tone. However, this is relatively rare, and none of the practical Zapotec orthographies that we are aware of mark tone in the spelling system. You just have to learn the tones of each word when you learn that word, similar to learning the stress of an English word.

Zapotec Indian Pronunciation and Vocabulary Resources

   Zapotec Indian words
   Zapotec picture dictionary
   Zapotec body
   Zapotec orthography
   Zapotec alphabet and phonology
   Oto-Manguean languages
   Mexico Indians

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