Documentation of Mocho' (Mayan): Language Preservation through Community Awareness and Engagement

Documentation of Mocho' (Mayan): Language Preservation through Community Awareness and Engagement

Language: Mocho’ (ISO639-3:mhc)
Depositor: Jaime Pérez González
Location: Mexico
Deposit Id: 0463
Grant id: IGS0301
Funding body: ELDP
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit
Mocho' is a Mayan language with two different dialects spoken in Chiapas, Mexico by around 50 speakers of whom fewer than half are fluent. It is therefore severely endangered and needs further documentation, especially of the Tuzantec dialect. Documenting Mocho' will be accomplished in cooperation with the community and will include descriptions of everyday life, as well as verbal art, cultural traditions, botanical knowledge and songs to the extent available. The results will be 75 hours of video and audio recordings. From this corpus, 15 hours will be transcribed and translated in ELAN and annotated in FLEX.

Group represented
This project focuses on Mocho’ speakers. Mocho’ is a highly endangered Mayan language spoken in the municipalities of Motozintla and Tuzantan on the borderline between Mexico and Guatemala, in the area known as Middle-America. This language belongs to the Q'anjob'alan subgroup from the Western branch of Mayan languages. Mocho’ is spoken for about 50 speakers of whom fewer than half are fluent. The majority of these remaining speakers are elders, and the youngest speaker is 70 years old. This language consists of two dialects. The language is called Tuzantec in the region of Tuzantan, and there are only 5 speakers left, 3 of whom are still fluent. The dialect spoken in Motozintla is known as either Motozintlec or Mocho’, and there are around 40 speakers. Both municipalities include more than one village, and all of them call their languages Qatook’ which means “our language”. Mocho', the name of the language, was given by the Spaniards when they got to Motozintla. Spaniards asked Mocho’ speakers for the name of their language, and each time they were asked the same question they just replied "moocho'". Spaniards thought that that was the name of the language, so they just called it "Mocho'". Moocho' however means "there is no (name)". This project tries to capture all possible voices from these small group of remaining speakers. Most of these speakers are currently settled in the peripheries of Motozintla, around 30, and the rest are dispersed in the surrounding villages of Tolimán and Belisario Dominguez, villages that belong to the Municipality of Motozintla. All of these villages speak the same variety, and they recognize themselves as Mocho’ speakers. The Tuzantec dialect is spoken in two main villages: Tuzantán Pueblo (3 speakers) and Estación Tuzantán (2 speakers). Tuzantec people used to recognize themselves as Mamean speakers (Mam is also a Mayan language that belongs to a subgroup from the other big branch of Mayan languages, the Eastern branch). Tuzantan and Motozintla have a common story about the original place where they came from; however this location continues to be a mystery. This story tells of a frightening invasion of bats in the original Mocho’ community. Suffering the constant injuries of bat bites, the inhabitants were eventually forced to relocate to Motozintla and further south to Tuzantan. There, their language gradually diverged until today it is recognized as a separate variety. Although the varieties are mutually intelligible with practice, relations between the two communities remain distant. There is talk on both sides of shape-changing witches and a distant feeling of kinship. The Mocho’s have maintained close relations with Mam speakers of the region. The Mam people have always occupied the adjacent area and their migration to Motozintla and neighboring towns has increased steadily since the late nineteenth century. The presence of different cultures has provoked a syncretism in religions as well as other contact-induced changes among Mam, Teko, Spanish and Mocho’ in the Motozintlec area. The centrality of the Mocho’ lands between the central area and the coast of Chiapas has been crucial since the ancient times. Motozintla’s identity as a market center was probably established early on. The modern Tuzantan-Motozintla road follows a path established centuries ago along the river canyon that provides a natural pass through the Sierra Madre. This has facilitated regular contact with many other languages and cultures (mostly Mayan) which also became the basis of many local stories and myths about the travelers and the local beliefs. There is also a very important event in the history of Mocho’ that corresponds to the date when the Province of Chiapas was transferred to Mexican control in 1824 after having been governed since 1544 by the colonial magistrates of the Capitanía General de Guatemala. Motozintla and Tuzantan were part of the disputed borders between Guatemala and Mexico, and they were controlled by the Departamento de Cuilco from Guatemala until September 27, 1882. A final transfer of Motozintla and Tuzantan to the Departamento del Soconusco in Mexico took place on April 1, 1894. The transfer of borders made the residents citizens of Mexico instead of Guatemala. This incident forms one of the grounding narratives in modern Mocho’ accounts of community history. Living members of the community can recall first-person eyewitness experiences of these events narrated by parents and grandparents.

Language information

Mocho’ is a Mayan language spoken by about 50 speakers in the Southeast of the state of Chiapas, Mexico along the border between Mexico and Guatemala in the two municipalities of Motozintla and Tuzantan. This language consists of two dialects. The language is called Tuzantec in the region of Tuzantan, and there are only 5 speakers left, 3 of whom are still fluent. The dialect spoken in Motozintla is known as either Motozintlec or Mocho’, and there are around 45 speakers where fewer than half are fluent. Both municipalities include more than one village, and all of them call their languages Qatook’ which means “our language”.

Mocho' is severely endangered and needs further documentation, especially the Tuzantec dialect. There is no grammatical description of the Tuzantec variety, and we know little about Motozintlec. So far, we know, for example that Mocho' is the only one Mayan language that shows split ergative system in the alignment conditioned by person. First and second person have changed to a nominative-accusative alignment while third person keeps the ergative-absolutive alignment. Even though, we know little about Motozintlec, it shows many interesting features from a typological perspective that we do not find in other Mayan languages (to be described).

Motozintla is located in an important area between the roads from the highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala to the Pacific coast since the ancient times. Due to its location, Mocho' has also been in intense contact with Tseltalan, Q'anjob'alan, Mamean languages (subgroups from the two big branches of Mayan languages) as well as with Tapachulteco (extinct Mixe-Zoquean language). Therefore, Mocho' is not interesting only from a typological perspective, but from a perspective of language change, language contact and language loss.

Special characteristics

This deposit is about Mocho’, and it covers the two existing dialects: Motozintlec and Tuzantec. Each file specifies whether the data come from Motozintla or Tuzantan, so be sure you are using the right data.

Previous documentation projects in this language have only audio recordings with transcriptions. This project is special because it is the first one that offers audio and video recordings in a variety of genres and social interactions. Most important, it contains some speech events that had not been documented previously for this language. For example, we can find audio-video recordings of prayers in Mocho’, first of its type to be open to the public, that had not been previously documented. This collection contains a series of prayers, and one of them present the orthographic transcription with a translation in Spanish, and it will contain the English translation as well. Another example is that this deposit contains different sessions of conversations between two Mocho’ speakers, and sometimes a group of Mocho’ speakers. Through these conversations we can see certain patterns that Mocho’ speakers do not use when they narrate or share a story (certain particles and certain grammatical patterns). Therefore, the inclusion of the two dialects, the exposition of Mocho’ people in video recordings, and the documentation of certain traditional practices make this collection unique in Mocho’.

Deposit contents

This collection has so far 43 bundles that are audio-video recordings, except one bundle which only contains only audio (and transcription).

There are 16 bundles with narratives about different things, such as myths, local beliefs, building traditional houses, witchcraft, etc. there are 5 bundles with biographical narratives from the participants in this project. There is one prayer transcribed and translated in Spanish. There are three bundles with narratives about historical events in Motozintla and Tuzantan. There are nine bundles with conversations about different topics with different speakers. There are also seven bundles with elicitation sessions about different parts of the grammar. There is also one bundles with a recording of a session of translation of a text from another village to see if they were mutually intelligible. There are much more to come…

Deposit history
The Mocho’ data for this collection is being collected (through September 2017-July 2020) by the principal investigator Jaime Pérez González, as part of his primary source for his dissertation; A Descriptive Grammar of Mocho’. This effort is being carried out by Jaime with the engagement of community members and people interested in the documentation and the revitalization of Mocho’. The data is collected mainly by Jaime at this point of the project, but it is also expected to be collected by members of the community, and other collaborators who are learning techniques in language documentation. The data come from Motozintla and Tuzantan, two municipalities in Chiapas, Mexico. Data from Motozintla have been collected during the Fall 2017, and the data from Tuzantan have been collected during the Spring and the Summer of 2018. More data will be added through these upcoming years.

Other information
None of the data in this collection will be used as evidence in court at any point.

Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Jaime Pérez González as the principal investigator, the data collector and the researcher. Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) as the funder of the project. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by respective name(s). Any other contributor who has collected, transcribed or translated the data or was involved in any other way should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the corpus, please cite as follows:

Pérez González, Jaime. 2018. Documentation of Mocho' (Mayan): Language Preservation through Community Awareness and Engagement. London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive, ELAR. URL: (accessed on [insert date here]).


Collection online
Resources online and curated


Jaime Pérez González
Affiliation: The University of Texas at Austin

Deposit Statistics

Data from 2019 August 24 to 2019 August 24
Deposit hits:1
Downloaded files
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Showing 1 - 10 of 43 Items

This is a series of audio-video recordings of conversations between Flaviano Juárez Mateo and Teodoso Ortíz Ramírez. We had a surprising visit to Flaviano's house, so he did not expect us that day. He was happy to see us and they had conversations about different topics through the entire visit. In the first audio-video recording MHC_FJM_y_TOR_CON_La_visita_inesperada_a_don_Flaviano-1 Flaviano and Teodoso talk about what Teodoso had been up to, and why he had not visited Flaviano. They also talk about the Consejero Mocho', the Mocho' representative. They say that it is time to elect the new Consejero Mocho', so they have to organize themselves to find the right candidate. They say they have to pick someone who is a native speaker of Mocho' because the current Consejero Mocho' is not a speaker of the language. In the second audio-video recording MHC_FJM_y_TOR_CON_La_visita_inesperada_a_don_Flaviano-2 Teodoso and Flaviano talk about Flaviano's profession (who is a medicine man), and how Flaviano cure his patients. He talks about how his ancestors used to cure, and how people do it currently. They also make jokes about doctors and patients. They also talk about how Jaime Pérez González got a ticket by the local police because he parked on the main square while he was waiting for Teodoso. They make jokes about the situation, and Teodoso says that Jaime got a discount because his son in law works in the local government. In the third audio-video recording MHC_FJM_y_TOR_CON_La_visita_inesperada_a_don_Flaviano-3 they talk about how Flaviano was invited to a consultation about indigenous communities in San Cristobal de las Casas, where the representative from the government suggested him that Mocho’ people need to organize themselves and have representation at the State level. They say that the Mocho’ representative does not speak the language, and that the government wants and likes a person who speaks the language. They name some Mocho’ speakers who can have that role in the community. They also talk about some programs and projects that the government had given to Motozintla to other non-native speakers who just take advantage of the language plight. These people had only used the monetary compensation to enrich themselves, and they have not helped to promote and teach the language. They also talk about the possibility of organizing an event for the International day of indigenous language on February 21, 2019, and they wish Jaime could be there to help them out. At the end they say they should make a list of real speakers of the Mocho’. The fourth audio-video recording MHC_FJM_y_TOR_CON_La_visita_inesperada_a_don_Flaviano-4 is a conversation about the right pronunciation of some words. The idea is to understand the allophonic variation of /b’/ between vowels and at the end of the word. The fifth audio-video recording MHC_FJM_y_TOR_CON_La_visita_inesperada_a_don_Flaviano-5 starts with a conversation about how a wake (when someone dies) used to be in comparison to the way wakes are nowadays. They also talk about the ritual they used to perform when someone dies. Their ancestors gather to help each other in these situations. They also talk about how the representatives of Casa Mocho’ do not have any respect for their ancestors because they pick anybody to be the Prioste (person in charge of running the Fiesta Mocho’). They talk about how the main priest of the community criticizes the way the fiesta Mocho’ is organized, and specially the part of praying in Spanish. The priest says that they should do it in Mocho’, and that they have to get back to the old days. In the sixth audio-video recording MHC_FJM_y_TOR_CON_La_visita_inesperada_a_don_Flaviano-6, Teodoso and Flaviano talk about people who do not speak the language. They say that in the old days even in the church the catholic priest used to give the sermon in Mocho’, and how everybody spoke Mocho’ including children at different ages. Flaviano also says that the Protestant priests prohibited the language because they say it is from the evil. Flaviano says that the difference between Catholic priests and Protestant priests is that the Catholic priests they liked the language. They also talk about how the used to use incense for their rituals, and that Mocho’ people were known as incense producers. In general they talk about people who recognize themselves as speakers, but Teodoso and Flaviano say that some of those people actually do not speak the language. Flaviano talks about shamans and their prayers with incense. In the seventh audio-video recording MHC_FJM_y_TOR_CON_La_visita_inesperada_a_don_Flaviano-7 Flaviano and Teodoso speak about the new elected Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The ritual that an indigenous person performed when he took position as the new president. They make jokes about the performance of the shaman at that event, and they laugh making jokes about what he could say. Flaviano and Teodoso also say that Obrador has said that he will help indigenous communities, so that Mocho’ people need to organize to get some assistance from the government. They say that they have to organize an event for the international day of indigenous languages February 2019. They mention who should be invited, and which communities from they should invite to bring their dancers and prayers; communities such as Union Juárez and Victoria have been participated in the previous events. Teodoso narrates how the events were organized when he was the Consejero Mocho’ (main representative of the Mocho’ community). They finalized this visit saying that they have to organize a meeting where Mocho’ people need to discuss this issues, and take advantage of the new president’s offer.

Recorded on: 2019-01-05

This is a catholic version of Adam and Eva narrated in Mocho'.

Recorded on: 2017-12-08

This is the biography of Don Flaviano Juarez Matias narrated with the idea of knowing what his career has been and being able to know his sociohistorical context.

Recorded on: 2017-11-12

This is a series of three audio-video recordings with transcriptions of Julio López Pérez’s autobiography. There is a merged audio-video file named MHC_TUZ_JLP_Biografia_de_JLP that contains the three short transcribed audio-video files. In MHC_TUZ_JLP_Biografia_de_JLP-1 Julio talks about when he was born and where he grew up. He narrates how his childhood was working with his parents, and what they used to do. Hi says that his father was peasant, so he did not have another option more than take care of the land. He also says that when he was adolescent he worked hard, and he did not had any bad habit. He talks about the situation of Tuzantec language and why it is dying. He says that his parents prohibited him to speak Tuzantec because it was prohibited in Tuzantan. There was an announcement that you did not have to speak the language in the community. There are some people that say that they speak the language, but Julio says that they only know some words and they cannot speak the language. He says that in all villages that belong to the Municipality of Tuzantan there are around sixty people who know some words, but that they cannot speak. He also says that he does not even speak the language because he has not practiced it in a long time. In MHC_TUZ_JLP_Biografia_de_JLP-2 Julio speaks about their ancestors and where they came from. He says that his grandfather came from Guatemala and his grandmother was native from Tuzantan. The rest of his relatives spoke Mocho’. He also says that there was an order in Tuzantan that prohibited the language in the community. The police said that nobody could speak the language. If you were speaking the language, the police will arrest you and take you to jail. At school the language was also prohibited. Teachers shut you up if they listen you speaking the language, so nobody spoke Tuzantec at school. He says that he learned Tuzantec since he was born, and that he stopped speaking Tuzantec when he was approximately eleven years old. He also refers to the idea of Tuzantec being compared to Mam (another Mayan language), and that for a long time it was considered Mam. The third audio-video recording MHC_TUZ_JLP_Biografia_de_JLP-3 keeps talking about the name of Tuzantec and how people used to say that it was considered Mam. He says that we do not know if Motozintlec and Tuzantec are the same language. Jaime asks him if he could understand when Teodoso from Motozintla understood his language, and Julio says that he could understand, but it was hard for him to understand all of it. He also talks about places where he went to work. He did not go far away, only to those farms around Tuzantan. He names some of those farms where he worked, and he says what he did in this farms (mostly on coffee plantations). He tell us how he settled down in Tuzantan, and he stopped going to those farms. He says that his father suggested him to work on their own land. He says also that he gradually got tired, and decided to just work by himself.

Recorded on: 2018-06-09

This is a session with three audio-video recordings of narratives about the cocoa and the products Tuzantec people produce from it. Julio López Pérez tells us about what they do with the cocoa since it is the main product that they harvest in Tuzantan. Jaime Pérez González asks Julio what the whole process is to harvest cocoa. From the planting until the end when the product is ready to sell or to derive something else. He tells us that someone brought it to Tuzantan, and since they saw it had good fruits, then they decided to plant it. The audio-recording MHC_TUZ_JLP_NARR_El_cacao_y_sus_derivados is a merging of three short files MHC_TUZ_JLP_NARR_El_cacao_y_sus_derivados-1, MHC_TUZ_JLP_NARR_El_cacao_y_sus_derivados-2, MHC_TUZ_JLP_NARR_El_cacao_y_sus_derivados-3. All three are transcribed. In the first two files Julio talks about the process of planting cocoa, how to take care of the plant, and he also says that Tuzantec people used to exchange cocoa for other kind of food, firewood, bread, they mostly did not sell cocoa for money. Now, people want to sell cocoa even if the price is low because they are ambitious, and they want to make money. Jaime asks how the harvest cocoa, and what the instruments are for doing this. At the end of the second recording Julio begins to talk about the beverages that Tuzantec used to prepare with the cocoa grains. He tells us the process of fermenting it, and producing an alcoholic traditional beverage that they use to drink to get drunk. He also says how to make other types of drinks, and chocolate. He also says that the cocoa is combined with other kind of drinks based on other ingredients.

Recorded on: 2018-08-16

Don Flaviano was supreme counselor of the Mocho' ethnic group and was representing his people for several years, achieving several opportunities for their language and culture. This is the story of him and other Mocho' counselors.

Recorded on: 2017-11-12

This is a conversation between Felipa and Teodoso about the traditional customs in Motozintla. They say these customs are no longer practiced by their decedents. These traditional activities are seen as ancient activities, and nobody is interested in keeping them alive.

Recorded on: 2017-11-10

Teodoso Ortíz Ramírez (left), Jaime Pérez González (right), Photographer: Roselio Méndez Montoya

Recorded on: 2018-01-06

This is a conversation between Flaviano and Teodoso while they are drinking coffee. In this conversation they make jokes and they talk about different things. The last part of this conversation is about a notification Teodoso got from the president of Oxchuc (to tseltal village) some years back to go to an indigenous event as a Mocho' representative.

Recorded on: 2018-01-10

This is the story of a man who was widowed with his children. Later he wanted to marry a woman who did not accept his children. The woman asked him to get rid of his children if he really wanted to stay with her. The man obeyed the woman and went to leave his children to the mountain. The children became rich and returned to the village.

Recorded on: 2017-10-17