Lenguas originarias de México

Una muestra de la inmensidad de México es su diversidad cultural, expresada aquí a través de las lenguas originarias del país. Existen siete ramas aisladas de las que derivan más de medio centenar de lenguas además de tres importantes lenguas más aisladas. Algunas muertas, otras con más de un millón de personas hablándola.



Lenguas Otomangueanas

La familia lingüística otomangueana está presente en el centro y sur de México por lo menos desde el año 2000 a. C. Su historia y extensión han dado como resultado una notable divergencia lingüística entre los grupos que la componen.

El diagrama muestra las dos vertientes del Otomangue: el oriental y occidental. De éstas derivan más de veinte variantes lingüísticas adicionales. Las más grandes son el Tlapaneco, Otomí, Mazahua, Zapoteco, Mixteco y el Mazateco. El número* de personas que hablan cada lengua es reflejado en el grueso de los nodos, habiendo al menos cinco lenguas muertas y otras siete en peligro de extinción.



Lenguas Yuto-Azteca

Madre de las importantes lenguas Nahuatl, Trahumara, Yaqui, Mayo y Huichol. También madre de las lenguas muertas Pochuteco, Ópata, Tubar, Eudeve y Tepecano. Una lengua que tiene tres ramas vivas. La rama dominante es el “Carachol-Aztecano”, tanto el Nahuatl (la lengua más hablada entre todas las lenguas) como el Huichol son escisiones de ella. Taracachita tiene a su vez tres ramificaciones, dos de mediano tamaño y una vertiente extinta.



Lenguas Mayenses

Con un grado de diversificación que sugiere antigüedad pentamilenaria. De compleja escritura, en parte logográfica y en parte silábica. Ubicada principalmente en el sur de México, Belice y Guatemala, el maya es un complejo conjunto de lenguas vivas. Tres de sus cinco ramas principales tienen poblaciones importantes, siendo el maya yucateco la segunda lengua más hablada en el país.



Lenguas Hokanas

Esta rama agrupa numerosas lenguas habladas en las zonas áridas del noroeste de México. La mayor parte de las lenguas hokanas están extintas o se encuentran cerca de desaparecer.



Lenguas Toto-Zoqueanas

Esta familia de lenguas constituye la unión de las subfamilias lingüísticas totonaco-tepehua y mixe-zoque. El primer grupo es formado por siete lenguas y hablado por los totonacos. Se habla en la Sierra Madre Oriental, principalmente entre los estados de Veracruz y Puebla, por alrededor de 200 mil habitantes. Por su parte las lenguas mixe-zoqueanas, son habladas en el istmo de Tehuantepec, la Sierra de Juárez y el occidente de Chiapas.



Lenguas Varias



*El número de personas ha sido reconvertido con una escala logarítmica, preservando así sus propiedades de monotonicidad, con fines de visualización.


Homicides in Mexico and a 10-year-old war on drugs


Homicides are one of the most violent manifestations of breakups in the social structure. While not all homicides are intentional, many are and these are the focus of this analysis.

Homicides respond to different dynamics and forces, in Mexico, many of these respond to drug cartel pressures. This can be seen in the map above -which plots homicide rates in each  municipality (2456) for 2015. Murder rates are palpably higher in three areas well known to be linked to drug trafficking: two related to the US border and one in the central Pacific region (a spot through which precursors for manufacturing of synthetic drugs come into the country from Asia, mainly from China).

Homicide rates tend to be higher in regions disputed by more than one cartel. This why the policy to militarily dissolve the cartels often leads to spirals of violence. This approach destabilizes the long term equilibrium  of territorial distribution by weakening incumbent cartels. As a consequence of this,  new groups emerge and contest the domain of a particular region.

This is one reason that explains why the approach to drugs that the Mexican government decided to follow ten years ago has fatally failed. This failure can be measured in a number of ways: by the number of lives lost; the loss of economic opportunities; forced migration; budget devoted to the military and security rather than to socially valuable public goods, and so on. Under no metric does the social benefits brought by this strategy surpass its enormous social costs.

In the meantime, many countries have made strong steps to revert their policies towards more flexible drug production and consumption laws to treat the matter exclusively as a public health issue while taxing its consumption. There should be no doubt that the prohibitionist approach to drugs has been unequally enforced in different parts of the world. However, this gives more freedom to Mexico for reflecting about where it’s going and which path it wants to take in the future.





Stratification of Poverty in Mexico


In Mexico, 80% of its population is deprived of at least one basic social and economic life dimension. Poverty in Mexico, regardless of how one measures it, is a widespread phenomenon that has grown on a par with population.

The poverty measure employed here focuses on seven categories, one of which is income, four others are cutoff indexes indicating whether individuals have access to health, education, food and social security and two others related to the quality of housing and access to basic housing services (such as running water or electricity). With these categories, a classification scheme for multidimensional poverty is constructed:

  • Extreme Multidimensional Poverty: Income below the necessary income to afford the most basics of life and being deprived of three or more dimensions.
  • Multidimensional Poverty: Income below the necessary income to afford the basics of life and being deprived of one dimension.

Distribution of poverty 2014 - Coneval - 3

Despite this graph showing data of 2014, if one explores previews data it will find that little has changed in the composition of poverty over time. This is highly problematic as only one in five Mexicans live out of poverty hinting to the fact that social mobility is close to nonexistent.

Intergenerational transmission of social and economic conditions is perhaps in the core of understanding Mexico’s economic underperformance. When intergenerational transmission of poverty is elevated, many high skilled individuals will not fully materialize their potential and thus their contribution to society will be suboptimal. Thus, the degree at which individual’s social and economic development level is shaped by non-individual decisions partially determines how resources and opportunities are allocated. This in turn affects long run economic dynamics.

How we understand poverty can importantly influence how we come to measure it, how we analyse it and how we create policies to fight it. Poverty in Mexico is a critical social problem that Mexican governments have widely ignored and failed to tackle.

by Diego de la Fuente


Note: Data on poverty gathered from Coneval 2014.

Poverty in Mexico II


Foto-post-mexicoMexico’s deep roots of poverty which have been systematically ignored by both the political and social spheres throughout its history.  Over 23 million people live with an insufficient income to buy the minimum basket of food, even if they disposed all their income to do so; over 60 million cannot afford the minimum basket of goods and services.

Poverty is unevenly distributed across the population: with the indigenous, the rural and the youth populations being the most severely affected. In terms of the multidimensional poverty measure elaborated by CONEVAL which captures income together with six other indicators (access to food, edu
cation, housing, health and social security and basic services -such as water and sewage-), in the year 2012, poverty affected:

  • 72.2% of the indigenous population (vs. 42.6% of the non-indigenous population).
  • 61.6% of the rural population (vs. 40.6% of the urban population).
  • 53.8% of the under 18 years old (vs. 40.7% of the population between 18 and 65 years).

Poverty is hard to contextualize because more than a concept it is a way of life that is suffered distinctly across populations: in the rural and urban areas, by different age groups, across sexes, regions, climates, cultures, and so on. Some additional numbers should serve to make the point.



    • Illiteracy rates are over four times higher than for the rest of the population, with 27% of the indigenous suffering it.
    • According to UNICEF, 33.2% of under 5 years old presented stunted growth.
    • Mortality rate for indigenous children is over 60% higher than for the general population.


    • According to CONAPO, in the mainly rural state of Chiapas (58% of the population live in towns with 5,000 or less inhabitants): 37% of the population did not finish primary (elementary) school, 70% earn an income below two minimum wages, 25% live in housing with dirt floor, 18% cannot read or write.
    • In the state of Guerrero (49.7% of the population live in towns with 5,000 or less inhabitants): over 20% of the population lived without access to sewage, 29.8% didn’t have access to tubed water, 20% lived in dirt floor housing, 17% cannot read or write.

Children and youth:

The problem of children is as obscure as those of the other groups but in a different way.

    • infantil3According to INEGI, around three million Mexicans between 5 and 17 years old work (12.5% of the total), of which more than two thirds are boys. Of these, 44% do not receive an income, 28% earn an income below the minimum wage and only 8% earn more than 2 minimum wages for their work.
    • Furthermore, over 40% of these children work to complement family income or work; over 25% do so to pay for schooling materials and own expenses and only 5.1% did so to avoid schooling.

In Mexico, life is much harder for some that for others. However, it is striking is to find that poverty in Mexico is, more often than not, the result of exclusion. Looking at the level of need that large groups of the population have points towards the cyclical transmission of the problem across generations.

Paradoxically, the missing component for the country’s long waited economic flourishing lies precisely in whether the country is capable or not of unleashing individual potential across every group of society. Giving opportunities for development to the population would not only create a more just society but a much more dynamic one too.

by Diego de la Fuente

Poverty in Mexico I

In the 1.96 million sq. kilometers of Mexican territory over 120 million people coexist. This is a country of great social, cultural and natural diversity such that is becomes hard to speak of a one Mexico. Along the territory, 67 stable languages are spoken among its various indigenous groups, making it the seventh most linguistically diverse country in the planet. According to CONEVAL (a Mexican government agency that evaluates social policy and measures poverty), around 9.7 percent of the Mexican population speaks an indigenous language. Heterogeneities in the welfare dimension abound too, with poverty being a widespread, yet differently lived, phenomenon.


Last official measures of income (2012) suggested that 51.6 percent of the total population lived with incomes below the poverty line. A level of poverty well above that of any other country with a similar average income. In fact, the share of the total population living under income poverty has not been significantly altered in the last 20 years as it affected a similar 53.1 percent in 1992. This is not to say that poverty has not increased: because of population growth there were more that 20 million additional people living under this type of poverty in 2012.

This is a reflection of the profound levels of opportunity and income inequality of the country. According to the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, the top 10 percent income earners in Mexico held an income 30.5 times higher than the poorest 10 percent, in contrast with the 9.6 OECD average. Other measures portrait the same problem.

10354745_699662983422490_6674093125968396564_nBut not all groups are affected the same. Not only is poverty deeper in some regions of the country but it is also more widespread. For example, despite the fact that indigenous groups constitute little less than 10 percent of the total population, they accounted for 30.2 percent of the total population living under extreme poverty and 15.4 percent of the population living under general poverty (see graph below: “Poverty Levels Within Municipalities”). More worrisome is the fact that despite this being publicly known, in 2013 only 1.8 percent of the Federal budget was targeted to the development of indigenous towns and communities.

Poverty is the source of much of the current widespread social frustration as its origin has more to do with social exclusion, lack equal opportunities and an economic policy that lies far away from the multifaceted Mexican reality.

New figures of poverty are expected to be released in the coming weeks. Some expect the numbers of poverty to somewhat fall, specially those of extreme poverty since Federal programs such as “Sin Hambre” (Without hunger) -aimed to give basic food supplies to millions in need- have increased under the current administration. However, it is not clear their impact will be large and even if it is, the programs lack the capacity to break poverty in a structural manner. Some rightfully complain they are nothing more than meager palliatives.

Mexico has been used to tackling the problem in a rather superficial way, with doses of hurtful populism that are not rare to see in Latin America. Social policy needs to be better directed to break poverty in an organic manner. It should prioritize on those who need it the most; on those who have been excluded from the development of the economy for a long time. A policy for economic, social and cultural inclusion ought to be a priority.



Additional numbers:

Figura 3 (.wmf) - Indigenismo, desigualdad y pobreza en México

The following graph shows the distribution of municipalities according to the incidence of poverty within municipalities (vertical axis). Municipalities have been divided by the share of the population that speak an indigenous language. Municipalities are considered “indigenous” when over 70 percent of the population speaks an indigenous language. This graph allows us to see that in 75 percent of “indigenous” municipalities at least 80 percent of the population lives under (multidimensional) poverty while the exact reverse is true for the rest of municipalities. Something similar happens with extreme poverty: whereas in 50 percent of the indigenous municipalities over half of its population lives under extreme poverty in the corresponding in half of non-indigenous municipalities less than 15 percent of the population does.

Revolutionary Demographics

Demography has uninterruptedly changed the course of human history. From the diaspora that led the formation of Ancient Greece to the aging populations of Japan and Europe. However, it is possible to assert that the speed of the demographic changes that North America has been going through is unprecedented.

The biggest change in this respect has been migration from the southern countries of Latin America to northern ones, particularly the United States. Not surprisingly, a large proportion of them come from Mexico since it accounts for over 30% of the Spanish speaking population in the Americas and shares a 3,145 km (1,954 mi) border with the United States, in many respects the most dynamic border in the world.

In fact, about one in ten Mexican citizens, 12m in total, live in the United States and despite ugly and divisive yet apparently fashionable political rhetoric half of them are legal and documented migrants. This makes for the biggest immigrant community in the world.

Has this migration come to a reach a new equilibrium? Between 1995 and 2000 some 3m Mexicans moved to the United States, vastly outnumbering the 700,000 or so who returned to Mexico. Yet in 2005-10 the number of newcomers fell to 1.4m, whereas that of returners increased to a matching 1.4m. Some estimates report that current net migration between these two countries has reversed. Much of this is likely to be the result of scarcer job prospects in the US, but not all.

Still, every year around 900,000 United States born citizens with Latin American heritage reach voting age. The effects of past migration are inevitable. The map that follows should help you visualize the size of the phenomenon.


Hispanic Population % 2011 (US Total) Inverted 2



It is not uncommon that people find a connection between the previews map and that of the mid 19th century before the territorial disputes between the United States and Mexico that were settled between 1845 and 1848 to favor the rising US power. The map to the right plots the Mexican territory as claimed by Mexico.


by Diego de la Fuente