Purépecha AKA P'urhépecha [pʰuˈɽepet͡ʃa] (Phorhé, Phorhépecha), often called Tarascan (Spanish: Tarasco), is a language isolate or small language family that is spoken by a quarter-million Purépecha in the highlands of Michoacán, Mexico.
|124,494 (2010 census)|
Purépecha was the main language of the pre-Columbian Tarascan State and became widespread in northwestern Mexico during its heyday in the late post-Classic period. The small town of Purepero, got its name from the indigenous people who lived there. Other groups that existed then were the Aztec and the Maya (ca. 1400–1521).
Purépecha has long been classified as a language isolate unrelated to any other known language. That judgement is repeated in Lyle Campbell's authoritative classification. Joseph Greenberg assigned it to the Chibchan language family, but like the rest of his American classification, that proposal is rejected by specialists.
The language is spoken mostly in rural communities in the highlands of Michoacán. The former center of the Tarascan State was around Lake Pátzcuaro and remains an important center of the Purépecha community.
Ethnologue counts Purépecha as two languages: a central language, spoken by approximately 40,000 people (2005) around Pátzcuaro, and a western highland language, spoken by 135,000 speakers (2005) around Zamora, Los Reyes de Salgado, Paracho de Verduzco, and Pamatácuaro, all of which are in the vicinity of the volcano Parícutin. Recent migration has formed communities of speakers in the cities of Guadalajara, Tijuana and Mexico City and in the United States. The total population of speakers is rising (from 58,000 in 1960 to 96,000 in 1990 and 120,000 in 2000), but the percentage of speakers relative to non-speakers is falling, and the degree of bilingualism is rising, which makes it an endangered language. Fewer than 10% of speakers are now monolingual.
The Purépecha are known to have migrated from elsewhere to their current location, as their tradition includes stories of having traveled from the Pacific Ocean to their current locations. Ethnohistorical accounts mention them as a people dwelling in the same region of Michoacán they live in now as early as the 13th century. According to the Relación de Michoacán, the communities around Lake Pátzcuaro were gathered into the strong Purépecha Styat by the leader of the Uacúsecha group of Purépecha speakers, Tariácuri. Around 1300, he undertook the first conquests of other and installed his sons Hiripan and Tangáxoan as lords of Ihuatzio and Tzintzuntzan respectively while he himself ruled from Pátzcuaro City. By the time of the death of Taríacuri, in around 1350, his lineage was in control of all the major centers around Lake Pátzcuaro.
His son Hiripan continued the expansion into the area surrounding Lake Cuitzeo. In 1460 the Purépecha State reached the Pacific Coast at Zacatula, advanced into the Toluca Valley, and also, on the northern rim, reached into the present-day state of Guanajuato. In the 15th century, the Purépecha state was at war with the Aztecs. Many Nahua peoples who had lived side by side with Purépecha-speakers were relocated outside of the Tarascan frontiers, and Otomi-speakers fleeing the Aztec expansion resettled on the border between the two polities. That created a fairly-homogeneous area of Purépecha speakers, with no other languages spoken in the core area around Lake Pátzcuaro.
During the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, the Purépecha State was at first peacefully incorporated into the realm of New Spain, but with the killing of Cazonci Tangaxuán II by Nuño de Guzmán, the relation became one of Spanish dominance by force. Exceptions were the hospital communities of Vasco de Quiroga, such as Santa Fé de la Laguna, where Purépecha could live with a degree of protection from Spanish domination. Through Spanish friars, the Purépecha learned to write in the Latin script, and Purépecha became a literary language in the early colonial period. There is a body of written sources in Purépecha from the period, including several dictionaries, confessionaries, and land titles. Among the most important colonial works are the grammar (1558) and dictionary (1559) of Fray Maturino Gilberti, and the grammar and dictionary (1574) by Juan Baptista de Lagunas 
From ca. 1700, the status of Purépecha changed, and throughout the 20th century, the Mexican government pursued a policy of Hispanicization. Speakers of indigenous languages were actively encouraged to abandon their languages in favor of Spanish. However, in accord with international changes in favor of recognizing the linguistic rights of indigenous peoples and promoting multiculturalism in colonial states, the Congress of the Union of Mexico approved the General Law of Linguistic Rights of the Indigenous Peoples in 2003, giving Purépecha and Mexico's other indigenous languages official status as "national languages."
The official alphabet is the P’URHEPECHA JIMBO KARARAKUECHA (Purépecha Alphabet):
The letters b, d, g occur in spelling only after m, n: mb, nd, ng. Their use is not consistent with orthography on the phonemic principle because the sounds /p, t, k/ are automatically voiced, shifting in pronunciation to [b, d, ɡ], respectively, after nasal consonants.
- karáni 'write' — kárani 'fly'
- p'amáni 'wrap it' — p'ámani 'touch a liquid'
Usually, the second syllable of the word is stressed, but occasionally, it is the first.
The phonemic inventory of the Tarécuato dialect is presented below. It differs from other dialects in having a velar nasal phoneme. The table of phonemes uses the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and also gives the alphabet equivalents, enclosed in angle brackets, if it is not obvious.
|Close||i||ɨ ⟨ ï ⟩||u|
The two mid vowels /e, o/ are uncommon, especially the latter.
The high central vowel is almost always after /s/ or /ts/ and is then almost an allophone of /i/.
The final vowel of a word is usually whispered or deleted except before a pause.
Vowel clusters are very rare except for sequences that are generated by adding grammatical suffixes like the plural -echa or -icha, the copula -i, or the genitive -iri. Vowel clusters are usually not the first two sounds of a word.
Purépecha is one of the few languages in the Mesoamerica without a phonemic glottal stop (a distinction shared by the Huave language and by some Nahuan languages). It lacks any laterals ('l'-sounds). However, in the speech of many young speakers, the retroflex rhotic has been replaced by [l] under the influence of Spanish.
|aspirated||p' /pʰ/||t' /tʰ/||k' /kʰ/||kʷʰ|
|aspirated||ts' /t͡sʰ/||ch' /t͡ʃʰ/|
|Fricative||s||x /ʃ/||j /x/|
|Approximant||rh /ɽ/||i /j/||u /w/|
The official orthography does not have distinct representations for the four phonemes /kʷ/, /kʷʰ/, /w/, /j/. It uses the letter ⟨i⟩ for both /i, j/ and the letter ⟨u⟩ for both /u, w/, but both semivowels are fairly rare. When ⟨k⟩ or ⟨k'⟩ is followed by ⟨u⟩ and another vowel letter, the sequence virtually always represents the labio-velar phonemes.
Intervocally, aspirated consonants become pre-aspirated. After nasals, they lose their aspiration entirely. Unaspirated consonants become voiced after nasals.
Purépecha is an agglutinative language, but sound change has led to a certain degree of fusion. It is sometimes considered a polysynthetic language because of its complex morphology and frequent long words. Unlike most other languages that are considered polysynthetic, it has no noun compounding or incorporation. The language is exclusively suffixing and has a large number of suffixes (as many as 160) and clitics. The verb distinguishes 13 aspects and 6 modes. The language is double-marking in the typology of Johanna Nichols, as it marks grammatical relations on both the dependent phrases and phrasal heads.
The language has both grammatical case and postpositions. The case system distinguishes nominative, accusative, genitive, comitative, instrumental, and locative cases, but there are also many nominal derivational affixes. Word order is flexible, and the basic word order has been described as either SVO or SOV. However, both authors note that other word orders are frequently used for pragmatic purposes such as focus or topic tracking.
Nouns are inflected by the basic formula Noun + Number + Case.
The language distinguishes between plural and unspecified numbers, with no dedicated singular form.
Plurals formed by the suffix -echa/-icha or -cha.
- kúmi-wátsï 'fox' - kúmi-wátsïcha 'foxes'
- iréta 'town' - irétaacha 'towns'
- warhíticha tepharicha maru 'some fat women' (lit. women-PL fat-PL some).
The genitive case is marked by -ri -eri:
- imá wárhitiri wíchu 'that woman's dog'
- imá wárhiti-ri wíchu
- that woman-GEN dog
The locative case is marked by -rhu, -o
- kúntaati Maríao 'He'll meet him at María's place'
The instrumental case is marked by the particle jimpó or the suffix -mpu
- jiríkurhniniksï tsakápu k'éri má jimpó 'They hid behind some big rocks'
- ampémpori ánchikuarhiwa 'What will he/she work with?'
The comitative case is marked by the particle jinkóni or the suffix -nkuni
- apóntini warhíti má jinkóni 'to sleep with a woman'
- xi niwákani imánkuni 'I'll go with him/her'
Discourse-pragmatic focus on a noun or noun phrase is indicated by the clitic -sï.
Verbs inflect for aspects and moods as well as for person and number of the subject and the object. There are also a number of suffixes expressing shape, position, or body parts that affect or are affected by the verbal action.
Purépecha-language programming is broadcast by the radio station XEPUR-AM, located in Cherán, Michoacán. It is a project of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples.
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- Villavicencio Zarza, Frida (2006). P'orhépecha kaso sïrátahenkwa: Desarrollo del sistema de casos del purépecha (in Spanish). Mexico, DF: Colegio de México, Centro de Investigaciones Superiores en Antropología Social. ISBN 968-496-592-3.
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