OaxaCalifornia Virtual Life: reproducing Zapotec culture and language

By Jasmine Lopez, Nov. 20, 2020

Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship, Post 9. This is the ninth in a series of blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen) published on GlobalSL / Community-based Global Learning Collaborative and Ticha. Previous blog posts are available here: (1) Lillehaugen/January 2020; (2) Flores-Marical/February 2020; (3) Kawan-Hemler/March 2020; (4) Lopez/July 2020; (5) Kadlecek/1 August 2020; (6) García Guzmán/15 August 2020; (7) Park/September 2020; (8) Zarafonetis/October 2020.

The Ticha Summer 2020 Conversatorios (described in Lopez/July 2020 and García Guzmán/15 August 2020) provided a unique experience for transnational conversations with Zapotec speakers and community members. Professor Flores-Marcial led a workshop that included several students who had taken her courses at California State University, Northridge. We come from several Zapotec speaking regions including the communities of Quiavini, Lubina, Yalina and Yatee and have different levels of Zapotec language abilities which we were able to reflect on and learn through this opportunity provided by the Ticha Conversatorios. This is part one of three posts by participants from Oaxacalifornia.

Jasmine Lopez; Santa Maria Yalina, Oaxaca and San Fernando Valley, California


I found the Summer 2020 virtual Ticha Conversatorios to be an interesting and valuable experience especially as a member of the Oaxacalifornia community. My family speaks Zapotec from the community of Santa Maria Yalina (Yialhin) located in the Sierra Norte region of Oaxaca. The Zapotec language we speak is known as Dilla Xhon and is spoken in many different communities nearby such as Santiago Zoochila (Xshilh), San Jeronimo Zoochina (Xhiin), San Bartolome Zoogocho (Xgolle) and Santa Maria Tavehua (Tobio’o) among others. Up until now, the languages I spoke were English, French and Spanish.

The opportunity to focus on the topic of Zapotec language studies and to be in the company of Zapotecs from various Oaxacan regions was incredibly inspiring. In my entire educational experience, I had never felt myself reflected in the curriculum nor in the teachers, but the Conversatorios provided a space where I felt recognized as a Zapotec and as a heritage speaker of my parents’ native language. I have shared with my family in California and in Oaxaca that it is very validating to be able to relate to faculty members like Professor Flores-Marcial who shares the experience of being a transnational Oaxacan woman who understands my experience. I feel inspired by the paths we have followed and how we can relate to each other based on our Oaxacalifornia identity, regardless of our places of origin in the different Zapotec regions of Oaxaca. It is empowering to be able to talk to Professor Flores-Marcial about things that I cannot talk about with others who are not a part of this transnational community.

Oaxacalifornia is host to different pueblos of origin where we reproduce our language, culture and traditions. For example, my community organizes events that benefit our pueblo, they are called kermes (kermes is a borrowed word that denotes a Catholic religious bazaar). The hometown association of Santa Maria Yalina organizes an annual kermes to honor la Santa Cruz, which takes place on or around May 3rd every year. A second kermes is coordinated on or around August 15th which honors la virgen de la Asunción. At these events there is food, traditional musica de viento (winds music), tamborazos (brass bands), deejays and dancing and it is common to meet new people from our region or pueblo at these events. As a member of this transnational space in which the community gathers in celebration, it is super uplifting to be in the company of hundreds of paisanos (people from the same place of origin). It is common to hear the older generations speak to each other in Zapotec, and this allows younger generations to reflect on the meaning of this situation. Zapotec is the elder’s version of what English is to younger Oaxacalifornians who use English as our matrix language.

The paisanos I know that are my age or a little older, do not speak Zapotec. But as someone who is now learning it, I can say that a vast majority are trying to learn our parents’ language. We have grown out of that phase in which we were shy to declare our Oaxacan heritage due to the bullying that has affected older generations both in diaspora and in Oaxaca. Identifying as a Zapotec is not something to be ashamed of, and it never truly was. Oaxacalifornians from different regions in Oaxaca are now realizing that Indigenous languages most of all, are in danger and if we do not do everything we can do to preserve them, they will die.

This transnational community in California, is a space where Indigenous Oaxacans, from the same pueblo or region, congregate outside of our ancestral lands. I feel a sense of pride and responsibility, knowing that the traditions and customs my parents and grandparents had to leave behind in the process of migration, must be reproduced in California in order to survive. For example despite the 2000 miles distance separating us from our pueblos, the musica de viento bands have continued, the danzas have stayed alive, and many traditions overall are still here in our Oaxacalifornia life. Today, many Oaxacalifornians are doing everything possible to try to save our Indigenous languages.

When there are enough volunteers, my hometown’s association organizes danzas which take place in the annual kermeses. It is an honor to be selected as a participant and to represent the culture of our pueblo of origin. Because it is a very serious commitment involving many efforts, the danzas are not always performed at the kermes. However, as someone who has participated in this reproduction of Zapotec culture in California, it is with great joy that I am able to provide the background on what this danza represents for Zapotecs in diaspora from la Sierra Norte de Oaxaca. A maestro de danza (teacher who specializes in traditional folk dance) from Santa Maria Tavehua taught me a danza called Danza Huenche Nene (Güench Bdaó), or also known as La Danza de San Jose (Guaya San Kwse). I performed this danza in May of 2018 in honor of la Santa Cruz and in August of 2018 in honor of la Virgen de la Asunción.

I would like to thank Malequias Allende and Luis Revilla, who happens to be the leader of the Grupo de Danza Familia Zapoteca, based in Oaxacalifornia, for conducting the research and translation from Zapotec necessary for me to be able to share this story. 

The Danza de San José was danced around 1900 and 1906 and originates in the barrio of Santiago el Mayor Apóstol of Villa Hidalgo Yalalag, located in la Sierra Norte de Oaxaca. This danza and the musica de viento that accompanies it, was created by the late Ausencio Celiz, a danzante and musician. The original name was Danza Huenche Nene and was later changed to Danza de San Jose, but it is still the same danza and can be referred to as either one of those names.

The second part of the danza, served for the evangelization of the pueblos in the Sierra Norte and is portrayed in the photograph below (see Figure 1). This danza was created by Bonifacio Verá, Dionicio Vera and Pablo Mestas. It consists of the father, Jose, dancing with virgin Mary and el niño Jesus (baby Jesus). This part is called, xthawbe which means grandparents in Classic Zapotec. The first woman who represented virgin Mary was Adelaida Celiz and the first niño Jesus was represented by a doll. It stopped being performed for a while but in 1940, the organizers of the patron Saint celebration of the barrio de Santiago el Mayor Apóstol, (Juan Celiz, Juan Ipolito Molina and Severiano Gaspar) had the idea to rescue it so it would not become lost. The only two people alive at that time with experience of having danced it before, Adelaida Celiz and Pablo Mestas, helped them as well through their expertise. The grandmother dresses in an everyday huipil (traditional blouse) with a petate (reed mat) and a pillow in hand to lay el niño Jesus down, while the grandfather carries a chair for the virgin Mary to sit in, and a hoop which has cookies and candies hanging from it as an offering for el niño Jesus, which you can see in the link below.

Video 1. YouTube video Danza Huenache Nene Santa Maria Yalina

It is also important to note that in the part in which Mary and Jose dance together, they also sing in Spanish, which is said to be how it was done the first time it was ever performed. During most of the danza, baby Jesus’ grandparents dance and joke around, in Zapotec. But at the end of the part between Jose and Mary dancing which is usually about 25 minutes, they sing and part of the performance involves both of them gossiping or making fun of things that have happened in the pueblo. This part is a form of comedy used to entertain the people watching the danza. They pretend to be arguing and hitting each other, with the intention of making the crowd laugh. An example of this can be shown in this video (Danza Huenche Nene, Yalalag Presente en Oaxacalifornia 2019; minute 29:00 – 34:00). which was performed almost a year ago in the festivity organized by the commission de Santa Catalina, one of the many hometown associations of the comunidad de Yalalag in Oaxacalifornia, in their annual festivity to honor la virgen de Santa Catalina Martir.

In this danza, I represented Maria and my partner represented Jose. And el niño Jesus was represented by my sister Ariana. Different pueblos in the Sierra Norte have adopted this danza, and others, to honor the saints they celebrate in their festivities.

Figure 1. A reproduction of the traditional danza de San Jose from the Sierra Norte performed at the kermes de Santa Maria Yalina in honor of la Santa Cruz.

Figure 2. La danza de San Jose at the kermes de Santa Maria Yalina in honor of la Virgen de la Asunción.


On the other side of Oaxacalifornia, in the Oaxacan context (see Figure 3), many of the new generations of Oaxacalifornians are multilingual, we speak Spanish, English and Zapotec. So when we are visiting our pueblos, we might end up speaking in English to each other because it is the language we are accustomed to speaking with the contemporaries in our place of residence in the United States.

Thanks to my experience as a participant in the Ticha Conversatorios, the biggest lesson I learned is to learn our Indigenous languages while they are still alive! We have teachers in our parents, grandparents and other members of our communities on both sides of Oaxacalifornia (Indigenous Oaxacan organizations are also coordinating Zapotec language lessons). Traditions, languages and political systems only survive for as long as the new generations preserve them. Another positive result of this experience is that I started connecting with others from neighboring pueblos, or even from other parts of Oaxaca, at least on the socials for now (because of Covid restrictions). Finally, inspired by the Conversatorio experience, one thing led to another and I am now learning Zapotec via Zoom.

Figure 3. Santa Maria Yalina, Oaxaca photo courtesy of Jasmine Lopez


By Mike Zarafonetis, Oct. 9, 2020

Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship, Post 8. This is the eighth in a series of blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen) published on GlobalSL / Community-based Global Learning Collaborative andTicha. Previous blog posts are available here:Lillehaugen/January 2020;Flores-Marical/February 2020;Kawan-Hemler/March 2020;Lopez/July 2020;Kadlecek/1 August 2020;García Guzmán/15 August 2020.; Park/October 2020.

At their core, libraries facilitate access to and the creation of knowledge. The Digital Scholarship (DS) program in the library at Haverford College supports faculty and students as they create new knowledge in digital forms, often partnering with stakeholding communities to do so. As a librarian, the leader of Haverford’s DS program, and a Ticha project team member, I often hold up the Ticha project as an example that reflects the depth and breadth of our work. It exemplifies the way we work and the values of our program–it is highly collaborative, critical in its approach to digital tools and methods, and deeply engaged with its communities.

Libraries and archives are not neutral institutions. They can and should be agents for equity, inclusion, and justice in the communities they serve. In an information landscape dominated by the interests of capital, libraries remain crucial instruments for creating, disseminating, and preserving community-based knowledge–especially while access to our physical locations are necessarily restricted in order to protect public health. Digital scholarship has proven vital to libraries during the Covid-19 pandemic. Through electronic database subscriptions, we provide access to books and articles to our users without their presence in the building (or even on campus). Through digital collections on the web, we can provide similar access to some archival materials. For digital scholarship projects like Ticha, we continue to connect users to nontraditional, multimodal, and community-engaged scholarship.

The work supported by this grant furthers the mission of the project and our library: to enhance access to and understanding of the cultural record. Ticha’s corpus is unique–some of the digitized manuscripts contain multiple European and indigenous languages, and they are not available anywhere else on the web. Because of this, it is difficult to ask users to make sense of the materials by simply browsing the corpus, especially if those users are not versed in Early Modern Spanish or paleography. Through the teaching units created by the Ticha team, educators and other community members can better understand the cultural, historical, and linguistic context in which these seventeenth and eighteenth century texts were created, which in turn can enhance understanding of the materials and the language. For example, the Numbers lesson shows how colonial printing practices shaped the production of the printed texts on the Ticha site. This context helps modern readers make sense of spelling, punctuation, and abbreviations that would otherwise seem unusual and confusing.

Features of the Ticha site provide additional ways of accessing materials beyond simple searching and browsing. The ideas for these features emerged from conversations with stakeholders, including members of the Zapotec advisory board and other members of Zapotec communities. Digital scholarship librarians and student developers working in the DS program then designed and implemented the features in dialogue with the core project team. The map viewertimeline, and other visualizations, all designed and developed by students, provide multiple entry points into the corpus and allow users of varying learning styles and interests to explore the materials in ways that are meaningful to them. The modernized and normalized versions of Early Modern Spanish texts require painstaking work to create, but also democratize access to the texts on the site. One of the most exciting developments of the past summer is the pilot of a “personography” for the pueblo of Tlacochahuaya, which is an index of persons who appear in the corpus along with biographical information gleaned from the documents. The personography was created by project team member and student Eloise Kadlecek in close consultation with Zapotec advisory board member Moisés García Guzmán, and was published with the approval of the municipio of Tlacochahuaya. The development of these features has also helped the digital scholarship team at Haverford build capacity in new tools and methods, allowing us to enhance access to other collections in similar ways. For example, we have also built a personography for a corpus of Quaker travel journals and letters during the late eighteenth century, and have created visualizations similar to those on the Ticha site for other collections-based projects.

The work of the project team in creating these teaching units is a valuable reminder to me as a librarian that enhanced access often requires enhanced understanding. So many of the collections in academic libraries tell unique and important stories and have great value to underrepresented communities, but these collections often suffer from a lack of meaningful framing. These communities already confront structural barriers to accessing this knowledge (the expense of higher education, the technology divide, a lack of welcoming spaces to community members on college campuses, and others) and as information professionals we must do our best to dismantle those barriers whenever we can. When I hear about the effectiveness of the teaching units in the Conversatorios, I feel validated in the work that I do as a librarian and encouraged to continue to apply this approach to other digital scholarship projects.


By Heewon Park, Sept. 11, 2020

Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship, Post 7. This is the seventh in a series of blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen) published on GlobalSL / Community-based Global Learning Collaborative and Ticha. Previous blog posts are available here: Lillehaugen/January 2020Flores-Marical/February 2020Kawan-Hemler/March 2020Lopez/July 2020; Kadlecek/1 August 2020García Guzmán/15 August 2020.

The past three months have been novel and unexpected, to say the least. In the earlier months of 2020, I was still attending in-person classes at Swarthmore College, finishing up my junior year as a political science major. I remember the morning that Brook (a Ticha team member and my internship supervisor) called me to let me know that I was accepted as a summer intern. I was sitting in the dining hall with my friends, raving with excitement for how incredible this opportunity would be — traveling to Oaxaca, working with local communities, being able to practice my newly learned Spanish. As a low-income student and immigrant, I did not have the chance to travel for most of my childhood, due to either visa issues or financial burdens, and I was immensely excited by the chance to work with Zapotec communities in both Los Angeles and Oaxaca.

Of course, with the onset of coronavirus and the intensification of the pandemic, my initial hopes for the summer never manifested into reality; I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed. Nonetheless, my work and my team have allowed me to find meaning and enrichment in the past few months, despite the remote landscape of it all. My specific job was to increase our team’s content accessibility, which translated into tangible tasks like working to improve the website’s graphic design and creating a normalization of Early Modern Spanish texts into a more modern, accessible version of the language. In order to create this aspect of the digital editions, several other team members and I attended a two-part Zoom training on TEI encoding, during which we learned how to normalize texts by replacing older forms Spanish words with modern equivalents that Spanish readers today can better understand. To outsiders, I realize this might seem like a menial task, particularly since many older forms of Spanish do resemble their modern counterparts in a fairly intuitive manner; for instance, it is not surprising that the older spelling of mysterio holds the same meaning as its modern version misterio. However, the same is not always true for words like aſcenſion (ascención) or ſu (su), and the links between such words may be even less intuitive if the reader is not a native Spanish speaker. For a helpful comparison, consider Shakespeare: as modern English speakers, it is possible for us to read his works and gain a functional degree of comprehension of the narrative; however, it is by no means easy, and often we can miss important facets of the plot or message due to linguistic changes we are unfamiliar with, i.e. syntax that confuses our modern understanding of English, and words that mean something different today than they did in the 16th century. This is why so many editions of Shakespeare’s plays are “translated” to some degree, in order to provide enough language normalization such that an average English speaker today can enjoy his works without having to first study Early Modern English as a separate language. Similarly, without the Spanish normalization work, the Zapotec texts and analysis that the Ticha team had access to would have remained restricted to narrow realms of academia and experts of Colonial Valley Zapotec. In fact, this directly contributed to one of Ticha’s primary goals — making historical and linguistic knowledge more egalitarian through the creation of resources that are accessible to both non-academics and non-specialists.

Fig. 1. An example of the TEI encoding allowing us to change older forms of Spanish words into their modern counterparts.


There were certainly times when the TEI encoding felt tedious, when the Github network was frustrating, and when I worried that the normalizations might not even be noticed. However, the reality is that increasing accessibility is not a simplistic process, nor is it about attaining recognition or appraisal; it’s about providing respect, dignity, and acknowledgment to a body of work. Many children, students, and adults who have grown up in Zapotec communities have not had the opportunity to study the corpus of texts written in Zapotec— or at times, to even know there is such a corpus— and so frequently, accessibility is a quality absent from academic work on indigenous languages.

Fig. 2. Here you can see an example of the resulting digital edition of one of the texts our team was working on. The Modern Spanish tab on the Ticha website normalizes older spellings like “excelentiſisimo” or “oy” into their modern counterparts of “excelentísimo” and “hoy”.

Fig. 3. Here is another example, where we see Spanish and Zapotec translations alongside one another.


Through the process of collaborating with the other interns and Zapotec advisory board, I have realized that our normalization work, albeit a small portion of Ticha’s larger pedagogical aims, is a significant facet in providing equal access to knowledge and extending the public reach of our team’s work. Throughout the summer, I have often reflected on what it means to utilize my knowledge in an equitable and meaningful way. As the recipient of an elite education like that of Swarthmore College, I have had access to incredible tools and learning resources that few are fortunate enough to receive; these are the catalysts that have enabled me to learn Spanish in an academic context, and develop the capacity to understand Spanish texts dating back to 500 years ago. But of course it is important to remember that something that has become easy for me, like reading Early Modern Spanish texts, is not necessarily so for those who have had different educational contexts. This should be reason enough for all scholars to prioritize not only exploration of knowledge, but also accessibility of scholarship; however, too often in academia, we misuse our privileged positions to obscure acquired knowledge, utilizing our status to produce pedantic work that is intelligible only to insular circles of elite scholars.

I admire the Ticha team for many reasons, but particularly for centering accessibility as a primary goal deserving of time and attention. I am proud to have been able to apply my education here to break down at least certain barriers to knowledge access, and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to do so with such a dedicated team that is so devoted to dialogue and community collaboration. I hope that even upon graduating and entering the professional realm, I will be able to have professional experiences, whether they be related to linguistics or not, that are as community-oriented and engaged as the work of the Ticha project.



By Moisés García Guzmán, Aug. 14, 2020

Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship, Post 6. This is the sixth in a series of blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen) published on GlobalSL / Community-based Global Learning Collaborative and Ticha. Previous blog posts are available here: Lillehaugen/January 2020Flores-Marical/February 2020Kawan-Hemler/March 2020Lopez/July 2020; Kadlecek/1 August 2020.


My name is Moisés García Guzmán and I am from San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya. I’m a language activist and high school teacher in my community, which allows me to see the need of promoting the Zapotec language in younger generations. I am also a member of the Ticha Advisory Board.

For a long time, those of us who work in the activism of native languages, specifically Zapotec, have longed to analyze Cordova’s Vocabulario (Figure 1) and other colonial documents in detail, in order to have a glimpse into our language and its evolution.

Figure 1. Folio 377v of Fray Juan de Cordova’s Vocabulary (1578)

This summer, we were presented with a wonderful opportunity through the online Conversatorios about colonial documents. We were able to meet speakers and activists from six Zapotec communities (Figure 2). From the moment I was presented with the idea, I thought it was fantastic. One of the things that makes me the most happy about this project is that we have the opportunity to talk with members of different communities in the Valley, something that is hard to achieve. Thanks to this, we were able to learn about the context in which some Zapotec words are used and how their meaning or use may vary from one community to another.

Figure 2. Working in the Conversatorio with Dr. Felipe H. Lopez

Various topics have come to light as we have read fragments of testaments written in Zapotec from the colonial era. One unique experience we had was confirming the vigesimal counting system that Zapotec uses. It comes to be, in the end, a different way of perceiving the world and understanding numbering. I was able to verify that in my community there is a person who still knows how to say the number 800 because he heard his grandmother use it. That kind of connection with the community is something that is rarely achieved, but this Conversatorio has provided opportunities to do so.

Another example that surprised me relates to the word that is currently used in some communities for ‘master’, ‘lord’, or ‘owner’. In Tlacochahuaya Zapotec, it still exists in the context used in colonial times to refer to the Son of God. I dedicated a tweet to my observations about this word. (Figure 3)

Figure 3. One of my tweets, sharing what I am learning in the Conversatorio

These Conversatorios have involved inquiring and consulting with other people, which is critical. The conversations have not only been in an online format, but people have sought to interact not only in the community but with a wider audience, engaging others. It was with great joy that I was able to present this theme to the municipal council of Tlacochahuaya, awakening again the interest and enthusiasm to continue working in favor of the preservation of our language.

It is now up to us to take the ideas from the topics we studied and relate them to our own environment. I am sure that they will lead us to other stories that we can share. In my case, I have related the colonial word coconi to its current context, cuni, which is used to refer to chickens or female birds that have never laid an egg. Ultimately, this led me to think about the colors of the chickens and how they are said in Zapotec, so I created a small catalog of those terms on Twitter,  one of which is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. One of my tweets cataloging chicken

Preserving an indigenous language does not mean focusing on its usefulness or economic benefit, but on the fact that it transmits something much more valuable than that – the sense of identity and belonging. With the members of the Conversatorio, new approaches have emerged on how to unite and work on common projects: writing proposals, neologisms, and teaching strategies. These are things that can be very beneficial for the Zapotec variants of each community and that has been the result of the discussion, and that we must take advantage of.

I can say that despite the pandemic, it has been a successful summer, full of knowledge and proposals. The mere fact that the discussion took place online shows the dynamism of indigenous languages ​​and their speakers and their adaptability to the current circumstances. I am infinitely grateful to the Ticha Project for this magnificent experience. Xtioste’n.

Social Media and Zapotec Language

By Eloise Kadlecek, Aug. 1, 2020

Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship, Post 5. This is the fifth in a series of blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen) published on GlobalSL / Community-based Global Learning Collaborative and Ticha. Previous blog posts are available here: Lillehaugen/January 2020; Flores-Marical/February 2020; Kawan-Hemler/March 2020; and Lopez/July 2020.

My name is Eloise Kadlecek and I am a rising junior at Bryn Mawr College. I am majoring in linguistics and am especially drawn to indigenous language preservation. I have been a research assistant on the Ticha project since June 2019. Over this time, I’ve become interested in how social media can be a tool for speakers of indigenous languages, and I wanted to get more people engaged with the Ticha Twitter and Facebook pages. I created an Instagram page as well! I started out with several “Zapotec word of the day posts,” taking vocabulary from the Colonial Valley Zapotec dictionary on the Ticha website and creating video posts with pictures, screencaps from Vocabulario en lengua zapoteca (a Spanish-Zapotec dictionary edited by Juan de Cordova, a Spanish Dominican friar, in 1567), and audio files of the modern-day word as spoken in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec. Tlacochahuaya is the same pueblo where Vocabulario was written, and almost 500 years later we can see how these words have changed from the Colonial Zapotec forms! This website is a great resource and is linked here.

One of the most interesting parts of posting these “word of the day” videos were the replies we would get. For example, people would reply with a version of the word they use in their own Zapotec community. It is fascinating to see how Colonial Valley Zapotec forms of words changed over time and have so many variations in the different dialects of Zapotec today. The similarities and differences within spelling and pronunciation shows how individual words have changed based on community, geographical location, or other cultural and linguistic factors.

One of the posts people engaged with most was one I shared about the numbers 1-5 in Colonial Valley Zapotec. I included a screencap from Arte en Lengua Zapoteca (as seen in Figure 1), a grammar of Colonial Valley Zapotec that was published in 1578 by Juan de Cordova (undoubtedly aided by speakers of Zapotec that aren’t credited). I also included modern day forms of these numbers in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec.

Figure 1. Zapotec Numbers in Cordova’s 1578 Arte, https://ticha.haverford.edu/en/texts/cordova-arte/208/original/


In the Twitter post, I asked people to share numbers in other forms of Zapotec. Many people responded to this in the form of replies, retweets, and quote tweets. Included in Figure 2 are some of the replies people shared: notice that the words in different Zapotec languages are related, but not identical, e.g. tobi and tób for ‘one’, chupa and chop for ‘two’, etc.


Figure 2. Some tweets sharing words for numbers 1-20 in a variety of Zapotec languages



People who aren’t directly involved with the Ticha team participated and shared their knowledge in response to this tweet. A conversation about numbers in Zapotec had started on social media, and people both inside and outside Zapotec communities could see these types of tweets and be inspired to learn more about Zapotec language. Information about the complexity and diversity of Zapotec language doesn’t just have to be in an academic setting; people can learn so much just from scrolling through their Twitter timeline. My favorite reply was a video clip of someone teaching their toddlers the numbers in their Zapotec language.

Recently a group of Zapotec speakers have joined our team in a project called Conversatorios and are taking part in lessons about Zapotec language prepared by the Ticha team. (See Felipe H. Lopez’s blog about this last month here.) Lately they have been sharing pictures and videos from their communities with captions in Zapotec, using the hashtags #UsaTuVoz and #ZapotecoColonial. You can scroll through these hashtags or go on our account (@TichaProject) to see posts from Zapotec individuals and learn more about their language and culture!

Social media as a whole has made it easier, more accessible, and less expensive for people to put their language out in the world-- in written, spoken, or signed form! Members of the Zapotec community (and other indigenous language communities) can connect with each other and share information through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. As Zapotec and other indigenous languages remain underrepresented in more traditional forms of media, social media can provide a platform that they might not get otherwise. Working with Zapotec speakers who want to use social media in this way, I (a non-Native student) have been able to be part of this important to work of fighting back against linguistic discrimination and injustices. Through social media outreach, working with members of the Zapotec community, and sharing Zapotec vocabulary, Ticha is taking small steps alongside Zapotec communities to highlight this language and culture, by showcasing a history and intellectual tradition that are often denied.

Ryien xtenën ra ni nanën steiby quën ra dizh ni mnity

By Felipe H. Lopez, July 17, 2020


Ni rac beu gaz, zhi tseinyabtyop, iaz 2020

Naizy guc tyop chon xman, ni bzalua cagyunya zeiny xten Postdoctoral Scholar in Community Engaged Digital Scholarship Haverford College, mulyi ni gu lo re za lo ACLS Digital Extension Grant.  Iaz ni bzalo cacwadana gan lo zeiny re, re runya xjab xi zicydi nez a bzaa ni cgyacniaa chiza ybainy xtizha.  Naa naca teiby Buny Dizhsa ni rcwa xtizhni, cagyunya zicydi ni rile tyen chizanën ni bsane ra xawzaën danoën a wgyacdo quën xtizhën. Iaz 1992 chicy bzalo rgwia queityru cagweneduxdi ra buny lazha ra mniny Dizhsa ni na Los Angl.  Chiru bdilya teiby ra buny ni rseidy ra dizh UCLA tyen chile gacneri naa ycwa xtizhsa. Ni bzalonia tyen chile yzhiel xa  yca Dizhsa  guc-i teiby gyets Dizhsa ne Dizhtily quën Ingles bricai lo 1999 (Munro & Lopez, et al. 1999).

Na, a bdeidyta 20 iaz, zeza cagyacbierua xtizhsa, quën styop con ra dizh ne ni bsanne ra buny Dizhsado danoën, ni rgwe calii zyopën.  Queity nyaledyi niaa Ldua, Mejy tyen chile ygweneën ra bunybag dizh, diega bzaloën teiby xnez “Galrgwe Dizh” lobi, lo Zoom quën ra mnyet ni cazutyepne xtizhni tyen ygwëneën saën dizh xi zied lo ra gyets xte Dizhsado.  Teiby Galrgwe Dizh rine Doctor Xochitl Flores-Marcial (re zale gualu ni bcwaëng) steibyi riniaa.  Zale gyinylo tyop chon ra mnyet ni nu lo Galrgwe Dish lo fot 1: Ra buny Xbax, lari lari, Sandra Gonzalez ne Rogelio Hernandez, ne Buny San Bartol Quiabdan, Juan Prospero (quën Aurora Gomez queity ryiendyazh re), Buny Zunyro Moisés García Guzmán, (chiru ngabnezagëng ra buny ni rlezh Ticha), ra Buny San Myengw, Mabel Iris quën Leonardo Santiago (queity riendi re), as Buny Xgia, Noel Alejandro Santiago (quiety rienydyagzaëng re). Re cagwiën lo teiby xcwagyets ni yseidyën ni ca lany gyets Dizhsado.   

Fot 1. Galrgwe Dizh cagyienyën


Ra ni nu lo Galrgwe Dizh ni rinia na 9 buny, ne naa (rata ra ni ca gya), naën buny reiny, reiny guezh, xop guezh zaën Lats Bac. Ratën cacugyadanën tyen chiza ybany ra xtizhsaën. Mas ratën rgwën Dizhsa Lats Bac, nieru reiny, reiny rgwën Dizha lazhën, nii runy nizh ra xtizhsaën. Ra Galrgwe Dizhre atizh rnizi yo  rseidyneën saën, racbegzagën ra dizh cweiby, chiru rzhielagzagën ra dizh ni a wgyacadan bchu xi zalori lainy gyetszado. Teiby ra dizhi na coconi ni mnaën loni lany gyets xte 1614 nii bxeily lo dizh. Teiby mnyet beinybei, nai “cuni” rni ra bunylazhii, ratën mnieën yo laag dizhii.  Chiru dizhi zaloi ga wgyacdan “zhyap ni ady chune tu chune”, na queityrui zalodyi zicy. Na, dizhi reiny, reiny zaloi teibyga guezh.  Zunyro na, Xbax na, ne Xgyia, dizhre zaloi teiby budyizy ne teiby budycuny ni ady cweicy teiby zëtbudy. Chiru Rogelio Hernandez, buny Xbax mni nu ra buny lazhëng rni cucuni, ni rliu maru zicy na Dizhsado.  Quiabdan, San Myengw, ne Quiamni, rzilaza zaloi teiby ninacdizy budy guar o budylazh, budycuny rniëni lazha, chiru mnudizha teiby saa chiru naëng zaloi nazh teiby budy zhyap. Moisés García Guzmán rbecaxnez ni rgweën lo teiby xcalrual manylobi, lat rieny fot 2.  (Bdia re tyen guinylo deibyta duguily— xcalrual manylobi xtenën bxeily lo galrgwedizh lobi!)    


Fot 2. Xcalrual manylobi xte xa cwa “cuni” quën Dishsado, https://twitter.com/BnZunni/status/1278876099422949376


De lo ni rgwiën lo ra gyetsdo chiru rgweneën saën dizh xi zalo ra Dizhsadoi atix runyizyri rnalazën sa ra dizh ni rgweën na, runyagzari rnalazën styop chon ra dizh ni a canity ra loguezh lazhën.  Zicy ni mni Rogelio Hernández bzetëng laty na lazhëng, Xbax, queityru rnidyi ra buny dizhdo dad qui ni zalo xtad guezh o ni rnabe teiby guezh. Dizhre tyop xcwa naëng, dad quën qui ni zalo “guecy”.   Chiru na gabeizy buny nan dizhi, na rata ra guezh ni rbez Lats Bac rniën “pristen”. 

Lo Galrgwe Dizh bldia ra dizh ni binydiaga rgwe ra xmama.  Chi naca bichi, xnanmama rlabëb quën nazh Dizhsa chiru tyop chon ra dizhi bian guecya, as rnudizhia ra bunygualru xi zalo ra dizhi. Rnalaza tyop dizh ni rniaëb chi rlabëb: gayon (60) quën ta (80). Chi rnudizha ra bunygual xi zalo ra dizhi, nurazh narazh adyrazh guinydagrazh ra dizhi, nuarazh rniarazh queity nanzacdyarazh xi zalori. Chi bzalo cagyunya zeiny quën Ticha Project gule bldiazaca ra dizhi gucne ra ni ca lany gyets Dizhsado.  Zicya rzaloneën teiby lo xnez gal rlab, cagyacbiarua xa rlab buny zienydanru quën Dizhsa chiru rtechai lo xcalrual manylobi, bgwi lo Fot 3.


Fot 3. Caliunia ni cagyacbia gal rlab quën Dizhsa lo xcalrual manylobi, https://twitter.com/DizhSa/status/1283052424744374274


Zicyca rdeidy ra zhi maru rguchën Dizhtily lo Dizhsa, zeza canityën ra dizh ni rgweën lazhën. Lazha, rgwia xa rgwe ra sangwalya dizh, chiru xa gwe ra ni na mninyru dizh. Chi teidyrën rlabrën galy ricyi maru rgurëng Dizhtily lo gal rlab.  Lo Galrgwe Dishre rgwegzagën xu ngan na nde. Cagyacberuën xiru zaloru ra xtizhën, ne xa rlab buny quën nazh Dizhsa – chiru xu ycugyaruën ra xtizhën lazhën, laty quety racneduxdyi buny sa ra ni cagyienën? Zicya rseidyën, rata danoën rcyelazën racbeën, cagyacbeën tyen chile gacneën lazhën. Rriloën, ropi rnaz sai 



This is a Zapotec language version of Felipe H. Lopez's July 17, 2020 blog post "Recovering knowledge through forgotten words" which can be found directly below this post. 

Recovering knowledge through forgotten words

By Felipe H. Lopez, July 17, 2020

Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship, Post 4. This is the forth in a series of blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen) published on GlobalSL, the Community-based Global Learning Collaborative, and Ticha. Previous blog posts are available here: Lillehaugen/January 2020; Flores-Marical/February 2020; and Kawan-Hemler/March 2020.


Only a few weeks ago, I began my position at Haverford College as a Postdoctoral Scholar in Community Engaged Digital Scholarship, funded by an ACLS Digital Extension Grant. Starting this year of dedicated work on this project, I reflect on my long journey to help preserve my language. As a Zapotec speaker and writer, I actively try to maintain my community knowledge through my language. In 1992, as I started to realize that many migrants from my pueblo in Los Angeles were not passing on our language to our young generation, I sought out the help from linguists at UCLA to try to write my language.  This effort became crystalized with an orthographic system of my Zapotec variation, San Lucas Quiaviní, and in 1999 we published a trilingual Zapotec-English-Spanish dictionary (Munro and Lopez, et al. 1999).


Now, over 20 years later, I am still learning about my language, Zapotec words, and all the knowledge and history they hold. Unable to travel to Oaxaca for in-person workshops, we recently began online “Conversatorios”, a series of Zoom meetings for Zapotec activists to talk and discuss Colonial Zapotec documents. One Conversatorio is facilitated by Dr. Xóchitl Flores-Marcial (you can read her blog post here) and the other one by me. You can see some of the Conversatorio participants in Figure 1: Sandra Gonzalez and Rogelio Hernandez from Matatlán, Juan Prospero (also Aurora Gomez who is not visible) from San Bartolomé Quialana, Moisés García Guzmán, from San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya (and also a Ticha Advisory Board Member), Mabel Iris and Leonardo (not shown) from Diaz Ordaz, and finally Noel Alejandro Santiago (not shown) from Teotitlán del Valle. Here we are going over the first lesson that was focused on colonial Zapotec documents.  


Figure 1. The Conversatorio in action


The Conversatorio that I facilitate consists of 8 people including myself (all listed above), from six different pueblos in the Valley of Tlacolula. All of them have been active in the promotion of their Zapotec language for years. Even though we all speak Tlacolula Valley Zapotec, in each town we speak a different variety; that is what really enriches our languages.  Through these Conversatorios not only do we learn from one another, but also we learn new words, or find words in the Colonial documents that have changed in meaning over the last centuries. 


For example, the word coconi that we saw in a 1614 document sparked a discussion. One of the team members recognized it as being cuni in his variation, and all of us agreed that it was indeed that word. This word was used to refer to a “virgin” in Colonial times, but no longer can be used that way. Moreover, the meaning of the modern word seems to vary a bit from pueblo to pueblo. In Tlacochahuaya, Matatlán, and Teotitlán, this word is used to refer to a young chicken or female turkey that has never laid any eggs. Interestingly, Rogelio Hernandez from Matatlán, mentioned that some people in his community pronounce the word as cucuni, which seems to be closer to the Colonial Zapotec word. In Quialana, Diaz Ordaz, and Quiaviní, we only use this in the word budycuny, which refers to a female turkey. I thought that in Quiaviní it could refer to any female turkey, young or not. However, encouraged by this discussion, I asked a member of my family back home about this word and she told me that it is used to refer only to young female turkeys “who haven’t met a boy yet”. Moisés García Guzmán reflects on this conversation in a tweet, shown Figure 2.  (Click on the link to see the whole thread—his tweet sparked further discussion online!)    


Figure 2. Tweeting about the Colonial Valley Zapotec word cuni



Going over the documents and talking about the Colonial Zapotec words not only reminds us of certain words that we use today, but also jogs our memories about other words that have been lost in our pueblos.  For instance, Rogelio Hernandez also mentioned that in his pueblo Santiago Matatlán, there exists a word dad qui to refer to the head or ruler of a town. This word is made up of two parts, the first part dad means ‘father’ and the second part qui means ‘head’.  However, this word is known to only a few people, as all the pueblos in the Valley of Tlacolula now use the Spanish borrowing pristen instead. 


Through the Conversatorio I have also found some ways to confirm words that I had hear from my grandparents. As a child, my maternal grandmother used to count in Zapotec and some of the words stuck in my mind and I had asked many older folks about them.  For instance, I remember two words she used: gayon for 60 and ta for 80.  But when I asked other folks about these words, some of them would say they had never heard of the word or they were not sure. As I became involved with the Ticha Project, I have been able to confirm these words, which we see in the Colonial documents. As we begin our module focused on counting, I am learning how to count with higher numbers in Zapotec and I share this knowledge through Twitter, see Figure 3.



Figure 3. Sharing what I’m learning about Zapotec numbers on Twitter


As we resort more and more to Spanish over time, we keep losing words that we used to use in our pueblos. In my pueblo, I notice a big difference between my generation and the younger generation. The usage of more Spanish words is particularly reflected when counting and many people resort to Spanish to count higher than twenty.  In this Conversatorio we also talk about these types of challenges. We are learning more about our language, including how to count using only Zapotec—but how do we promote our languages more in our communities, as there is little support for this type of activism? While all of us enjoy learning, we are learning so that we can have an impact in our pueblos. For us, these go hand in hand.

Undergraduate Uncertainties: Joining Ticha and Rethinking Plans

By Collin Kawan-Hemler, March 26, 2020



Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship, Post 3. This is the third in a series of monthly blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen) published on GlobalSL and Ticha. Previous blog posts in this series: Post 1, Post 2.

I am a prospective History major in my second year at Haverford College. I also have been fortunate enough to join the Ticha team as an undergraduate research assistant on this ACLS-funded project. My interest in Ticha and issues of indigenous language rights came from watching the documentary web series Dizhsa Nabani–Lengua Viva–Living Language at Haverford in the fall 2018 semester. Dizhsa Nabani captured the daily use of Valley Zapotec in the San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya community, placing the language as a critical part of maintaining Indigenous identity and pride in a hostile national and global context. Dr. Brook Lillehaugen was my academic advisor at the time and suggested that I should attend the web series premiere at Haverford College. I was struck by the urgency of the work that had been done and valued the film’s uplifting impact on the community that it portrayed. From watching Dizhsa Nabani and listening to a panel of some of its co-producers, I was introduced to what Dr. Xóchitl Flores-Marcial vividly articulated in last month’s blog: the irrefutable need for present scholars to counter persistent colonial frameworks of interpreting Zapotec language and intellectual history.

Last semester I took a course on the history of colonial Latin America. One of our guiding texts throughout the course was Las venas abiertas de América Latina (Open Veins of Latin America), by the late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. My professor opened one lecture with a quote from Galeano: “I’m a writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America above all and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia.” As I piece together my intellectual interests and goals in this part of life, Galeano’s work remains an inspiring impulse to pursue Latin American studies. As Ticha’s corpus of text demonstrates, present tensions of language use and learning have deep roots that are traceable. Considering how fraught any definition of who or what is included in “Latin America,” I am eager to participate in a project rooted in a community where the complications and deficiencies of that category emerge.

When I agreed to write this month’s blog post, the semester and my involvement in Ticha was still fresh. I looked forward to reflecting on the first three months of reviewing educational units and participating in weekly Zoom meetings. I did not anticipate that this unassuming remote conferencing service would become the primary technology through which I continue much of my learning experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced upon much of the world a break with business as usual–the Ticha Project team members and the rest of the academic community are no exceptions. I can say, however, that my involvement has shown me what goes on behind producing the published findings and deliverables of a complex digital humanities project. My role has been less intensive than those with longer histories with Ticha but that has given me space to help facilitate meta-level discussions. I have prepared presentations on several other DH projects to identify what styles of pedagogical materials are being circulated and whether there are lessons for this project. I also look forward to more literature discussions so that our work is informed by important theories about co-authorship, archival practices and community-engaged scholarship. My next assignment after this blog will be developing an answer key for our first published lesson on Zapotec language shift. This pedagogical unit allows one to consider language shift in a Zapotec context and brings Zapotec language from 1578 to present day to the reader. Importantly, through videos, the users can learn directly from Zapotec experts Sr. Filemón Pérez Ruiz (from Macuiltianguis) and Maestra María Mercedes Méndez Morales (from Tlacochahuaya), as seen in the video below.


In recognition of educators’ sudden need for more digitally available materials, the language shift unit was made public earlier than planned. It is an understatement for me to say that the Ticha team and myself are facing a lot of uncertainty. How can I balance my adjustment to remote and digital learning with my preparation for work in the summer? What do travel bans and viral transmission risks mean for the project’s summer travel plans? Will the same sources of funding be available? These questions were swirling around me as I sat in my dorm filling suitcases with clothes and boxes with books before driving back home. In an odd way I was grateful to hear some of the same anxieties from other team members. We have all been working and communicating through digital means. Ticha itself is a product of digital archiving and hyperlink connections; the work will continue. Even with the chaotic situation I committed to still writing this blog because I think that anyone who is engaged in education and research at any level is sitting with similar anxious anticipations about the next few weeks and months. Amid many think pieces on productivity in a pandemic I hope that more spaces for reflection on our collective panicked and overwhelmed states are opened up.

At the moment I do not need to have all the answers for myself. But I am confident that collectively the Ticha team will craft an ethical and humane way forward with the fullest intention to achieve our project’s stated goals.

Indigenous Voices in Pedagogical Materials: Zapotec Number Systems and Indigenous Epistemologies

By Xóchitl M. Flores-Marcial, Feb. 25, 2020

xochitl.floresmarcial@csun.edu; @xochizin


Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship, Post 2. This is the second in a series of monthly blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen) published on GlobalSL and TichaPrevious blog posts in this series: Post 1.


Ticha facilitates content which has been contextualized with the input of diverse perspectives including those of the members of the Ticha team, additional Zapotec community members, and students. Together, with funding from ACLS, the Ticha project is creating teaching materials [see last month’s blog], such as the unit on the Zapotec number system which two members of the team introduced in college classrooms over the last several weeks. I brought this content to my History of Mexican Peoples course at California State University, Northridge and Dr. Felipe Lopez introduced it to his Zapotec Culture and Language course at University of California, San Diego. Here I share the power of seeing Zapotec language manuscripts on a digital platform, bringing Indigenous language content to the classroom, and having students engage with the content through discussing Zapotec epistemology in detail.

When we talk about community-engaged scholarship we have to talk about not only including members of a community into the work, but also of including content produced by members of the community. By incorporating digital versions of sixteenth century Zapotec texts in the teaching unit on the Zapotec number system, we amplify Indigenous knowledge and extend the conversation to math, science, architecture, commerce, and the pre-Hispanic calendar system. The manuscripts and the snapshots of colonial life these provide encourage students to think about the long history of Zapotec intellectual culture and to consider ways in which Zapotec number systems were employed in the past and how these numbers exist in the Zapotec languages spoken today. Furthermore, it reminds students to be mindful of the vocabulary that we use to discuss this content and that we must credit the intellectual power of Indigenous Peoples who originally contributed to the production of these texts.

When I presented my History of Mexican Peoples course with the Ticha materials on the Zapotec number system, my class was at the end of the section that focuses on Indigenous intellectual culture in Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica. Students by this time had seen material evidence such as Mesoamerican monumental architecture, calendar systems and writing systems alongside other monuments of history dating back over 5,000 years when Zapotecs began organizing their societies in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca. I showed them Zapotec numbers as they were recorded in calendrical context circa the first century CE, like those in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Monte Alban stelae 12 and 13 showing Zapotec numbers circa 1st century CE

(Source Wiki Commons)


The 40 students in my class understood the context in which Zapotec writing technology developed. But now they had the opportunity to look closely into the Zapotec number system and to engage with Indigenous produced knowledge. For example, in this lesson they are taught the basic building blocks of the Zapotec number system, then asked to analyze larger numbers. Consider the word for 130, xopalallebichij.  Only though understanding what the word means can we fully appreciate the system.  Students learn that we can break the word up in the following way, making the vigesimal (base 20) counting system apparent:




‘six 20s and 10 (more)’ = 130


I asked students to consider ways in which Zapotec society applied this epistemology in their monuments of history as well as in their daily social actions, such as counting tortillas. One of the most dynamic parts of this discussion led to the fact that we were talking about a Native society that is not the Aztec or the Maya, societies that are commonly associated with calendar systems and monumental architecture. This part of the discussion was very lively, especially when I encouraged students to look at pre-Hispanic chronology which placed the beginnings of the Zapotec writing system over 2,000 years before that of the Aztec.

2,500 years ago, Zapotec urban planners in concert with architects and religious specialists used complex mathematics to design, organize and construct many buildings that still stand to this day. In my lecture that day, I showed images of Zapotec archaeological sites, focusing on specific buildings such as building J in Monte Alban, Oaxaca. This building was constructed in the first century AD, and served as an astronomical observatory where Zapotec intellectuals recorded the movement of the heavens and developed a rich repertoire of scientific knowledge that was used in other social engagements such as politics, agricultural production, and the recording of history. Many years later, the Zapotec number system was recorded using an alphabet introduced by Europeans in the first half of the sixteenth century, as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Zapotec numbers

(Cordova 1578a: 102r; https://ticha.haverford.edu/en/texts/cordova-arte/208/original/)


Today, one of the most gratifying aspects of the Ticha work is that, as a Zapotec scholar, I get to share the intellectual accomplishments of my ancestors with the internet community. As a member of this Native society, I strive to facilitate scholarship on Zapotec studies and relay information that my ancestors recorded over the course of hundreds of years. Throughout my own K-12 education experience I had never felt included in the academic curriculum. Thus, my inspiration for this work was born the very first time I read about Oaxacan history in a college classroom. When I finally saw the history of my ancestors included in an academic conversation, I felt empowered and encouraged to learn more. It was a powerful sentiment that I hope to extend through the teaching modules we are creating.

At the same time, it is an opportunity to remind people that many speakers of Indigenous languages continue to speak their languages in the 21st century. Zapotec is a threatened language and the Ticha team hopes our efforts will increase awareness of the Native language and help people understand that many other Indigenous societies like the Zapotec have a history of complex Intellectual life that we can understand and applaud from our own position in history. We need to hold scholarship accountable for how it has treated Indigenous Peoples’ contributions to the world. This project is a small step in favor of encouraging a heightened understanding of Zapotec language and intellectual culture.

Long awaited beginnings

By Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, Jan. 31, 2020

Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship, Post 1. This is the first in a series of monthly blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen).

Our ACLS grant officially started Dec 31, 2019 and this first month has been full of conversations, writing, outreach, and activity. In reflecting on the energy behind this month, the timeline of this kind of work seems relevant. While we have “just begun”, this is work that has been in motion for several years, as the capacity to undertake this current project developed. This first month’s endeavors represent a long awaited aligning of time and resources. 

The ACLS funding allows our team (including me (a linguist), Zapotec scholars and community members Dr. Xóchitl Flores-Marcial and Dr. Felipe H. Lopez, librarian and digital scholarship expert Dr. Mike Zarafonetis, and undergraduate student Eloise Kadlece) to create teaching modules based on the large historical corpus of manuscripts written in Zapotec during the Mexican Colonial period, and available on Ticha (https://ticha.haverford.edu/; Lillehaugen et al. 2016). This work is done alongside the larger Ticha team.

Zapotec is a family of languages indigenous to Oaxaca, Mexico also spoken by diaspora communities in Mexico and the U.S, especially California.  Zapotec languages belong to the Otomanguean stock and are not related to Spanish, though most Zapotec speakers today also know Spanish. Zapotec has been written for over 2,500 years. Today, there is a large corpus of texts written in Zapotec between 1565 (Oudijk 2008) and the late 1700s. Some of these were created under the auspices of the Catholic Church while others, such as the last will and testament of Sebastiana de Mendoza, shown in Figure 1, were created by Zapotec people for local administrative purposes. (View this text in its entirety on Ticha here and read an English translation of it in Munro et al. 2018.)

Figure 1. The first paragraph of the last will and testament of Sebastiana de Mendoza (1675)


Today, many people deny that Zapotec is a real language and that Zapotec was ever written. This absurd claim is consistent with discriminatory and racist ideologies that position Zapotec (and other Native) peoples and language as less than Spanish in repeated and systemic ways. Many Zapotec (and other Native) people publicly resist these false beliefs and are involved in educational activism, including—but certainly not limited to—the three members of the Ticha Zapotec advisory board: Dr. Flores-Marcial (who will be writing next month's blog post), Dr. Lopez, and Maestro Moisés García Guzmán.

Given this sociocultural context, access to the historical corpus of Zapotec language texts is particularly powerful. While a language does not have to be written to count as a language, the fact is that Zapotec has a long written history! Moreover, this corpus attests to a Zapotec history written in Zapotec. Over the next 18 months, we will be working to create publicly available teaching modules targeted for use in high schools and colleges in both the United States and Mexico based on this corpus. We already have two pilot units we built this month that Dr. Felipe H. Lopez will be using in his class “Zapotec Culture: Indigeneity Across Time and Place” at UCSD next week. One of these units introduces students to an element of Zapotec knowledge and science: the base-20 counting system. Another guides students through thinking about language shift and what all might be lost when languages are threatened. Both of these units were designed for first year college students with no previous knowledge about Zapotec language or linguistics. Several other units are already in the works and our list for others is growing. (Do you want to incorporate Zapotec history, culture, and language in your course? Be in touch!)

Since 2013, Ticha has been working to make this corpus publicly available and does so through community based methods, which – as Ortega puts it—are “the backbone of the project” (2019: n.p.). This ACLS funded project also employs community-engaged methods and views them as objects of study and reflection themselves; we explore the intersection of collaborative digital scholarship and community-engaged research. That is one of the goals of this monthly blog. We hope you’ll follow along and join in the conversation via Twitter or Facebook.


Ticha: a digital text explorer for Colonial Zapotec






Works cited

Lillehaugen, Brook Danielle, George Aaron Broadwell, Michel R. Oudijk, Laurie Allen, May Plumb, and Mike Zarafonetis. 2016. Ticha: a digital text explorer for Colonial Zapotec, first edition. Online: http://ticha.haverford.edu/.

Munro, Pamela, Kevin Terraciano, Michael Galant, Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, Xóchitl Flores-Marcial, Maria Ornelas, Aaron Huey Sonnenschein, & Lisa Sousa. 2018. The Zapotec language testament of Sebastiana de Mendoza, c. 1675. Tlalocan XXIII: 187-211. DOI:  http://dx.doi.org/10.19130/iifl.tlalocan.2018.480.

Ortega, Élika. 2019. Review: TichaReviews in Digital Humanities, 1 (1). https://doi.org/10.21428/3e88f64f.2cb07375.

Oudijk, Michel R. 2008. El texto más antiguo en zapotecaTlalocan 15.227-40. México, D.F.: UNAM.

Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship - ACLS Digital Extension Grant 2019-2021

By Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, May 15, 2019

In this ACLS-funded project, we explore questions of collaboration in digital scholarship and the intersection of collaborative digital scholarship with community-engaged research. This project leverages an existing project, Ticha, and propels it forward through the creation of publicly available English and Spanish language teaching modules that will be targeted for use in high school and college level courses in both the US and Mexico. This work will be done with an interdisciplinary team including the PI (a linguist), Zapotec activists and scholars, digital scholarship experts, and undergraduate students. The community-engaged methods employed will not only be a means by which a particular digital scholarship project achieves advancement, but will also be objects of study and reflection themselves.

Ticha, a digital text explorer for Colonial Zapotec (https://ticha.haverford.edu), is a digital scholarship project that allows users to access and explore many interlinked layers of texts from a corpus of texts written in the Zapotec language during the Mexican Colonial period. Users can navigate images of the original documents, transcriptions, translations, and linguistic analysis. Ticha seeks to make this corpus of Colonial Zapotec texts accessible to scholars in diverse fields, Zapotec community members, and the general public.

Zapotec is an indigenous language spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico and by diaspora communities in Mexico and the United States, especially California. There is a long history of alphabetic writing in Zapotec language and this corpus of texts are a rich and underutilized resource on Zapotec language, history, culture, and personal heritage. Since 2013, the Ticha Project has been engaged with research on and dissemination of this corpus through the creation and growth of a digital platform for exploring these texts, and in person workshops that both utilize and further annotate these texts in a circular creation of knowledge. The Ticha project is committed to: (i) maintaining a project that is sustainable and innovative; (ii) creating work that engages Zapotec voices at all stages; (iii) ensuring that the archive of colonial texts repeatedly, and in its very design, points to the Zapotec community; and (iv) playing an active role in the larger community of digital scholarship, learning from and providing a model for others interested in community-engaged digital scholarship.

Follow the Ticha Project:

online: https://ticha.haverford.edu

on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TichaProject

on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TichaProject/

High school or college educators interested in inquiring about collaboration should contact Dr. Lillehaugen at blilleha@haverford.edu