Zapotec Talking Dictionary

The following post is a recap of the Del Maguey fundraising project associated with the limited edition release of Chichicapa Boca del Cerro. 

Zapotec Talking Dictionary Platform

Oaxaca, Mexico has a rich linguistic and cultural diversity, with 16 different indigenous language families and more than 50 different languages, a large part of which is at serious risk of disappearance. Recently, new generations access to the internet is giving presence to indigenous languages ​​in digital spaces as part of the linguistic resistance in these communities. Access to the internet has provided a legitimate platform for these languages to be documented, shared and uploaded, which offers an authentic place to write these languages ​​and resists the predominance of colonial languages ​​in digital media.

The most common indigenous language spoken in Oaxaca’s mezcal producing regions is Zapotec.

In 2019 Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal committed $23,000 USD, raised through Chichicapa Boca del Cerro Mezcal Limited Edition to participate with Swarthmore College in their renowned Talking Dictionary Program, whose previous work with Zapotec can be found here: (

A talking dictionary is an online multimedia resource (audio, video, photo, text, maps) that is constantly expanding. It is created by the community, owned by the community, and completely attributed by name to all contributors.

Spearheaded by Gabriel Bonfanti the Director of Sustainability for Del Maguey, the project will be a collaboration between the Village of San Balthazar Chichicapam and Dr. Kate Riestenberg, a linguist and specialist in the revitalization of Zapotec languages. The International Community Foundation (San Diego) and the Fundación Comunitario Oaxaca (Oaxacan Community Foundation) will handle donations and help administer the project on the ground.

Indigenous Language Revitalization

Talking dictionaries support language revitalization efforts in several ways. First, the dictionary offers a freely accessible collection of any aspect of the language that is important to the community. This is urgent, because the number of speakers of indigenous languages ​​in almost all the indigenous communities of Oaxaca is decreasing. Even when there are still speakers, specialized knowledge integrated with the language can be lost first, for example terminology related to traditional dances or medicinal uses of plants. The talking dictionaries also serve as a didactic material for languages ​​that do not have many pedagogical resources.

Generational Knowledge

Creating a talking dictionary can offer an authentic ‘pretext’ for writing the language. This helps break the possible vicious circle in which poorly written languages ​​are found: writers (potentially) hesitate to write in a language that has few readers and, at the same time, many speakers hesitate to learn to read a language in which there is nothing to read (Lillehaugen 2016).

The challenges presented by this type of project include how to organize digital archives, how to work in a systematic way, how to make decisions about language writing, and how to maintain long-term digital collections. Dr. Riestenberg and Swarthmore College,  in collaboration with Del Maguey, will help address these challenges, because they are trained in the development of alphabets, bring the experience of having established talking dictionaries in other communities in the region, and commit to maintaining the sites on the internet in the long term, with all copyrights always belonging to the community.


15% of the donated funds have been earmarked for administrative purposes and project execution from the partnering NGO’s

25% is for specialists stipends, travel and lodging costs

10% is for food

15% is for transportation

15% is for technology goods

20% is for project continuation over the course of 2020-2021

The Future

Following Chichicapa, Del Maguey will continue to implement the Talking Dictionary with the intention to expand this program in other Del Maguey Mezcal producing villages.


Please follow along as we publish our progress and developments.

If you wish to donate to this project please visit this link at the International Community Foundation and find the Del Maguey sub-fund for Fundación Comunitario Oaxaca. Thank you very much!