Documentation of Cora in San Juan Corapan

Documentation of Cora in San Juan Corapan

Language: Cora (ISO639-3:cok)
Depositor: William H. Parker
Location: Mexico
Deposit Id: 0553
Grant id: SG0552
Funding body: ELDP
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit

Cora is a Uto-Aztecan language spoken by members of the Cora ethnic group, who live primarily in the state of Nayarit, in central western Mexico. The homeland of the Cora people is in the Sierra Madre Occidental, a mountainous region. This aim of this project is to document the use of the Cora language in culturally relevant speech genres, and the use of the language to convey and transmit a wealth of knowledge about the local landscape, plant life and agricultural techniques.

As a complement to ethnographic information, the project will also include elicitation sessions focusing on morphosyntax, information structure and verbal morphology. These sessions will likewise be archived and available to researchers. This forms part of continuing research on the grammar of Cora, and the Corapeño dialect.

Data will be collected by William H. Parker, linguist and principal investigator, in collaboration with members of the Cora community of San Juan Corapan. Community members will collaborate as annotators, language consultants and documenters. All community members who take part in this work will be duly credited.

The picture above shows Muxatéena, a rock formation near the village of San Juan Corapan that the Cora people recognize as a sacred site. Upon completion of this project, a deposit overview will be provided, with information of how to navigate the deposit and consult it for information on the Cora language.

Group represented
This project will be carried out with speakers of the Corapeño dialect of Cora, spoken in the village of San Juan Corapan. The Cora people are an indigenous group of the Sierra Madre Occidental, in Nayarit, Western Central Mexico. The name of the state of Nayarit is in fact derived from the endonym of the Cora, Náayeri. There are approximately 20,000 Cora people, living in Nayarit, other parts of Mexico and as immigrants in the United States. In the Cora villages are sustained by the production of Maize, bean and squash, supplemented by hunting, gathering and fishing. Economic support is provided by villagers undertaking seasonal work in coastal tobacco and coffee plantations, and now more commonly in construction work in other states of Mexico and the United States. The Cora have historically exercised a strong will to autonomy and self-determination. They continue to practice a religion that blends pre-Hispanic and Catholic elements. Following a brief but intense period of conquest and evangelisation by Jesuits in the 18th century, the Cora have maintained their civil and cultural autonomy. This is safeguarded by a system of government called the cargo-system, in which civil authority, embodied in a number of distinct roles, is passed on at the end of each year.

Language information

Cora (Náayeri) is a southern Uto-Aztecan language of the Corachol branch. The only other language in this branch is Huichol (thus, the portmanteau Corachol). Following this, the closest linguistic relative of Cora is Nahuatl, the language of the Nahua people.

In addition to its Uto-Aztecan genetic affiliation, Cora has been defined as a peripheral member of the Mesoamerican linguistic area. Some features common to this area that are found in Cora are: relational nouns, body-part incorporation, directional affixes, and a vigesimal numeral system.

To date, no comprehensive work on Cora dialectology has been undertaken. Impressionistically, we can speak of 6 dialects, based on the self-identification and perception of speakers. Each dialect is named for a central settlement, though for each of these the speaker population extends to surrounding homesteads and associated smaller settlements. Speakers group each of these dialects into two main variants, based on the geography of the speaker communities- Cora Alta, (High Cora) spoken in the highlands of the Sierra Madre Occidental and Cora Baja (Low Cora) in the foothills. It is currently unknown whether this division has any underlying linguistic basis.

Vázquez Soto (2009) proposes 6 varieties of Cora: Mariteco, Tereseño, Meseño, Francisqueño, Presideño and Corapeño. Each variety is named for a town with a significant population of speakers, with speakers also in surrounding homesteads. Speakers tend to separate each of these dialects into two groups. These are Cora Alta (spoken in the highlands of the Sierra Madre Occidental) : Mariteco (Chwísita’na in Cora), Tereseño (Kwéi-marusa’na), Meseño (Yaúhke’ena) Francisqueño (Kwáaxa’ata) and Cora Baja (spoken in the foothills): Presideño (Múxata’ana) and Corapeño (Kuráapa) (Santos García, Quintero Gutiérrez 2015). Further analysis is required to clarify dialectal variation and the internal relations of the dialects.

Francisqueño, Presideño and Corapeño are minority dialects. These dialects are spoken in small communities, and have received little attention in the linguistic literature. Efforts to motivate literacy and language maintenance of Cora have been concentrated on the larger dialects, particularly Mariteco. Indeed, when members of these smaller populations are taught to read and write in Cora, it is through the medium of the larger dialects.

The Cora language is endangered in San Juan Corapan: of a population of 491 people, under 50% speak the local dialect of Cora. Most Cora speakers in the village are bilingual in Spanish and Cora. Language endangerment is a result of increased contact with the Mestizo Spanish-speaking world in the domains of work, media, and education.

The linguistic panorama of the surrounding area is quite diverse. Within 2km of San Juan Corapan, there is Presidio de Los Reyes, a village where speakers of two different dialects, Presideño and Meseño live side by side, and San Pedro Ixcatan, a small, primarily Spanish-speaking, town.

In San Juan Corapan, alongside speakers of Cora, there are a small number of Huichol speakers and Spanish-speaking mestizos. Historically, prior to Spanish Conquest, the Cora were reported to have also spoken Nahuatl, the then lingua franca of the Aztec Empire. This heritage is reflected in the use of Nahuatl and Cora as a fused lect in religious ritual.

Special characteristics

This collection will give a detailed ethnographic record of the use of the Cora language in the transmission of Cora folklore, and botanical, geographical and agricultural knowledge.

This collection will also be useful for researchers of other dialects and related languages to consult on typological and dialectal variation.

Deposit contents

The majority of bundles in this collection will be audio and video. The primary outputs resulting from this project will be as follows:

  • 30 hours of narrative, conversations, and procedural discourse. Main areas of investigation are local knowledge regarding plant life and their uses in cooking and medicine, techniques used in agriculture, the geography of the region and folk narratives.
  • 16 hours of elicitations dealing in morphosyntax, information structure and verbal morphology. Recorded in video and audio.
  • 10 hours of time-aligned transcriptions in FLEx and ELAN formats.
  • FLEx format lexical database, describing the lexicon gathered during elicitation and natural speech data collection.
  • A partial transcription in ELAN format for 8 hours of elicitation data.
  • A deposit overview in .pdf format to outline and explain how to navigate this deposit.
  • A PDF format of glossary produced as community output.

Deposit history
Data will be collected over a period of 6 months in San Juan Corapan, Nayarit, funded by an ELDP small grant.

Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge William H. Parker as the principal investigator. Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme as the funder of the project. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by name. Any other contributor who has collected, transcribed or translated the data or was involved in any other way should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors will be available in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the corpus, please cite the corpus in this way: Parker, William H. 2018. Documentation of Cora in San Juan Corapan, London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. URL: Accessed on [insert date here].


Resources yet to be deposited


William H. Parker
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Affiliation: Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, ISCTE-IUL

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