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It is clear that proto-Zapotec had disyllabic roots; the vowel of the second syllable could be any one of the inventory of vowels.One innovation shared by many varieties of Zapotec is the loss (or partial loss) of the vowel of the second syllable. In conservative varieties, the vowel of the second syllable is retained: .In Zapotec languages, fortis typically corresponds to voicelessness and extra length in obstruents and extra length in sonorants.

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Most Zapotec speaking communities are highly bilingual in Spanish.

The first part of these expressions has the meaning 'word' (perhaps slightly reduced as appropriate for part of a compound).

Certain characteristics serve to classify Zapotec varieties in ways that cross-cut the geographical divisions.

One of these is the distinction between disyllabic roots and monosyllabic roots.

The time depth is comparable to that of the Romance languages.

Many varieties of Zapotec are mutually unintelligible with one other.

The branch of the family that contains the most languages is Central Zapotec, which includes most of the Zapotec languages of the Valley of Oaxaca and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

The following figure shows the classification suggested by Smith Stark (2007).

Northern Zapotec languages are spoken in the mountainous region of Oaxaca, in the Northern Sierra Madre mountain ranges; Southern Zapotec languages and are spoken in the mountainous region of Oaxaca, in the Southern Sierra Madre mountain ranges; Valley Zapotec languages are spoken in the Valley of Oaxaca, and Isthmus Zapotec languages are spoken in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

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