32 Facts About Nahuatl


Nahuatl, Aztec, or Mexicano is a language or, by some definitions, a group of languages of the Uto-Aztecan language family.

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Varieties of Nahuatl are spoken by about Nahua peoples, most of whom live mainly in Central Mexico and have smaller populations in the United States.

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Nahuatl has been spoken in central Mexico since at least the seventh century CE.

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Many words from Nahuatl were absorbed into Spanish and, from there, were diffused into hundreds of other languages in the region.

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English has absorbed words of Nahuatl origin, including avocado, chayote, chili, chipotle, chocolate, atlatl, coyote, peyote, axolotl and tomato.

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Sometimes Nahuatl is applied to the Pipil language of El Salvador and Nicaragua.

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Regardless of whether Nahuatl is considered to refer to a dialect continuum or a group of separate languages, the varieties form a single branch within the Uto-Aztecan family, descended from a single Proto-Nahuan language.

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Current subclassification of Nahuatl rests on research by Canger, Canger and Lastra de Suarez .

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One example of the latter is the Nahuatl spoken in Tetelcingo, Morelos, whose speakers call their language.

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Linguists commonly identify localized dialects of Nahuatl by adding as a qualifier the name of the village or area where that variety is spoken.

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The first Nahuatl grammar, written by Andres de Olmos, was published in 1547 – three years before the first French grammar.

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In 1570, King Philip II of Spain decreed that Nahuatl should become the official language of the colonies of New Spain in order to facilitate communication between the Spanish and natives of the colonies.

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The Spanish permitted a great deal of autonomy in the local administration of indigenous towns during this period, and in many Nahuatl-speaking towns the language was the de facto administrative language both in writing and speech.

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At present Nahuatl is mostly spoken in rural areas by an impoverished class of indigenous subsistence agriculturists.

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Nonetheless, progress towards institutionalizing Nahuatl and securing linguistic rights for its speakers has been slow.

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Largest concentrations of Nahuatl speakers are found in the states of Puebla, Veracruz, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosi, and Guerrero.

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Nahuatl became extinct in the states of Jalisco and Colima during the 20th century.

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The modern influx of Mexican workers and families into the United States has resulted in the establishment of a few small Nahuatl speaking communities in the U S, particularly in California, New York, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

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Nahuatl languages are agglutinative, polysynthetic languages that make extensive use of compounding, incorporation and derivation.

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Nahuatl has neither case nor gender, but Classical Nahuatl and some modern dialects distinguish between animate and inanimate nouns.

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Nahuatl verb is quite complex and inflects for many grammatical categories.

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Classical Nahuatl had a passive voice, but this is not found in most modern varieties.

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Many Nahuatl varieties allow forming verbal compounds with two or more verbal roots.

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Nahuatl allows all possible orderings of the three basic sentence constituents.

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Michel Launey argues that Classical Nahuatl had a verb-initial basic word order with extensive freedom for variation, which was then used to encode pragmatic functions such as focus and topicality.

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Many Nahuatl words have been borrowed into the Spanish language, most of which are terms designating things indigenous to the Americas.

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The orthography most accurately representing the phonemes of Nahuatl was developed in the 17th century by the Jesuit Horacio Carochi, building on the insights of another Jesuit, Antonio del Rincon.

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When Nahuatl became the subject of focused linguistic studies in the 20th century, linguists acknowledged the need to represent all the phonemes of the language.

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Nahuatl literature encompasses a diverse array of genres and styles, the documents themselves composed under many different circumstances.

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One of the most important works of prose written in Nahuatl is the twelve-volume compilation generally known as the Florentine Codex, authored in the mid-16th century by the Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagun and a number of Nahua speakers.

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Nahuatl poetry is preserved in principally two sources: the Cantares Mexicanos and the Romances de los senores de Nueva Espana, both collections of Aztec songs written down in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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Classical Nahuatl was rich in such diphrasal metaphors, many of which are explicated by Sahagun in the Florentine Codex and by Andres de Olmos in his Arte.

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