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Nahuatl (English: // NAH-wah-təl; Nahuatl pronunciation: [ˈnaːwat͡ɬ] ⓘ), Aztec, or Mexicano is a language or, by some definitions, a group of languages of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Varieties of Nahuatl are spoken by about 1.7 million Nahua peoples, most of whom live mainly in Central Mexico and have smaller populations in the United States.
|Nawatlahtolli, mexikatlahtolli, mexkatl, mexikanoh, masewaltlahtol|
San Luis Potosí
State of Mexico
|1.7 million in Mexico (2020 census)|
Aztec script (up to 16th century)
Official language in
|Mexico (through the General Law of Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples)|
|Regulated by||Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas|
For other varieties, see Nahuan languages
Pre-contact (green) and current (red) extent of Nahuatl as a dominant language in Mexico
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Nahuatl has been spoken in central Mexico since at least the seventh century CE. It was the language of the Aztec/Mexica, who dominated what is now central Mexico during the Late Postclassic period of Mesoamerican history. During the centuries preceding the Spanish and Tlaxcalan conquest of the Aztec Empire, the Aztecs had expanded to incorporate a large part of central Mexico. Their influence caused the variety of Nahuatl spoken by the residents of Tenochtitlan to become a prestige language in Mesoamerica.
After the conquest, when Spanish colonists and missionaries introduced the Latin alphabet, Nahuatl also became a literary language. Many chronicles, grammars, works of poetry, administrative documents and codices were written in it during the 16th and 17th centuries. This early literary language based on the Tenochtitlan variety has been labeled Classical Nahuatl. It is among the most studied and best-documented languages of the Americas.
Today, Nahuan languages are spoken in scattered communities, mostly in rural areas throughout central Mexico and along the coastline. There are considerable differences among varieties, and some are not mutually intelligible. Huasteca Nahuatl, with over one million speakers, is the most-spoken variety. All varieties have been subject to varying degrees of influence from Spanish. No modern Nahuan languages are identical to Classical Nahuatl, but those spoken in and around the Valley of Mexico are generally more closely related to it than those on the periphery. Under Mexico's General Law of Linguistic Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, promulgated in 2003, Nahuatl and the other 63 indigenous languages of Mexico are recognized as lenguas nacionales ('national languages') in the regions where they are spoken. They are given the same status as Spanish within their respective regions.
Nahuan languages exhibit a complex morphology, or system of word formation, characterized by polysynthesis and agglutination. This means that morphemes – words or fragments of words that each contain their own separate meaning – are often strung together to make longer complex words.
Through a very long period of development alongside other indigenous Mesoamerican languages, they have absorbed many influences, coming to form part of the Mesoamerican language area. Many words from Nahuatl were absorbed into Spanish and, from there, were diffused into hundreds of other languages in the region. Most of these loanwords denote things indigenous to central Mexico, which the Spanish heard mentioned for the first time by their Nahuatl names. English has also absorbed words of Nahuatl origin, including avocado, chayote, chili, chipotle, chocolate, atlatl, coyote, peyote, axolotl and tomato.
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