ClassificationAs a language label, the term ''Nahuatl'' encompasses a group of closely related languages or divergent dialects within the Nahuan branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. The Mexican (National Institute of Indigenous Languages) recognizes 30 individual varieties within the "language group" labeled Nahuatl. The recognizes 28 varieties with separate ISO codes. Sometimes Nahuatl is also applied to the (''Nawat'') of and . 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 . Within Mexico, the question of whether to consider individual varieties to be languages or dialects of a single language is highly political. This article focuses on describing the general history of the group and on giving an overview of the diversity it encompasses. For details on individual varieties or subgroups, see the individual articles. In the past, the branch of Uto-Aztecan to which Nahuatl belongs has been called ''Aztecan''. From the 1990s onward, the alternative designation ''Nahuan'' has been frequently used instead, especially in Spanish-language publications. The Nahuan (Aztecan) branch of Uto-Aztecan is widely accepted as having two divisions: General Aztec and Pochutec. General Aztec encompasses the Nahuatl and Pipil languages."General Aztec is a generally accepted term referring to the most shallow common stage, reconstructed for all present-day Nahuatl varieties; it does not include the Pochutec dialect ." Pochutec is a scantily attested language, which became extinct in the 20th century, and which Campbell and Langacker classify as being outside general Aztec. Other researchers have argued that Pochutec should be considered a divergent variant of the western periphery. ''Nahuatl'' denotes at least Classical Nahuatl, together with related modern languages spoken in Mexico. The inclusion of Pipil in this group is debated among linguists. Lyle classified Pipil as separate from the Nahuatl branch within general Aztecan, whereas dialectologists such as , Karen Dakin, , and Terrence Kaufman have preferred to include Pipil within the General Aztecan branch, citing close historical ties with the eastern peripheral dialects of General Aztec. Current subclassification of Nahuatl rests on research by , and . Canger introduced the scheme of a Central grouping and two Peripheral groups, and Lastra confirmed this notion, differing in some details. demonstrated a basic split between Eastern and Western branches of Nahuan, considered to reflect the oldest division of the proto-Nahuan speech community. Canger originally considered the central dialect area to be an innovative subarea within the Western branch, but in 2011, she suggested that it arose as an urban with features from both Western and Eastern dialect areas. tentatively included dialects of in the Central group, while places them in the Eastern Periphery, which was followed by .
TerminologyThe terminology used to describe varieties of spoken Nahuatl is inconsistently applied. Many terms are used with multiple denotations, or a single dialect grouping goes under several names. Sometimes, older terms are substituted with newer ones or with the speakers' own name for their specific variety. The word ''Nahuatl'' is itself a Nahuatl word, probably derived from the word ('clear language'). The language was formerly called Aztec because it was spoken by the Central Mexican peoples known as s . During the period of the Aztec empire centered in Mexico- the language came to be identified with the politically dominant ethnic group, and consequently the Nahuatl language was often described as (literally 'in the manner of Mexicas') or ''mēxihcatlahtolli'' 'Mexica language'. Now, the term ''Aztec'' is rarely used for modern Nahuan languages, but linguists' traditional name of ''Aztecan'' for the branch of Uto-Aztecan that comprises Nahuatl, Pipil, and Pochutec is still in use (although some linguists prefer ''Nahuan''). Since 1978, the term ''General Aztec'' has been adopted by linguists to refer to the languages of the Aztecan branch excluding the Pochutec language. The speakers of Nahuatl themselves often refer to their language as either ''Mexicano'' or some word derived from '' mācēhualli'', the Nahuatl word for 'commoner'. One example of the latter is the case for Nahuatl spoken in , whose speakers call their language . The of El Salvador do not call their own language Pipil, as most linguists do, but rather . The Nahuas of call their language ''Mexicanero''. Speakers of Nahuatl of the call their language ('the straight language'). Some speech communities use ''Nahuatl'' as the name for their language, although it seems to be a recent innovation. Linguists commonly identify localized dialects of Nahuatl by adding as a qualifier the name of the village or area where that variety is spoken.
Pre-Columbian periodOn the issue of geographic origin, the consensus of linguists during the 20th century was that the Uto-Aztecan language family originated in the . Evidence from archaeology and ethnohistory supports the thesis of a southward diffusion across the North American continent, specifically that speakers of early Nahuan languages migrated from into central Mexico in several waves. But recently, the traditional assessment has been challenged by Jane H. Hill, who proposes instead that the Uto-Aztecan language family originated in central Mexico and spread northwards at a very early date. This hypothesis and the analyses of data that it rests upon have received serious criticism. The proposed migration of speakers of the Proto-Nahuan language into the has been placed at sometime around AD 500, towards the end of the Early Classic period in . Before reaching the , pre-Nahuan groups probably spent a period of time in contact with the Cora and of northwestern Mexico (which are also Uto-Aztecan). The major political and cultural center of Mesoamerica in the Early Classic period was . The identity of the language(s) spoken by Teotihuacan's founders has long been debated, with the relationship of Nahuatl to Teotihuacan being prominent in that enquiry. While in the 19th and early 20th centuries it was presumed that Teotihuacan had been founded by speakers of Nahuatl, later linguistic and archaeological research tended to disconfirm this view. Instead, the timing of the Nahuatl influx was seen to coincide more closely with Teotihuacan's fall than its rise, and other candidates such as Totonacan identified as more likely. But recently, evidence from Mayan of possible Nahuatl loanwords in Mayan languages has been interpreted as demonstrating that other Mesoamerican languages may have been borrowing words from Proto-Nahuan (or its early descendants) significantly earlier than previously thought, bolstering the possibility of a significant Nahuatl presence at Teotihuacan. In Mesoamerica the , and had coexisted for millennia. This had given rise to the (''language area'' refers to a set of language traits have become common among the area's languages by diffusion and not by evolution within a set of languages belonging to a common genetic subgrouping). After the Nahuas migrated into the Mesoamerican cultural zone, their language too adopted some of the traits defining the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area. Examples of such adopted traits are the use of s, the appearance of s, or loan translations, and a form of possessive construction typical of Mesoamerican languages. A language which was the ancestor of Pochutec split from Proto-Nahuan (or Proto-Aztecan) possibly as early as AD 400, arriving in Mesoamerica a few centuries earlier than the bulk of speakers of Nahuan languages. Some Nahuan groups migrated south along the n isthmus, reaching as far as . The critically endangered Pipil language of El Salvador is the only living descendant of the variety of Nahuatl once spoken south of present-day Mexico. Beginning in the 7th century, Nahuan speakers rose to power in central Mexico. The people of the culture of Tula, which was active in central Mexico around the 10th century, are thought to have been Nahuatl speakers. By the 11th century, Nahuatl speakers were dominant in the and far beyond, with settlements including , Colhuacan and Cholula rising to prominence. Nahua migrations into the region from the north continued into the . One of the last of these migrations to arrive in the Valley of Mexico settled on an island in the and proceeded to subjugate the surrounding tribes. This group was the , who over the course of the next three centuries founded an empire named . Their political and linguistic influence came to extend into Central America and Nahuatl became a among merchants and elites in Mesoamerica, e.g., among the Maya . As Tenochtitlan grew to become the largest urban center in Central America and one of the largest in the world at the time, it attracted speakers of Nahuatl from diverse areas giving birth to an urban form of Nahuatl with traits from many dialects. This urbanized variety of Tenochtitlan is what came to be known as Classical Nahuatl as documented in colonial times.
Colonial periodWith the arrival of the in 1519, Nahuatl was displaced as the dominant regional language, but remained important in Nahua communities under Spanish rule. There is extensive colonial-era documentation in Nahuatl for , Cuernavaca, Culhuacan, Coyoacan, Toluca and other locations in the Valley of Mexico and beyond. Starting in the 1970s, scholars of n have analyzed local-level texts in Nahuatl and other indigenous languages to gain insight into cultural change in the colonial era via linguistic changes, known at present as the . A number of these texts have been translated and published in part or in their entirety. The types of documentation include censuses, especially a very early set from the Cuernavaca region, town council records from Tlaxcala, and testaments of individual Nahuas. Since the Spanish made alliances with first the Nahuatl speakers from and later with the conquered Mexica of Tenochtitlan (Aztecs), the Nahuatl continued spreading throughout Mesoamerica in the decades after the conquest. Spanish expeditions with thousands of Nahua soldiers marched north and south to conquer new territories. missions in northern Mexico and the often included a '' '' of Tlaxcaltec soldiers who remained to guard the mission. For example, some fourteen years after the northeastern city of was founded in 1577, a Tlaxcaltec community was resettled in a separate nearby village, , to cultivate the land and aid colonization efforts that had stalled in the face of local hostility to the Spanish settlement. As for the conquest of modern-day Central America, conquered Guatemala with the help of tens of thousands of Tlaxcaltec allies, who then settled outside of modern-day . As a part of their missionary efforts, members of various s (principally and friars and Jesuits) introduced the to the Nahuas. Within the first twenty years after the Spanish arrival, texts were being prepared in the Nahuatl language written in Latin characters. Simultaneously, schools were founded, such as the in 1536, which taught both indigenous and classical European languages to both Native Americans and s. Missionary grammarians undertook the writing of s, also called ''artes'', of indigenous languages for use by priests. The first Nahuatl grammar, written by Andrés de Olmos, was published in 1547—three years before the first grammar. By 1645, four more had been published, authored respectively by (1571), Antonio del Rincón (1595), Diego de Galdo Guzmán (1642), and Horacio Carochi (1645). Carochi's is today considered the most important of the colonial-era grammars of Nahuatl. Carochi has been particularly important for scholars working in the New Philology, such that there is a 2001 English translation of Carochi's 1645 grammar by James Lockhart (historian), James Lockhart. Through contact with Spanish the Nahuatl language adopted many loan words, and as bilingualism intensified, changes in the grammatical structure of Nahuatl followed. 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. This led to Spanish missionaries teaching Nahuatl to Indians living as far south as Honduras and . During the 16th and 17th centuries, Classical Nahuatl was used as a literary language, and a large corpus of texts from that period exists today. They include histories, chronicles, poetry, theatrical works, Christian canonical works, ethnographic descriptions, and administrative documents. 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. A large body of #Literature, Nahuatl literature was composed during this period, including the ''Florentine Codex'', a twelve-volume compendium of Aztec culture compiled by Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún; ''Crónica Mexicayotl'', a chronicle of the royal lineage of Tenochtitlan by Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc; ''Cantares Mexicanos'', a collection of songs in Nahuatl; a Nahuatl-Spanish/Spanish-Nahuatl dictionary compiled by ; and the ''Huei tlamahuiçoltica'', a description in Nahuatl of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Grammars and dictionaries of indigenous languages were composed throughout the colonial period, but their quality was highest in the initial period. The friars found that learning all the indigenous languages was impossible in practice, so they concentrated on Nahuatl. For a time, the linguistic situation in Mesoamerica remained relatively stable, but in 1696, Charles II of Spain issued a decree banning the use of any language other than Spanish throughout the Spanish Empire. In 1770, another decree, calling for the elimination of the indigenous languages, did away with Classical Nahuatl as a literary language. Until Mexican War of Independence, Mexican Independence in 1821, the Spanish courts admitted Nahuatl testimony and documentation as evidence in lawsuits, with court translators rendering it in Spanish.
Modern periodThroughout the modern period the situation of indigenous languages has grown increasingly precarious in Mexico, and the numbers of speakers of virtually all indigenous languages have dwindled. Although the absolute number of Nahuatl speakers has actually risen over the past century, indigenous populations have become increasingly marginalized in Mexican society. In 1895, Nahuatl was spoken by over 5% of the population. By 2000, this proportion had fallen to 1.49%. Given the process of marginalization combined with the trend of migration to urban areas and to the United States, some linguists are warning of impending language death. At present Nahuatl is mostly spoken in rural areas by an impoverished class of indigenous subsistence agriculturists. According to the Mexican national statistics institute, National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Mexico), INEGI, 51% of Nahuatl speakers are involved in the farming sector and 6 in 10 receive no wages or less than the minimum wage. From the early 20th century to at least the mid-1980s, educational policies in Mexico focused on the Hispanicization () of indigenous communities, teaching only Spanish and discouraging the use of indigenous languages. As a result, today there is no group of Nahuatl speakers having attained general literacy in Nahuatl, while their literacy rate in Spanish also remains much lower than the national average. Even so, Nahuatl is still spoken by well over a million people, of whom around 10% are monolingualism, monolingual. The survival of Nahuatl as a whole is not imminently endangered, but the survival of certain dialects is, and some dialects have already become extinct within the last few decades of the 20th century. The 1990s saw the onset of a radical change in official Mexican government policies towards indigenous and linguistic rights. Developments of accords in the international rights arenaSuch as the 1996 adoption at a world linguistics conference in Barcelona of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, a declaration which "became a general reference point for the evolution and discussion of linguistic rights in Mexico" combined with domestic pressures (such as social and political agitation by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and indigenous social movements) led to legislative reforms and the creation of decentralized government agencies like the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI) and the (INALI) with responsibilities for the promotion and protection of indigenous communities and languages. In particular, the federal ''Ley General de Derechos Lingüísticos de los Pueblos Indígenas'' ['General Law on the Language Rights of the Indigenous Peoples', promulgated 13 March 2003] recognizes all the country's indigenous languages, including Nahuatl, as national languages and gives indigenous people the right to use them in all spheres of public and private life. In Article 11, it grants access to compulsory, Intercultural bilingual education, bilingual and intercultural education. Nonetheless, progress towards institutionalizing Nahuatl and securing linguistic rights for its speakers has been slow.
Demography and distributionToday, a spectrum of are spoken in scattered areas stretching from the northern state of to Tabasco in the southeast. Pipil, the southernmost Nahuan language, is spoken in by a small number of speakers. According to IRIN-International, the Nawat Language Recovery Initiative project, there are no reliable figures for the contemporary numbers of speakers of Pipil. Numbers may range anywhere from "perhaps a few hundred people, perhaps only a few dozen". According to the 2000 census by INEGI, Nahuatl is spoken by an estimated 1.45 million people, some 198,000 (14.9%) of whom are monolingual. There are many more female than male monolinguals, and women represent nearly two-thirds of the total number. The states of Guerrero and Hidalgo have the highest rates of monolingual Nahuatl speakers relative to the total Nahuatl speaking population, at 24.2% and 22.6%, respectively. For most other states the percentage of monolinguals among the speakers is less than 5%. This means that in most states more than 95% of the Nahuatl speaking population are bilingual in Spanish. The largest concentrations of Nahuatl speakers are found in the states of Puebla, Veracruz, Hidalgo (state), Hidalgo, San Luis Potosí, and Guerrero. Significant populations are also found in the State of Mexico, Morelos, and the Mexican Federal District, Federal District, with smaller communities in Michoacán and . Nahuatl became extinct in the states of Jalisco and Colima during the 20th century. As a result of internal migration within the country, Nahuatl speaking communities exist in all states in Mexico. The modern influx of Mexican workers and families into the United States has resulted in the establishment of a few small Nahuatl language in the United States, Nahuatl speaking communities in the U.S., particularly in California, New York (state), New York, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
PhonologyNahuan languages are defined as a subgroup of Uto-Aztecan by having undergone a number of shared changes from the Uto-Aztecan languages#Proto-Uto-Aztecan, Uto-Aztecan protolanguage (PUA). The table below shows the Phoneme, phonemic inventory of Classical Nahuatl as an example of a typical Nahuan language. In some dialects, the phoneme, which was common in Classical Nahuatl, has changed into either , as in Isthmus Nahuatl, Mexicanero language, Mexicanero and Pipil language, Pipil, or into , as in Nahuatl of Pómaro, Michoacán. Many dialects no longer distinguish between short and long vowels. Some have introduced completely new vowel qualities to compensate, as is the case for Tetelcingo Nahuatl. Others have developed a pitch accent, such as Nahuatl of Oapan, Guerrero. Many modern dialects have also borrowed phonemes from Spanish, such as .
AllophonyMost varieties have relatively simple patterns of Allophone, sound alternation (allophony). In many dialects, the voiced consonants are devoiced in word-final position and in consonant clusters: devoices to a voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant , devoices to a voiceless glottal fricative or to a voiceless labialized velar approximant , and devoices to Voiceless dental and alveolar lateral fricatives, voiceless alveolar lateral fricative . In some dialects, the first consonant in almost any consonant cluster becomes . Some dialects have productive lenition of voicelessness, voiceless consonants into their voiced counterparts between vowels. The Nasal consonant, nasals are normally Assimilation (phonology), assimilated to the place of articulation of a following consonant. The voiceless alveolar lateral affricate is assimilated after and pronounced .
PhonotacticsClassical Nahuatl and most of the modern varieties have fairly simple phonological systems. They allow only syllables with maximally one initial and one final consonant. Consonant clusters occur only word-medially and over syllable boundaries. Some morphemes have two alternating forms: one with a vowel ''i'' to prevent consonant clusters and one without it. For example, the absolutive suffix has the variant forms ''-tli'' (used after consonants) and ''-tl'' (used after vowels). Some modern varieties, however, have formed complex clusters from vowel loss. Others have contracted syllable sequences, causing accents to shift or vowels to become long. and for a brief description of these phenomena in Nahual of Michoacán and Durango respectively
StressMost Nahuatl dialects have stress on the penultimate syllable of a word. In Mexicanero from Durango, many unstressed syllables have disappeared from words, and the placement of syllable stress has become phonemic.
Morphology and syntaxThe Nahuatl languages are Agglutinative language, agglutinative, Polysynthetic language, polysynthetic languages that make extensive use of compounding, incorporation and derivation. That is, they can add many different Prefix (linguistics), prefixes and suffixes to a Root (linguistics), root until very long words are formed, and a single word can constitute an entire sentence. The following verb shows how the verb is marked for Subject (grammar), subject, Patient (grammar), patient, Object (grammar), object, and indirect object:
NounsThe Nahuatl noun has a relatively complex structure. The only obligatory inflections are for Grammatical number, number (singular and plural) and possession (whether the noun is possessed, as is indicated by a prefix meaning 'my', 'your', etc.). Nahuatl has neither Grammatical case, case nor grammatical gender, gender, but Classical Nahuatl and some modern dialects distinguish between Animacy, animate and inanimate nouns. In Classical Nahuatl the animacy distinction manifested with respect to pluralization, as only animate nouns could take a plural form, and all inanimate nouns were uncountable (as the words ''bread'' and ''money'' are uncountable in English). Now, many speakers do not maintain this distinction and all nouns may take the plural inflection. One dialect, that of the Eastern Huasteca, has a distinction between two different plural suffixes for animate and inanimate nouns. In most varieties of Nahuatl, nouns in the unpossessed singular form generally take an absolutive suffix. The most common forms of the absolutive are ''-tl'' after vowels, ''-tli'' after consonants other than ''l'', and ''-li'' after ''l''. Nouns that take the plural usually form the plural by adding one of the plural absolutive suffixes -''tin'' or -''meh'', but some plural forms are irregular or formed by reduplication. Some nouns have competing plural forms. Singular noun: Plural animate noun: Plural animate noun w. reduplication: Nahuatl distinguishes between possessed and unpossessed forms of nouns. The absolutive suffix is not used on possessed nouns. In all dialects, possessed nouns take a prefix agreeing with number and person of its possessor. Possessed plural nouns take the ending ''-''. Absolutive noun: Possessed noun: Possessed plural: Nahuatl does not have grammatical case but uses what is sometimes called a to describe spatial (and other) relations. These morphemes cannot appear alone but must occur after a noun or a possessive prefix. They are also often called postpositions or locative suffixes. In some ways these locative constructions resemble and can be thought of as locative case constructions. Most modern dialects have incorporated prepositions from Spanish that are competing with or that have completely replaced relational nouns. Uses of relational noun/postposition/locative ''-pan'' with a possessive prefix: Use with a preceding noun stem: Noun compounds are commonly formed by combining two or more nominal stems or combining a nominal stem with an adjectival or verbal stem.
PronounsNahuatl generally distinguishes three persons, both in the singular and plural numbers. In at least one modern dialect, the Isthmus-Mecayapan Nahuatl, Isthmus-Mecayapan variety, there has come to be a distinction between Clusivity, inclusive (I/we and you) and Clusivity, exclusive (we but not you) forms of the first person plural: First person plural pronoun in Classical Nahuatl: *' "we" First person plural pronouns in Isthmus-Mecayapan Nahuat: *''nejamēn'' () "We, but not you" (= me & them) *''tejamēn'' () "We along with you" (= me & you & them) Much more common is an honorific/non-honorific distinction, usually applied to second and third persons but not first. Non-honorific forms: *' "you sg." *' "you pl." *' "he/she/it" Honorific forms *' "you sg. honorific" *' "you pl. honorific" *' "he/she honorific"
NumeralsNahuatl has a vigesimal (base-20) numbering system. The base values are (1 × 20), (1 × 400), (1 × 8,000), (1 × 20 × 8,000 = 160,000), (1 × 400 × 8,000 = 3,200,000) and (1 × 20 × 400 × 8,000 = 64,000,000). Note that the prefix at the beginning means 'one' (as in 'one hundred' and 'one thousand') and is replaced with the corresponding number to get the names of other multiples of the power. For example, (2) × (20) = (40), (2) × (400) = (800). The in (and ) and the in are grammatical noun suffixes that are appended only at the end of the word; thus , and compound together as .
VerbsThe Nahuatl verb is quite complex and inflects for many grammatical categories. The verb is composed of a root, prefixes, and suffixes. The prefixes indicate the person of the Subject (grammar), subject, and person and number of the Object (grammar), object and indirect object, whereas the suffixes indicate Tense (grammar), tense, Aspect (grammar), aspect, Mood (grammar), mood and subject number. Most Nahuatl dialects distinguish three tenses: present, past, and future, and two aspects: Perfective aspect, perfective and imperfective aspect, imperfective. Some varieties add Continuous and progressive aspects, progressive or habitual aspects. Many dialects distinguish at least the indicative and imperative moods, and some also have Optative mood, optative and Prohibitive mood, vetative/prohibitive moods. Most Nahuatl varieties have a number of ways to alter the Valency (linguistics), valency of a verb. Classical Nahuatl had a grammatical voice, passive voice (also sometimes defined as an impersonal voice), but this is not found in most modern varieties. However the Applicative voice, applicative and causative voices are found in many modern dialects. Many Nahuatl varieties also allow forming verbal compounds with two or more verbal roots. The following verbal form has two verbal roots and is inflected for causative voice and both a direct and indirect object: Some Nahuatl varieties, notably Classical Nahuatl, can inflect the verb to show the direction of the verbal action going away from or towards the speaker. Some also have specific inflectional categories showing purpose and direction and such complex notions as "to go in order to" or "to come in order to", "go, do and return", "do while going", "do while coming", "do upon arrival", or "go around doing". Classical Nahuatl and many modern dialects have grammaticalised ways to express politeness towards addressees or even towards people or things that are being mentioned, by using special verb forms and special "honorific suffixes". Familiar verbal form: Honorific verbal form:
ReduplicationMany varieties of Nahuatl have Productivity (linguistics), productive reduplication. By reduplicating the first syllable of a Root (linguistics), root a new word is formed. In nouns this is often used to form plurals, e.g. 'man' → 'men', but also in some varieties to form diminutives, honorifics, or for derivation (linguistics), derivations. In verbs reduplication is often used to form a reiterative meaning (i.e. expressing repetition), for example in Nahuatl of Tezcoco: */'/ 'he/she falls' */'/ 'he/she falls several times' */'/ 'they fall (many people)'
SyntaxSome linguists have argued that Nahuatl displays the properties of a non-configurational language, meaning that word order in Nahuatl is basically free. Nahuatl allows all possible orderings of the three basic sentence constituents. It is prolifically a pro-drop language: it allows sentences with omission of all noun phrases or independent pronouns, not just of noun phrases or pronouns whose function is the sentence subject. In most varieties independent pronouns are used only for emphasis. It allows certain kinds of syntactically discontinuous expressions. Michel Launey argues that Classical Nahuatl had a verb-initial basic word order with extensive freedom for variation, which was then used to encode pragmatics, pragmatic functions such as Focus (linguistics), focus and Topic (linguistics), topicality. The same has been argued for some contemporary varieties. It has been argued that Classical Nahuatl syntax is best characterised by "omnipredicativity", meaning that any noun or verb in the language is in fact a full predicative sentence. A radical interpretation of Nahuatl syntactic typology, this nonetheless seems to account for some of the language's peculiarities, for example, why nouns must also carry the same agreement prefixes as verbs, and why predicates do not require any noun phrases to function as their arguments. For example, the verbal form means 'he/she/it shouts', and with the second person prefix it means 'you shout'. Nouns are inflected in the same way: the noun means not just 'child', but also 'it is a child', and means 'you are a child'. This prompts the omnipredicative interpretation, which posits that all nouns are also predicates. According to this interpretation, a phrase such as should not be interpreted as meaning just 'the child screams' but, rather, 'it screams, (the one that) is a child'.
Contact phenomenaNearly 500 years of Nahuatl–Spanish contact, intense contact between speakers of Nahuatl and speakers of Spanish, combined with the minority status of Nahuatl and the higher prestige associated with Spanish has caused many changes in modern Nahuatl varieties, with large numbers of words borrowed from Spanish into Nahuatl, and the introduction of new syntactic constructions and grammatical categories. For example, a construction like the following, with several borrowed words and particles, is common in many modern varieties (Spanish loanwords in boldface): In some modern dialects basic word order has become a fixed subject–verb–object, probably under influence from Spanish. Other changes in the syntax of modern Nahuatl include the use of Spanish prepositions instead of native postpositions or relational nouns and the reinterpretation of original postpositions/relational nouns into prepositions. In the following example, from Michoacán Nahual, the postposition -''ka'' meaning 'with' appears used as a preposition, with no preceding object: In this example from Mexicanero Nahuatl, of , the original postposition/relational noun -''pin'' 'in/on' is used as a preposition. Also, , a conjunction borrowed from Spanish, occurs in the sentence. Many dialects have also undergone a degree of simplification of their morphology that has caused some scholars to consider them to have ceased to be polysynthesis, polysynthetic.
VocabularyMany Nahuatl words have been loanword, borrowed into the Spanish language, most of which are terms designating things indigenous to the Americas. Some of these loans are restricted to Mexican or Central American Spanish, but others have entered all the varieties of Spanish in the world. A number of them, such as ''chocolate'', ''tomato'' and ''avocado'' have made their way into many other languages via Spanish. For instance, in English, two of the most prominent are undoubtedly ''chocolate''While there is no real doubt that the word ''chocolate'' comes from Nahuatl, the commonly given Nahuatl etymology 'bitter water' no longer seems to be tenable. suggest the correct etymology to be – a word found in several modern Nahuatl dialects. and ''tomato'' (from Nahuatl ). Other common words are ''coyote'' (from Nahuatl ), ''avocado'' (from Nahuatl ) and chili pepper, ''chile'' or ''chili'' (from Nahuatl ). The word ''chicle'' is also derived from Nahuatl 'sticky stuff, chicle'. Some other English words from Nahuatl are: '' '' (from ); ''cocoa bean, cacao'' (from Nahuatl 'shell, rind'); ''ocelot'' (from ). In Mexico many words for common everyday concepts attest to the close contact between Spanish and Nahuatl — so many in fact that entire dictionaries of (words particular to Mexican Spanish) have been published tracing Nahuatl etymologies, as well as Spanish words with origins in other indigenous languages. Many well known toponymy, toponyms also come from Nahuatl, including ''Mexico'' (from the Nahuatl word for the Aztec capital ) and ''Guatemala'' (from the word ).The Mexica used the word for the Kaqchikel people, Kaqchikel capital Iximche in central Guatemala, but the word was extended to the entire zone in colonial times; see .
Writing and literature
WritingTraditionally, Pre-Columbian Aztec writing has not been considered a true writing system, since it did not represent the full vocabulary of a spoken language in the way that the writing systems of the Old World or the Maya Script did. Therefore, generally Aztec writing was not meant to be read, but to be told. The elaborate codices were essentially pictographic aids for memorizing texts, which include genealogies, astronomical information, and tribute lists. Three kinds of signs were used in the system: pictures used as mnemonics (which do not represent particular words), logograms which represent whole words (instead of phonemes or syllables), and logograms used only for their sound values (i.e. used according to the rebus principle). However, epigrapher Alfonso Lacadena has argued that by the eve of the Spanish invasion, one school of Nahua scribes, those of Tetzcoco, had developed a fully syllabary, syllabic script which could represent spoken language phonetically in the same way that the Maya script did. Some other epigraphers have questioned the claim, arguing that although the syllabicity was clearly extant in some early colonial manuscripts (hardly any pre-Columbian manuscripts have survived), this could be interpreted as a local innovation inspired by Spanish literacy rather than a continuation of a pre-Columbian practice. The Spanish introduced the Latin script, which was used to record a large body of Aztec prose, poetry and mundane documentation such as testaments, administrative documents, legal letters, etc. In a matter of decades pictorial writing was completely replaced with the Latin alphabet. No standardized Latin orthography has been developed for Nahuatl, and no general consensus has arisen for the representation of many sounds in Nahuatl that are lacking in Spanish, such as long vowels and the glottal stop. 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. Carochi's orthography used two different diacritics: a Macron (diacritic), macron to represent long vowels and a grave accent, grave for the , and sometimes an acute accent for short vowels. This orthography did not achieve a wide following outside of the Jesuit community. 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. Several practical orthographies were developed to transcribe the language, many using the Americanist phonetic notation, Americanist transcription system. With the establishment of Mexico's in 2004, new attempts to create standardized orthographies for the different dialects were resumed; however to this day there is no single official orthography for Nahuatl. Apart from dialectal differences, major issues in transcribing Nahuatl include: * whether to follow Spanish orthographic practice and write with ''c'' and ''qu'', with ''cu'' and ''uc'', with ''c'' and ''z'', or ''s'', and with ''hu'' and ''uh'', or ''u''. * how to write the Saltillo (linguistics), ''saltillo'' phoneme (in some dialects pronounced as a glottal stop and in others as an ), which has been spelled with ''j'', ''h'', ' (apostrophe), or a grave accent on the preceding vowel, but which traditionally has often been omitted in writing. * whether and how to represent vowel length, e.g. by double vowels or by the use of macrons.
LiteratureAmong the indigenous languages of the Americas, the extensive corpus of surviving literature in Nahuatl dating as far back as the 16th century may be considered unique. Nahuatl literature encompasses a diverse array of genres and styles, the documents themselves composed under many different circumstances. It appears that the preconquest Nahua had a distinction much like the European distinction between "prose" and " ", the first called 'speech' and the second 'song'. Nahuatl prose has been preserved in different forms. Annals and chronicles recount history, normally written from the perspective of a particular ''altepetl'' (locally based polity) and often combining mythical accounts with real events. Important works in this genre include those from Chalco (altépetl), Chalco written by Chimalpahin, from History of Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala by Diego Muñoz Camargo, from Mexico-Tenochtitlan by Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc and those of Texcoco by Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxochitl, Fernando Alva Ixtlilxochitl. Many annals recount history year-by-year and are normally written by anonymous authors. These works are sometimes evidently based on pre-Columbian pictorial year counts that existed, such as the Cuautitlán, Cuauhtitlan annals and the Anales de Tlatelolco. Purely mythological narratives are also found, like the "Legend of the Five Suns", the Aztec creation myth recounted in Codex Chimalpopoca. 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 missionary Bernardino de Sahagún and a number of Nahua speakers. With this work Sahagún bestowed an enormous ethnographic description of the Nahua, written in side-by-side translations of Nahuatl and Spanish and illustrated throughout by color plates drawn by indigenous painters. Its volumes cover a diverse range of topics: Aztec history, material culture, social organization, religious and ceremonial life, rhetorical style and metaphors. The twelfth volume provides an indigenous perspective on the conquest itself. Sahagún also made a point of trying to document the richness of the Nahuatl language, stating: Nahuatl poetry is preserved in principally two sources: the ''Cantares Mexicanos'' and the ''Romances de los señores de Nueva España'', both collections of Aztec songs written down in the 16th and 17th centuries. Some songs may have been preserved through oral tradition from pre-conquest times until the time of their writing, for example the songs attributed to the poet-king of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl (tlatoani), Nezahualcoyotl. identify more than four distinct styles of songs, e.g. the ('sad song'), the ('song of spring'), ('plain song') and ('song of war'), each with distinct stylistic traits. Aztec poetry makes rich use of metaphoric imagery and themes and are lamentation of the brevity of human existence, the celebration of valiant warriors who die in battle, and the appreciation of the beauty of life.
StylisticsThe Aztecs distinguished between at least two social registers of language: the language of commoners () and the language of the nobility (). The latter was marked by the use of a distinct rhetorical style. Since literacy was confined mainly to these higher social classes, most of the existing prose and poetical documents were written in this style. An important feature of this high rhetorical style of formal oratory was the use of Parallelism (rhetoric), parallelism, whereby the orator structured their speech in couplets consisting of two parallel phrases. For example: * *'May we not die' * *'May we not perish' Another kind of parallelism used is referred to by modern linguists as ''difrasismo'', in which two phrases are symbolically combined to give a metaphorical reading. Classical Nahuatl was rich in such diphrasal metaphors, many of which are explicated by Sahagún in the Florentine Codex and by Andrés de Olmos in his ''Arte''. Such include: * *'The flower, the song' – meaning 'poetry' * *'the tail, the wing' – meaning 'the common people' * *'the chest, the box' – meaning 'something secret' * *'the heart, the blood' – meaning 'cacao' * *'the drool, the spittle' – meaning 'lies'
Sample textThe sample text below is an excerpt from a statement issued in Nahuatl by Emiliano Zapata in 1918 in order to convince the Nahua towns in the area of Tlaxcala to join the Mexican Revolution, Revolution against the regime of Venustiano Carranza.Text as reproduced in León-Portilla 1978:78–80 The orthography employed in the letter is improvised, and does not distinguish long vowels and only sporadically marks (with both and acute accent).
See also* ''Vocabulario manual de las lenguas castellana y mexicana'' (a Spanish-Nahuatl dictionary) * ''Vocabulario trilingüe'' (dictionary of Spanish, Latin, and Nahuatl)
Bibliography* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dictionaries of Classical Nahuatl* de Molina, Fray Alonso: ''Vocabulario en Lengua Castellana y Mexicana y Mexicana y Castellana''.  Reprint: Porrúa México 1992 * Karttunen, Frances, ''An analytical dictionary of Náhuatl''. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1992 * Rémi Siméon, Siméon, Rémi: ''Diccionario de la Lengua Náhuatl o Mexicana''. [Paris 1885] Reprint: México 2001
Grammars of Classical Nahuatl* Carochi, Horacio. ''Grammar of the Mexican Language: With an Explanation of its Adverbs (1645)'' Translated by James Lockhart. Stanford University Press. 2001. * Lockhart, James: ''Nahuatl as written: lessons in older written Nahuatl, with copious examples and texts'', Stanford 2001 * Sullivan, Thelma: ''Compendium of Nahuatl Grammar'', Univ. of Utah Press, 1988. * Campbell, Joe and Frances Karttunen, ''Foundation course in Náhuatl grammar''. Austin 1989 * Launey, Michel. ''Introducción a la lengua y a la literatura Náhuatl''. México D.F.: UNAM. 1992 (Spanish); ''An Introduction to Classical Nahuatl'' [English translation/adaptation by Christopher Mackay], 2011, Cambridge University Press. * Andrews, J. Richard. ''Introduction to Classical Nahuatl'' University of Oklahoma Press: 2003 (revised edition)
Modern dialects* Ronald W. Langacker (ed.): ''Studies in Uto-Aztecan Grammar 2: Modern Aztec Grammatical Sketches'', Summer Institute of Linguistics Publications in Linguistics, 56. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington, pp. 1–140. . OCLC 6086368. 1979. (Contains studies of Nahuatl from Michoacan, Tetelcingo, Huasteca and North Puebla) * Canger, Una. ''Mexicanero de la Sierra Madre Occidental'', Archivo de Lenguas Indígenas de México, #24. México D.F.: El Colegio de México. . OCLC 49212643. 2001 (Spanish) * Campbell, Lyle. ''The Pipil Language of El Salvador'', Mouton Grammar Library (No. 1). Berlin: Mouton Publishers. 1985. . OCLC 13433705. * Wolgemuth, Carl
Miscellaneous* ''The Nahua Newsletter'': edited by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies of the Indiana University (Chief Editor Alan Sandstrom) * ''Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl'': special interest-yearbook of the Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas (IIH) of the Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM), Ed.: Miguel León Portilla