Classical Nahuatl

Classical Nahuatl

name=Classical Nahuatl
region=Aztec Empire
extinct=Divided into various dialects by the 15th century.
fam2=Southern Uto-Aztecan
fam3=Aztecan (Nahuan)
fam4=General Aztec (Nahuatl)
fam5=Central Nahuatl

Classical Nahuatl (also known as Aztec, and simply Nahuatl) is a term used to describe the variants of the Nahuatl language that were spoken in the Valley of Mexico — and central Mexico as a "lingua franca" — at the time of the 16th-century Spanish conquest of Mexico. During the subsequent centuries it was largely displaced by Spanish and evolved into some of the modern Nahuatl dialects in use today (other modern dialects descend more directly from other 16th-century variants.) Although classified as an extinct language, [ [ Ethnologue summary for Classical Nahuatl] ] Classical Nahuatl has survived through a multitude of written sources transcribed by Nahuas and Spaniards in the Latin alphabet.


Classical Nahuatl is an Uto-Aztecan language of the Nahuan or Aztecan language. It belongs to the central dialects and is most closely related to the modern dialects of Nahuatl spoken in the valley of Mexico in colonial and modern times. It is probable that the Classical Nahuatl documented by 16th- and 17th-century written sources represents a particularly prestigious sociolect. That is to say, the variety of Nahuatl recorded in these documents is most likely to be more particularly representative of the speech of Aztec nobles ("pipiltin"), while the commoners ("mācehualtin") spoke a somewhat different variety.





Stress generally falls on the penultimate syllable. The one exception is the vocative suffix -e, used only by males, where stress falls on the final syllable, e.g. Cuāuhtlequetzqui (a name, meaning "eagle-warrior")," but Cuāuhtlequetzqué "Hey, Cuauhtlequetzqui!"."


Unlike English, which allows up to three consonants to occur at the start or end of words (e.g. "sprints)," Nahuatl allows only a single consonant at the start or end of a syllable, and up to two consonants word medially across a syllable boundary. Also, there are restrictions on which consonants can occur where.


Writing system

At the time of the Spanish conquest, Aztec writing used mostly pictographs supplemented with a few ideograms. When needed it also used syllabic equivalences; Father Durán recorded how the "tlacuilos" could render a prayer in Latin using this system, but it was difficult to use. This writing system was adequate for keeping such records as genealogies, astronomical information, and tribute lists, but could not represent a full vocabulary of spoken language in the way that the writing systems of the Old World or of the Maya civilization's script could.

The Spanish introduced the Roman script, which was then utilized to record a large body of Aztec prose and poetry, a fact which somewhat diminished the devastating loss caused by the burning of thousands of Aztec manuscripts by the Catholic priests (see Nahuatl transcription).

On the , the language is written with a modified version of the Latin alphabet, including four letters with macrons or long vowels: ā, ē, ī, ō. Many other foreign letters such as "b" or "k" are used only in foreign names such as in "" (France).

The 25-letter alphabet is:
a c ch cu e hu i l* m n o p qu t tl tz x y z ā ē ī ō ll* h*
*"cu" and "hu" are inverted to "uc" and "uh" when occurring at the end of a syllable.
*These (*) letters have not capital form except in foreign names.
*"h" is used as saltillo.



Nahuatl literature is extensive (probably the most extensive of all Indigenous languages of the Americas), including a relatively large corpus of poetry (see also Nezahualcoyotl); the "Huei tlamahuiçoltica" is an excellent early sample of literary Nahuatl.

ee also

* Aztec codices
* Mesoamerican Linguistic Area



: Arenas, Pedro de: "Vocabulario manual de las lenguas castellana y mexicana". [1611] Reprint: México 1982: Carochi, Horacio: "Arte de la lengua mexicana: con la declaración de los adverbios della." [1645] Reprint: Porrúa México 1983: Curl, John: "Ancient American Poets". Tempe AZ: Bilingual Press, 2005. Garibay, Angel Maria : "Llave de Náhuatl". México 19??: Garibay, Angel María, "Historia de la literatura náhuatl". México 1953: Garibay, Angel María, "Poesía náhuatl". vol 1-3 México 1964: Humboldt, Wilhelm von (1767-1835): "Mexicanische Grammatik". Paderborn/München 1994: Karttunen, Frances, "An analytical dictionary of Nahuatl". Norman 1992: Karttunen, Frances, "Nahuatl in the Middle Years: Language Contact Phenomena in Texts of the Colonial Period". Los Angeles 1976: Launey, Michel : "Introduction à la langue et à la littérature aztèques". Paris 1980: Launey, Michel : "Introducción a la lengua y a la literatura Náhuatl." UNAM, México 1992: León-Portilla, Ascensión H. de : "Tepuztlahcuilolli, Impresos en Nahuatl: Historia y Bibliografia". Vol. 1-2. México 1988: León-Portilla, Miguel : "Literaturas Indígenas de México". Madrid 1992: Lockhart, James (ed): "We people here. Nahuatl Accounts of the conquest of Mexico". Los Angeles 1993: Molina, Fray Alonso de: "Vocabulario en Lengua Castellana y Mexicana y Mexicana y Castellana" . [1555] Reprint: Porrúa México 1992: Olmos, Fray Andrés de: "Arte de la lengua mexicana concluído en el convento de San Andrés de Ueytlalpan, en la provincia de Totonacapan que es en la Nueva España". [1547] Reprint: México 1993: Rincón, Antonio del : "Arte mexicana compuesta por el padre Antonio del Rincón". [1595] Reprint: México 1885: Sahagún, Fray Bernardino de (1499-1590): "Florentine Codex. General History of the Things of New Spain" (Historia General de las Cosas de la Nueva España). Eds Charles Dibble/Arthr Anderson, vol I-XII Santa Fe 1950-71: Siméon, Rémi: "Dictionnaire de la Langue Nahuatl ou Mexicaine". [Paris 1885] Reprint: Graz 1963: Siméon, Rémi: "Diccionario dße la Lengua Nahuatl o Mexicana". [Paris 1885] Reprint: México 2001: Sullivan, Thelma D. : "Compendium of Nahuatl Grammar". Salt Lake City 1988: The Nahua Newsletter: edited by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies of the Indiana University (Chief Editor Alan Sandstrom): Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl: "special interest-yearbook of the Instituto de Investigaciones Historicas (IIH) of the Universidad Autonoma de México (UNAM)", Ed.: Miguel Leon Portilla

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