SIL Mexico

Nahuatl Family
Nahuatl (Aztec, Mexicano)

Aztec calendar


The Nahuatl (or Nahua) languages form the southernmost family of the Uto-Aztecan stock. Nahuatl has over a million and a half speakers, more than any other family of indigenous languages in Mexico today. The name “Nahuatl” (pronounced in two syllables, ná-watl) comes from the root nahua ([nawa]) which means ‘clear sound’ or ‘command’.

Map of MexicoMap: where the Nahuatl languages are spoken Map: where the Nahuatl languages are spoken Map: where the Nahuatl languages are spoken Map: where the Nahuatl languages are spoken

The areas marked in green on the map are the traditional Nahuatl homelands where the Nahuatl languages are still spoken today. They include parts of the Federal District (Mexico City) and of the states of Durango, México, Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Tabasco, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz. Although it does not appear on this map, the southernmost language in the family is Pipil, which is spoken in El Salvador.

Nahuatl is known world-wide because of the Aztecs, also called the “Mexica” (pronounced approximately “may-she-kah”). They lived in Mexico-Tenochtitlan (what is today the center of Mexico City) in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and were the dominant civilization in Mesoamerica at the time of the Spanish conquest. Because they spoke a particular kind of Nahuatl (Classical Nahuatl), both the Nahuatl family and even some specific varieties in that family are sometimes called “Aztec” or “Mexicano”. (The Uto-Aztecan stock is also sometimes called Uto-Nahuatl.) And of course, it is from their capital city, México [mēxihko], that the country of Mexico took its name.

Featured Publications

Publications by SIL International and other publishers

Common questions about Nahuatl

Linguistic structure of Nahuatl

Information on specific varieties of languages in this family

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