SIL Mexico

Huitzilopochtli, god of war

Nahuatl Consonants


Nahuatl languages tend to have the following set of consonant phonemes.

  Labials Apicals Palato-alveolars Velars Glottals
Stops p t   k (ʔ)
Complex [1] stops   ts, tƚ tš kw  
Fricatives   s š   (h)
Liquids   l, (r)      
Nasals m n      
Semivowels (w)   y w  

The semivowel /w/ becomes labial (i.e. it is pronounced like [v] or even [f]) in certain contexts in some Nahuatl languages. The famous "saltillo" is a glottal stop [ʔ] in some variants, or a fricative [h] in others, but there are not two separate glottal phonemes. The /r/ in many of the languages occurs only or predominantly in Spanish loan words; in others it has taken the place of an original /l/ in some words. Other Spanish consonants such as b, d, g, f, ñ, rr, may also appear occasionally in loan words but do not form part of the Nahuatl inventory.

The complex consonant /tƚ/ is pronounced [t] in some Nahuatl languages (and [t] in fact was, evidently, the original pronunciation); in others it is pronounced [l]. This is the basis of some analysts' classification of Nahuatl languages in Nahuatl, Nahuat, and Nahual subgroups. Since the most widespread and widely known varieties, including the classical language spoken in pre-Columbian México-Tenochtítlan, were of the Nahuatl subgroup, "Nahuatl" has come to be used as the most common name for the family as a whole.


--David Tuggy

For more information

For information about how these consonants have been written, see:

See also:


The graphic at the top of this page depicts the war god Huitzilopochtli, ([witsilopótštƚi], "Hummingbird-on-the-left"), in full battle array. It is from the Codex Magliabechiano, courtesy of Tom Frederiksen, used by permission.