The following families of languages indigenous to Mexico belong to the Uto-Aztecan stock:
Corachol family [Cora and Huichol]
Nahuatl (Aztecan) family [Nahuatl]
Tepiman family [O'odham (Papago), Tepehuan and Pima Bajo (Névome)]
Taracahitic family [Huarijío, Mayo, Tarahumara and Yaqui]
The genetic relationship of the languages which are today known as the Uto-Aztecan language stock was recognized by the late 19th century and firmly established by the middle of the 20th century. The internal classification of the Uto-Aztecan languages continues to be debated.
Uto-Aztecan was one of the largest language stocks of Native America at the time of European contact in terms of population, linguistic diversity and geographic distribution. The northernmost Uto-Aztecan language, Northern Paiute, is found as far north as Oregon and Idaho. In the south, members of the Nahuatl family are spoken as far south as Nicaragua and El Salvador. The most famous of these is Classical Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec Empire of central Mexico.
Reasonable estimates of the time depth of the Uto-Aztecan stock range up to 5000 years. That is, about 5000 years ago Proto-Uto-Aztecan, from which all the modern Uto-Aztecan languages are descended, was spoken. This would place it at approximately the same time-depth as Indo-European. Uto-Aztecan is generally thought to be distantly related to the Kiowa-Tanoan family in the United States.
Several families of Uto-Aztecan languages are or were spoken in the western part of the United States. These include Numic (which includes languages such as Paiute, Mono and Shoshoni), Tubatulabal, Hopi and Takic (including such languages as Serrano, Cahuilla and Luiseño). Some of the languages of the Tepiman family are spoken in the United States as well.
Nahuatl (Aztec, Mexicano)
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'.
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 other individual variants 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 modern country of Mexico took its name.
© 2004 Instituto Lingüístico de Verano, A.C.
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