Teaching materials

Language and local culture

Nahuatl language belongs to the yuto-nahua language family. It is the most spoken of the 68 indigenous languages of Mexico. Nowadays, it has more than 1.6 millon native speakers who use its 365 varieties (INALI). Therefore, it is also called a language group. The speakers of nahuatl are distributed widely across the country and live in various states of the Mexican Republic, mostly in the states of Puebla, Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave, Hidalgo, Guerrero, and San Luis Potosí (INEGI), that is, in the central part of Mexico.

It is worth noticing that the present-day name of the country and its capital city at the same timeMexico comes from nahuatl and stands forthe site at the navel of the Moon’ (el lugar del ombligo de la Luna’, Gutierre Tibón 2017) orthe place that adores the soldier of Mexictli (lugar donde se adora a [el guerrero] Mexictli’, Gutiérrez Eskildsen 1987), just to mention two examples of its very diverse interpretations. Another interesting toponym is the ancient name of the City of Mexico, namely Tenochtitlan, which stands forbetween red pricky pears, tough like stones (‘entre tunas rojas, duras como piedras’, Gutierre Tibón 2017). According to a legend, the Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, pointed out the most appropriate place for the Mexicas settlement, which was where they would run into an eagle devouring a snake on a nopal tree. The mythological foundation of Tenochtitlan has been perpetuated in the national Mexican emblem (designed by F. Eppens Helguera, https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escudo_Nacional_de_M%C3%A9xico). 

The spread of Nahuas makes both their languages (liguistic variaties) and their habits diversify. The varieties of Nahuatl have different names which are used by the speakers themselves, e.g.: maseual tajtol, mexicano tlajtol, mexicanero, mexicatl, nauta, or pipil (the only variety out of Mexico, namely, in El Salvador). Among these varieties, but especially among the big dialectal areas the East, Huasteca, the Center, and the West (see the map by Valiñas Coalla, 2020: 177-178)—, lexical, orthographic and phonetic differences can be observed