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The Linguistic Nature of Nahuatl,
the Language of the Aztecs
Nahuatl is an agglutinative language which utilizes prefixes as well as suffixes. Its distinctive grammatical features are reduplication (the duplication of syllables), and the formation of compound words using ligatures. Phonetically it consists of 15 consonants and four vowels, which may be either long or short. A distinctive phonetic feature of Nahuatl is its use of tl as a single consonant, as in Nahuatl. Another distinctive feature is the use of the glottal stop, as in Me ' ico.

At one time the Aztecs ruled over an empire of about ten million people, millions of whom would have spoken Nahuatl. There are still about a million people in Mexico who speak a dialect of Nahuatl. However, in the current dialects the consonant tl has either become t (Nahuat) or l, (Nahual).

The Linguistic Affiliation of Nahuatl

Nahuatl is classified as a member of the Uto-Aztecean family of languages. This is a large (26 member) group of languages spoken over an area of western North America. In the north it includes the languages of the Ute Amerindian tribes, which is part of the Shoshonean group. The Shoshonean group also includes the language spoken by the Commanches. Another division of the Uto-Aztecean family is the Sonoran group which includes Nahuatl. The Uto-Aztecean family also includes languages spoken in what is now Guatemala. The Uto-Aztecean family may also be linguistically affiliated with the group of languages which included the one spoken by the Kiowa Amerindians.

For more on the history of the Aztecs see Aztecs.

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