Nahuatl (pronounced in two syllables, NA-watl ['na.watɬ]) is a term applied to some members of the Aztecan or Nahuan sub-branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. The languages called "Nahuatl" are all Native American languages indigenous to central Mexico.
Often the term "Nahuatl" is used specifically with reference to the language called Classical Nahuatl, which was the language of the Aztec Empire and therefore used as a lingua franca in much of Mesoamerica during the 7th century AD through the late 16th century, at which time its prominence and influence was interrupted by the Spanish conquest of the New World. Though it should be pointed out that Nahuatl influence increased slightly for some time before decreasing. The Spaniards used Nahuatl to strengthen their influence over the conquesy territories and to spread Christianity; it was even used in places it had not previously been spoken. This was also done (though maybe not exactly the same way) for the Quechua in South America. It was when the colonies started to gain independence that the Spanish-speaking leaders (mainly "criollos") made Spanish the predominant language.
The term "Nahuatl" also serves to identify a number of modern Nahuatl dialects (linguistic variants, some of them mutually unintelligible) that are still spoken by at least 1.5 million people in what is now Mexico. All of these dialects show influence from the Spanish language to various degrees, some of them much more than others. No modern dialects are identical with Classical Nahuatl, but those spoken in and around the Valley of Mexico are generally more closely related to Classical Nahuatl than peripheral ones.
Nahuatl is still the most widely spoken group of Native American languages in Mexico
Nahuatl is an Uto-Aztecan language spoken by about 1.5 million people in Mexico. The majority of speakers live in central Mexico, particularly in Puebla, Veracruz, Hildago, San Luis Potosi, Guerrero, Mexico (state), El Distrito Federal, Tlaxcala, Morelos and Oaxaca, and also in El Salvador. There are smaller numbers of Nahuatl speakers throughout the rest of Mexico, and in parts of the USA.
There are numerous dialects of Nahuatl, some of which are mutually unintelligible. Most Nahuatl speakers also speak Spanish, with the exception of some of most elderly.
Classical Nahuatl was the language of the Aztec empire and was used as a lingua franca in much of Mesoamerica from the 7th century AD until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. The modern dialects of Nahuatl spoken in the Valley of Mexico are closest to Classical Nahuatl.
Nahuatl was originally written with a pictographic script which was not a full writing system but instead served as a mnemonic to remind readers of texts they had learnt orally. The script appeared in inscriptions carved in stone and in picture books, many of which the Spanish destroyed.
The Spanish introduced the Latin alphabet to write Nahuatl, and a large amount of prose and poetry was subsequently written. Every since there has been considerable debate about how to spell Nahuatl. Nahuatl pronunciation (Ameyaltepec dialect)
Nahuatl pronuciation (Ameyaltepec dialect) Sample text