Introduction to Nahuatl: Lesson 1

Nahuatl is spoken by an estimated 1.5 million people, most of whom live in Central Mexico and some who live in El Salvador known as the Pipil people. It has many dialectical variations among its speakers, so in a standard manner, I’ll be teaching you Classical Nahuatl, spoken by the aztecs 500 years ago, and now taught at universities and language academies in Mexico.

Macrons are used to mark long vowels, but some linguists use diaeresis or nothing at all, so feel free to omit them if you don’t have the proper keyboard support (even if the system doesn’t show those answers as correct). You can always copy & paste the long vowel words given in the examples for your answers.

Nahuatl has some peculiar sounds, such as tl. You may think it is similar to the way you pronounce it in English, but it never sounds like little, think of a clicking sound instead. I know, hard to explain, but for those familiar to Klingon, it’s the same sound as tlh. If you need more references, this could help you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiceless_alveolar_lateral_affricate.

A lot of words end in tl

The word for man is tlācatl.

The prefix for I (as in I am) is ni.

To say I’m a man, you just join the prefix to the word.

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The c in tlācatl sound like a k, but when a c has an e or i after it, it sounds like an s instead. The combination hu sounds like a w.

The word for woman is cihuātl.

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The prefix for singular you (as in you are) is ti.

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The i is the same as English short i in the word bit.

The word for doctor is ticitl.

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Nahuatl doesn’t have any prefix for he, she or it, so it is implied in the word, depending on context.

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The word for prince is pilli.

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As you can see, it depends on context to distinguish if you’re talking about somebody being something or just something alone. But don’t worry, it’s not that hard.

Either way, you can use the emphatic particle in followed by another noun to make things clear.

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Now comes the tricky part…

The prefix for we (as in we are) is ti.

Do you remember something similar? Yes, the prefix for singular you is the same!

So, how could you differentiate them? It’s very simple, you use singular words with singular you, but plural words with we. Makes sense, uh?

The word for men is tlācah.

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But…

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The prefix for plural you or you all is an.

The word for doctors is tīticih.

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As there is no prefix for he, she or it, there isn’t for they either.

The word for women is cihuāh.

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There are many ways to form the plural, but we’ll get there later in the course.

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