That’s what my Mexican friend said, at least. Add to that the French proverb, “Une personne qui parle deux langues vaut deux personnes,” and I’m on my way to being quite valuable!
At any rate, I’ve got Nahuatl on the brain (a good thing, by the way), and I thought I would explain something that few know about this enigmatic language. You see, it’s actually a bit misleading to refer to Nahuatl as a language, because it is actually a family of closely related but widely varying dialects. Back during the Aztec Empire, Classical Nahuatl was the lingua franca of the meso-American peoples, but after the conquest, Spanish took control, and even though people still spoke Nahuatl, it started to fragment due to its relegation to a local instead of national language. That’s why today we see a great many dialects of Nahuatl scattered across the nation, and some vary to the point of being mutually unintelligible.
Of course the classification of these dialects is somewhat artificial, a thing invented by curious linguists. I have been studying Western Huasteca Nahuatl (NHW), because that’s what they speak in the Huasteca of San Luis Potosí. There is another very closely related dialect to the east, called by the linguists “Eastern Huasteca Nahuatl” (NHE).
When I first started talking to the Nahuatl speakers here in Georgia, I immediately noticed that they didn’t talk quite the same way as I was used to. For example, to say “I don’t know” in NHW, you would say Amo nijmati. However, these folks are from the state of Hidalgo, and they say Ax nijmati. From my studies, I thought that the use of ax instead of amo was a sure sign that these people were speaking the eastern dialect. I was OK with learning a different dialect, although I somewhat dreaded having trouble switching back and forth when I actually went to Mexico. But I am happy to report that upon further conversation, I have discovered that my Hidalgo friends’ language is much more western than eastern.
This only goes to show that those lines linguists draw between dialects are somewhat arbitrary, and certainly not objective. I have a map in one of my Nahuatl books that shows such a line, with a different shade for each dialect, but I imagine it is actually more of a gradient. And in the case of my friends from Hidalgo, their speech uses elements from both dialects.
I hope that didn’t bore you; personally I find it fascinating! Stay tuned for more news from my Nahuatl adventure in the near future.