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Do you speak Mexican?

Brothers in ChristSometimes when my Grandpa talks about the Spanish-speaking people in Texas, he says they “talk Mexican.” While this is “incorrect” usage (they speak the same language in Spain, you know), if you go to Mexico you’ll find that they do use the term mexicano to refer to a language–Nahuatl, to be precise.

Nahuatl is the most widely-spoken indigenous tongue in Mexico, and is the native language of the Aztec people who once had a wide-stretching empire and a glorious capital city (Tenochtitlán) where Mexico City now stands. When reading histories of the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish conquistadores, you often get the impression that after the Aztecs were conquered, they just disappeared. However, this is far from the truth. This people is still alive and well, and although they have abandoned many of their traditions, their language still lives on and is in no danger of extinction.

Although Nahuatl is often treated as a single language, it has many variations and dialects in different regions, not to mention Classical Nahuatl which was spoken in ancient times. There are quite a few resources for Nahuatl to be found on the internet (although most are in Spanish), but nevertheless I have found nothing for the particular dialect that I encountered, Western Huasteca Nahuatl. Thus, I hope that the following words and phrases will be useful to anyone who may be going to the Huasteca and wants to be at least a bit knowledgeable of the native dialect.

Concerning writing conventions: Nahuatl has almost always been a spoken language only, and remains such to this day. The system used below is my own invention to best convey the sounds of the language. It may be noted that the phone [u] is most likely an allophone of the phoneme /o/; in fact some Nahuatl speakers find it hard to say Spanish words containing an O. Also, I have used the letter X to represent the sound which in English is often spelled <sh>.

Update (12-2010): I have changed the words below to the orthography explained in this post, which has been established as the “official” Nahuatl writing system.

Words collected from various native speakers

(Two of these words I heard in an explanation of the toponym Chichimixtitla)

  • chichi — dog
  • nosiwa — my wife
  • mixtitla — claws
  • etl — beans

Words and phrases from Luis Alberto

Tlaskamati!

  • ¿Kenki tiitstok? — How are you?
  • tlaskamati — thank you!
  • Ma Noweyiteko mitstiochiwa — God bless you (literally “may my great master blesss you”)
  • timopantisej — see you!
  • timopantisej sempa — see you later!
  • yawi — hello / good morning / good afternoon
  • kejyawi — longer form of the previous, with same meaning
  • nechpaktia ___ — I like ___
  • amo nechpaktia ___ — I don’t like___
  • nimitsneki — I love you
  • techpalewi — help me!
  • ¿nelnelia? — really?
  • ¿technotsa? — Are you calling me?
  • ximosewi — have a seat!

Many thanks to Luis Alberto for sharing his language with me.

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