Proto-Nahuan language

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Proto-Nahuan is the hypothetical daughter language of the Proto-Uto-Aztecan language which is the common ancestor from which the modern Nahuan languages have developed.


There is some controversy about where and when Proto-Nahuan was spoken. Following Nahuan ethnohistorical sources describing a southward migration of Nahuatl speakers, as well as the fact that all other Uto-Aztecan languages are north of the Nahuan languages, the homeland has traditionally been considered to be located to the north of the current area of extension.

An alternative hypothesis by Jane Hill is that Proto-Nahuatl arose within Mesoamerica, and the Nahuas are the only remainders of a large-scale northward migration.


The following phonological changes are shared by all Nahuan languages:

  • Proto-Uto-Aztecan *t becomes Proto-Nahuan lateral affricate *t͡ɬ before Proto-Uto-Aztecan *a[1] (Proto-Uto-Aztecan *ta:ka "man" becomes Proto-Nahuan *tla:ka-tla "man").
  • Proto-Uto-Aztecan initial *p is lost in Proto-Nahuan.[2] (Proto-Uto-Aztencan *pahi "water" becomes Proto-Nahuan *a:-tla "water")
  • Proto-Uto-Aztecan *u merges with *i in Proto-Nahuan *i[3] (Proto-Uto-Aztencan *muki "to die" becomes Proto-Nahuan *miki "to die)
  • Proto-Uto-Aztecan sibilants *ts and *s split into *ts, *ch and *s , respectively.[4]
  • Proto-Uto-Aztecan's fifth vowel, reconstructed as or , merged with *e in Proto-Nahuan *e[5] (Proto-Uto-Aztencan *nɨmi "to walk" becomes Proto-Nahuan *nemi "to live, to walk")
  • Many metatheses in which Proto-Uto-Aztecan roots of the shape *CVCV become *VCCV.[6] (Proto-Uto-Aztencan *pu:li "to tie" becomes Proto-Nahuan *ilpi "to tie")


Proto-Nahuan was an agglutinative language, and its words used suffix complexes for a variety of purposes, with several morphemes strung together.


  1. ^ Dakin (1982), pp. 25, 67-8
  2. ^ Voegelin, Voegelin & Hale (1962)
  3. ^ Langacker (1977), p. 23
  4. ^ Dakin (1982), p. 51-62
  5. ^ Langacker (1977), p. 23
  6. ^ Dakin (1982), p. 62-3


Campbell, Lyle; Ronald Langacker (1978). "Proto-Aztecan vowels: Part I". International Journal of American Linguistics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 44 (2): 85–102. OCLC 1753556. doi:10.1086/465526. 
Dakin, Karen (1982). La evolución fonológica del Protonáhuatl (in Spanish). México D.F.: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas. ISBN 968-5802-92-0. OCLC 10216962. 
Dakin, Karen (1983). "Proto-Aztecan vowels and Pochutec: an alternative analysis". International Journal of American Linguistics. 49: 196–203. doi:10.1086/465782. 
Langacker, Ronald W. (1977). An overview of Uto-Aztecan grammar. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics. ISBN 0-88312-070-4. 
Voegelin, C. F.; Voegelin, F.; Hale, K. (1962). Typological and Comparative Grammar of Uto-Aztecan: Phonology. Memoirs of the International Journal of American Linguistics. 17. Waverly Press.