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 the location and time period in which the Proto-Nahuan language was spoken. Following Nahuan ethnohistorical sources describing a southwards migration of Nahuatl speakers, combined with the locations of all other Uto-Aztecan languages to the 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 forwarded by Jane Hill sees proto-Nahuatl as having arisen within Mesoamerica, and the Nahuas as the only remainders of a large scale northward migration.


Some phonological changes shared by all Nahuan languages are:

  • Proto-Uto-Aztecan *t becomes Proto-Nahuan lateral affricate *t͡ɬ before Proto-Uto-Aztecan *a[1] ( PUA *ta:ka "man" becomes PN *tla:ka-tla "man" )
  • Proto-Uto-Aztecan initial *p is lost in Proto-Nahuan.[2] (PUA *pahi "water" becomes PN *a:-tla "water")
  • Proto-Uto-Aztecan *u merges with *i into Proto-Nahuan *i[3] (PUA *muki "to die" becomes PN *miki "to die)
  • Proto-Uto-Aztecan sibilants *ts and *s split into *ts, *ch and *s, respectively.[4]
  • Proto-Uto-Aztecan fifth vowel reconstructed as or merged with *e into Proto-Nahuan *e[5] (PUA *nɨmi "to walk" becomes PN *nemi "to live, to walk")
  • a large number of metatheses in which Proto-Uto-Aztecan roots of the shape *CVCV have become *VCCV.[6] (PUA *pu:li "to tie" becomes PN *ilpi "to tie" )


The hypothetical Proto-Nahuan is hypothetically an agglutinative language, where words use 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.