For fivecenturies, north Americans have actually been fascinated and also intrigued by story of themagnificent Aztec Empire. This extensive Mesoamerican realm was in that ascendancyduring the late Fifteenth and early sixteenth Centuries. The Aztec empire of1519 to be the most an effective Mesoamerican kingdom of every time. This multi-ethnic,multi-lingual realm extended for an ext than 80,000 square miles through manyparts the what room now central and southerly Mexico.

The Aztec empire stretched native the Pacific s to the Gulf coast and also from main Mexico to the contemporary Republic of Guatemala. Fifteen million people, living in thirty-eight provinces and also residing in 489 communities, payment tribute come the Emperor Moctezuma II. The map below shows the gradual expansion of the Aztec Empire between 1429 and also 1519>.

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However, by the moment that Hernán Cortésand his tape of Spanish mercenaries arrived on the Gulf coast of Veracruz in1519, omens of unavoidable doom had begun to haunt Emperor Moctezuma II and hisadvisors in their funding city, Tenochtitlán. V an remarkable coalition ofindigenous forces, Cortés and his lieutenants were able come bring around the fallof one of the best indigenous American empires in just two years.

TheUto-Aztecan linguistic Group

The empire that the Aztecs amassed makesthem unique amongst Amerindian peoples. But, in at the very least one respect, lock arefar from unique. The Aztecs and other Náhuatl-speaking indigenous peoples ofMexico every belong to the Uto-Aztecan linguistic Group. Spoken in many regionsof the west U.S. And also Mexico, the Uto-Aztecan languages include a vast rangeof languages, extending from Idaho, Montana, and also Wyoming every the means down toEl Salvador in central America.

While the Aztecs that the sixteenth Centurylived in the south central part of the present-day Mexican Republic, a widescattering of individuals who presently live in the united States can probably bedescribed as “distant cousins” to the Aztecs. If friend belong come the Shoshone,Ute, Paiute, or Gabrielino (Tongva) Indians, friend may very well re-superstructure commonroots through the famed Aztecs of central Mexico.

How is it that we have the right to conclude the theserelationships exist? studies in historical linguistics have actually analyzed theUto-Aztecan tongues — and the Náhuatl language in details — have determinedthat Náhuatl was in reality not native to main Mexico. Instead, it to be carriedsouth from lands the are thought to have been in the northwestern an ar ofthe present-day Mexican Republic and also — prior to that — the joined States. Most ofus have currently heard the story that Aztlán and also the Aztec journey from thatmythical countryside to main Mexico.

As a matter of fact, the various Azteccultures uniformly asserted that they had actually come indigenous the north during anestimated period of 200 to 800 years prior to the Spanish conquest. In addition,linguists such as Dakin (1983) and also Kaufman (2001) have also concluded that Náhuatlwas not indigenous to central Mexico.

TheLegend of Aztlán

Legend states that the Aztec and other Náhuatl-speaking tribal groups originally concerned the sink of Mexico indigenous a region in the northwest, popularly known as Aztlán-Chicomoztoc. The name Aztec, in fact, is claimed to have actually been derived from this genealogical homeland, Aztlán (The place of Herons). Follow to legend, the soil of Aztlán was stated to have been a marshy island situated in the center of a lake.

For nearly five centuries, popularimagination has speculated about the place of the legendary Aztlán. Somepeople refer to Aztlán together a concept, not an actual ar that ever before existed.However, many historians think that Aztlán did undoubtedly exist. The historianPaul Kirchhoff said that Aztlán lay follow me a tributary of the Lerna River,to the west of the sink of Mexico. Other professionals have argued the Aztlánmight be the island that Janitzio in the center of Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán,with its physics correspondence to the description of Aztlán. Manyanthropologists have actually speculated the the ancestral home the the Aztecs put inCalifornia, new Mexico or in the Mexican states of Nayarit, Sonora and also Sinaloa.

TheNorth-to-South Movement

The idea the Sinaloa, Sonora, California,and new Mexico might be the site of Aztlán is a very plausible explanation whenhistorical linguistics are considered. “The north-to-south activity of the Aztlángroups is sustained by research study in historic linguistics,” to write theanthropologist, Professor Michael smith of the college of new York, in TheAztecs, “The Náhuatl language,classified in the Nahuan team of the Uto-Aztecan household of languages, is unrelated to many Mesoamerican nativelanguages.” as a matter of fact, “Náhuatl to be a relatively recentintrusion” into central Mexico.

On the other hand, if one observes thelocations that the indigenous world who spoke the Uto-Aztecan languages, all of their soil lay come the northwest that theValley that Mexico. The north Uto-Aztecans populated a huge section the theAmerican Southwest. Among them were the Hopi and also Zuni ind of brand-new Mexico andthe Gabrielino indians of the Los Angeles Basin. The central Uto-Aztecans —occupying big parts of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and also Sonora in northwestern Mexico —included the Papago, Opata, Yaqui, Mayo, Concho, Huichol and also Tepehuán. The isreasonable to assume that wherein there is a etymological relationship there ismost likely likewise a hereditary relationship. Thus, the is very feasible that thelegendary Aztlán or another ancestral home that the Aztecs – was situated in theSouthwestern united States.

TheAztlán Migrations

It is essential to note, however, the theAztlán movements were not one an easy movement that a solitary group that people.Instead, together Professor Smith has actually noted, “when all of the native histories arecompared, no fewer than seventeen ethnic teams are provided among the originaltribes migrating from Aztlán and Chicomoztoc.” that is believed that the migrations southward probably tookplace over numerous generations. “Led by priests,” continues ProfessorSmith, these big groups of migrants “stopped periodically to construct houses andtemples, to gather and cultivate food, and also to carry out rituals.”

The original Náhuatl People

The migrating groups consisted of manyNáhuatl-speaking peoples who resolved in the sink of Mexico and adjacentvalleys the are now in the neighboring states that Morelos, Tlaxcala, andPuebla. The 7 Náhuatl-speaking tribescomprised the following:

The Xochimilca — The Xochimilcawere the very first Náhuatl people to come in the valley of Mexico, settling around900 A.D. In Cuahilama, near what is currently Santa Cruz Acalpixca (in Mexico City).They were ultimately subdued by the Mexica and became component of the Aztec Empire.The Chalca ofChalco— The Chalca to be the 2nd tribe to come in the Valley. They establishedthemselves eastern of the Xochimilca around 25 km (16 miles) eastern of Tenochtitlán.Chalco was conquered by the Aztecs approximately 1465. The Tepaneca — The Tepanecs orTepaneca were the 3rd tribe to come in the valley of Mexico in the late12th or at an early stage 13th centuries. They worked out in Azcapotzalco ~ above the northwestshore that Lake Texcoco. In 1428, Tepaneca became component of the Aztec Empire.The Acolhua of Texcoco — The fourthtribe to arrive in the area, the Acolhua, settled on the northeastern coast ofthe Lake Texcoco. They occupied mostof the eastern container of the valley of Mexico, v their funding in Texcoco.Today, Texcoco is a city and also municipio located in the State of Mexico, around 25km (15 miles) northeast of Mexico City.The Tlahuica — The Tlahuicawere the 5th Náhuatl human being to come in central Mexico. They were organizedinto about 50 small city states situated in what is now the state the Morelos;their biggest cities to be Cuauhnahuac (modern Cuernavaca), about 85 kilometres (53miles) south of Mexico City, and also Huaxtepec (modern Oaxtepec), around 60 km (37miles) south of Mexico City. The Tlahuica ultimately became part of the AztecEmpire.The Tlaxcaltecans(Tlaxcalans)— The Tlaxcalans cleared up to the east of the sink of Mexico. Their major city,Tlaxcala, is 125 km (78 miles) come the eastern of Mexico City today. The Tlaxcalansopposed the Aztec Empire and also their nation evolved right into an live independence enclavedeep in the heart of the Aztec Empire. By 1519, Tlaxcala was a small, denselypopulated confederation of 200 negotiations with a populace of around 150,000,surrounded on all sides through the Aztec Empire. The Mexica — The Mexica, according to ProfessorSmith, were “the inhabitants of the urban of Tenochtitlán and also Tlatelolco.”They were the critical of the Náhuatl-speaking teams to come in the sink ofMexico and also they eventually ended up being the master of the Aztec Empire.

TheExisting Uto-Aztecan Languages

SIL global (formerly recognized as theSummer academy of Linguistics) says that there space sixty-two existingUto-Aztecan languages spread out throughout the U.S., Mexico, and main America.For a map reflecting the regions where this linguistic team is located, pleasesee the adhering to link:

TheNorthern Uto-Aztecans that the American Southwest

The northern Uto-Aztecans, inhabitingseveral American states, speak thirteen that the sixty-two languages. Yet theSouthern Uto-Aztecans – almost all of whom do their homes south that thepresent-day U.S.-Mexican border – speak 49 languages.

The northern Uto-Aztecans are finest knownas the “Great container peoples,” and also the majority of castle belong to the Numicsubdivision that the Uto-Aztecan family members of languages. The Numic division isdivided right into several branches. The west Numic is composed primarily the theNorthern Paiute, that inhabit Oregon, California, and Nevada.

The southerly Numic division includes the southerly Paiute and also Ute Indians. The southern Paiute originally inhabited southern Utah, southern Nevada and also northern Arizona. The Ute tribe when lived over much of Utah i m sorry was called after lock and every one of western Colorado. It is believed that they also stretched into Nebraska and new Mexico.

The main Numic family is consisted of of thePanamint, Shoshone, and Comanche tribes. The Shoshone Indian world traditionallylived on soil in the east-central area of California to the east of the SierraNevada range, including Owens Valley and the lands southern of it, which includesDeath Valley. The Shoshone language is really closely regarded the Paiutelanguage, and also some Shoshone tribes today live as much north as Idaho andMontana, representing the northernmost stretches of the Uto-Aztecans.

The Numic Family also includes a an excellent many California tribes: the Serrano, Cupan, Luiseno, Cahuilla, Cupeno, Kiowa and Gabrielino, among others. That is remarkable that one of these tribes the Gabrielino Indians, that were given their surname by the Spaniards since they lived in the lands close to the san Gabriel Mission room the major indigenous group that inhabited the Los Angeles Basin. The Gabrielino Indians room today recognized as the “Kizh Nation,” which is believed to be a word from their language an interpretation “People that the willow houses.” since they speak a Uto-Aztecan language, the human being of the Kizh nation can be considered distant family members to the Aztecs. A distribution of Uto-Aztecan languages, mirroring the northern Uto-Aztecan regions:

TheSouthern Uto-Aztecans that Mexico

The southerly Uto-Aztecans have a verylarge depiction spread end a big area. Crucial branch the theUto-Aztecans is the Sonoran family members of Languages, mainly spoken by indigenouspeoples the Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Durango, and Arizona. This group isrepresented by numerous tribal teams that are popular to many Americans. TheCorachol family members is represented in the present day era through the Cora and HuicholIndians of Nayarit and Jalisco.

Another Sonora subdivision is the TepimanFamily (spoken through the Papago, Pima Bajo, and Tepehuán of Sonora, Chihuahua andDurango). And also the most popular Sonoran division is the Taracahitic Family(spoken through the Mayo, Yaqui and also Tarahumara the northwestern Mexico). Together you mightexpect, a family members is a team of languages that space genetically and culturallyrelated come one another.

When the Spaniards come in Sinaloa in1523, a huge number the Taracahitic peoples inhabited the coastal area ofnorthwestern Mexico follow me the reduced courses of the Sinaloa, Fuerte, Mayo, andYaqui Rivers. The Yaqui ind of Sonora space the ideal known tribe of this familybecause they ongoing to withstand the Spanish Empire and the mexican Republicwell right into the twentieth Century. The mei Indians, closely related to theYaquis, likewise resisted the central authority the Sonora well right into the NineteenthCentury and today number some 40,000 citizens, inhabiting the border areas ofnorthern Sinaloa and also southern Sonora.

TheNáhuatl speaker of Mexico in 2000

The Aztecan or Náhuatl-speaking peoples ofcentral and southern Mexico speak virtually thirty languages and are the single largestlinguistic team in Mexico. In the 2000 census, 1,448,936 people fiveyears of age and also older were classified as Náhuatl-speakers, representing 24% ofthe full indigenous-speaking population. Numerous dialects the Náhuatl room spokenthroughout Mexico and also all are believed to be obtained from a typical source,perhaps thousands of years into the past.


Through time, every cultures and also languagesevolve. Sooner or later, a homogenous social group, responding toenvironmental and social pressures, will suffer a cultural divergence ofits ingredient parts. As part members that an ethnic group begin to move away fromthe main point group, their cultural and linguistic identification will change and undergoa revolution into a new cultural group. The dialects talked by similarpeoples – once they have actually been isolated from one another for a period of time –undergo a cultural diffusion until,eventually, the resulting groups reach a suggest where lock speak mutuallyunintelligible languages.


Language aberration takes ar when a language breaks into dialects because of alack the spatial interaction amongst speakers of a language, and continued isolation causes brand-new languages tobe formed. Together an example, at some point in the far-off past — probably afew thousands years ago — the ancestors of the Aztecs and the Yaquis were oneand the very same people, speak a solitary language and practicing a singleculture. However, in 1519, together Hernán Cortés cruised along the eastern seaboardwith his small fleet, the Yaquis and Aztecs to be two different ethnic groups.They currently spoke different languages, practiced religions unknown to every other,and live 1,300 kilometers away from each other. As soon as two ethnic teams belongto the same linguistic grouping, us infer the they are in some way related.

So, the huge question is “How and also when didthe Aztecs diverge from the an excellent Basin Indians and from the Yaquis and Mayosof Sonora?” back studies have actually been excellent in attempt to recognize thechronology that Uto-Aztecan social divergence, most of the professionals do no agreeon the numbers.

TheFirst Uto-Aztecans

In the 1930s, the research in the language Dr. RobertMowry Zinng wrote that the ShoshoneIndians the the Southwestern U.S.A. Probably represent the closest thing we will certainly ever find to the first Uto-Aztecans— the proto Uto-Aztecan culture — because they had actually not moved as much as otherUto-Aztecan cultures, such as the Yaquis, Mayos, and Aztecs who room nowfar-removed from your probable ancestral homeland in the good Basin the theUnited States.

Other authors have actually agreed through thisanalysis, stating that ultimately the roots of all Uto-Aztecan cultures will befound in the north. However, some theories have said that SouthernCalifornia to be the original house of the first Uto-Aztecans and also that the Paiuteand Shoshone diverged from the main team by migrating eastward right into the GreatBasin.

EarlyUto-Aztecan Differentiation

Half a century ago, both Sydney M. Lamband Morris Swadesh hypothesized that about fifty centuries back (circa 3000B.C.), the Proto-Uto-Aztecan culture was coming to be “dialecticallydifferentiated, maybe somewhere roughly the Arizona-Sonora border.” Utilizingthe etymological term “minimum century ago” as a device for measuring divergence,Lamb declared that the Numic and also Aztec languages more than likely diverged 47 minimumcenturies earlier (circa 2700 B.C.).

Separationof the Aztecs and Yaquis

Once the Northern and also Southern Uto-AztecanGroups diverged, the ancestors of the present-day Aztecs, Yaquis and Mayosapparently do their method into the region of Sonora in the present-dayMexican Republic. Dr. Lamb hypothesized the the Cáhita (Mayo and also Yaqui) ancestral language diverged from the Aztecancestral language 27 minimum centuries ago (circa 700 B.C.).

However, the so late Wick R. Fearbut concludedthat glottochronological approximates placed the divergence of the Aztecanlinguistic team from the Sonoran at before 4500 B.C. (much previously than Lamb’stheory). The is important to recognize, however, the many linguists do not agree on the validity and also accuracy ofglottochronology and lexicostatistics in determining linguistic differentiation.And some archaeologists are still researching the Uto-Aztecan migrations andpreparing to draw their own unique conclusions.

In the final analysis, however, nearly all experts agree the the Uto-Aztecan trunk is a widespread language grouping, boasting a significant diversity that language families spread over a big area. Studying and also understanding who speak these languages and also where they live offers us for ideas in determining who might be regarded the Aztecs.


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Hale, Kenneth.“Internal Diversity in Uto-Aztecan: II.”International journal of AmericanLinguistics, Vol. 25 (1959), pp. 114-121.

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Zingg, RobertMowry. A repair of Uto-AztekanHistory, ­ college of Denver contributions to Ethnography: II. New YorkCity: G.E. Stechert and Company, 1939.