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date: 20 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The Aztec Empire at its height included speakers of at least 40 languages. Central Nahuatl, the dominant language of the Triple Alliance states, was one of several Aztecan or Nahua languages in Mesoamerica that was widespread in the region long before the Aztec period. Central Nahuatl apparently was familiar throughout the empire, as attested by evidence of a Nahuatl lingua franca in early documents from as far south as Guatemala. While speakers of this variety had little interest in other languages and were convinced of the superiority of their own, there is no evidence of any official policy to encourage its adoption, and apparently language did not figure in determining the political subdivisions of the empire. Nonetheless, in areas of high multilingualism, Nahuatl must have been a useful lingua franca even for nonelites.

Keywords: Aztecan, Nahuatl, lingua franca, language, multilingualism, language policy

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