Western United States, Mexico
Linguistic classificationOne of the world's primary language families
ISO 639-5azc
Pre-contact distribution of Uto-Aztecan languages

Current extent of Uto-Aztecan languages in Mexico

Uto-Aztecan[a] languages[b] are a family of indigenous languages of the Americas, consisting of over thirty languages. Uto-Aztecan languages are found almost entirely in the Western United States and Mexico. The name of the language family reflects the common ancestry of the Ute language of Utah and the Nahuan languages (also known as Aztecan) of Mexico.

The Uto-Aztecan language family is one of the largest linguistic families in the Americas in terms of number of speakers, number of languages, and geographic extension.[2] The northernmost Uto-Aztecan language is Shoshoni, which is spoken as far north as Salmon, Idaho, while the southernmost is the Pipil language of El Salvador and Honduras. Ethnologue gives the total number of languages in the family as 61, and the total number of speakers as 1,900,412.[3] Speakers of Nahuatl languages account for over 85% of these.

The internal classification of the family often divides it into two branches: a northern branch including all the languages of the US and a southern branch including all the languages of Mexico, although it is still being discussed whether this is best understood as a genetic classification or as a geographical one. Below this level of classification the main branches are well accepted: Numic (including languages such as Comanche and Shoshoni) and the Californian languages (formerly known as the Takic group, including Cahuilla and Luiseño) account for most of the Northern languages. Hopi and Tübatulabal are languages outside those groups. The Southern languages are divided into the Tepiman languages (including O'odham and Tepehuán), the Tarahumaran languages (including Raramuri and Guarijio), the Cahitan languages (including Yaqui and Mayo), the Coracholan languages (including Cora and Huichol), and the Nahuan languages.

The homeland of the Uto-Aztecan languages is generally considered to have been in the Southwestern United States or possibly Northwestern Mexico. An alternative theory has proposed the possibility that the language family originated in southern Mexico, within the Mesoamerican language area, but this has not been generally considered convincing.

Geographic distribution

Uto-Aztecan-speaking communities in and around Mexico

Uto-Aztecan languages are spoken in the North American mountain ranges and adjacent lowlands of the western United States in the states of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, California, Nevada, and Arizona. In Mexico, they are spoken in the states of Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Nayarit, Durango, Zacatecas, Jalisco, Michoacán, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Puebla, Veracruz, Morelos, Estado de México, and in Mexico City. Classical Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and its modern relatives are part of the Uto-Aztecan family. The Pipil language, an offshoot of Nahuatl, spread to Central America by a wave of migration from Mexico, and formerly had many speakers there. Now it has gone extinct in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and it is nearly extinct in western El Salvador, all areas dominated by use of Spanish.


History of classification

Uto-Aztecan has been accepted by linguists as a language family since the early 1900s, and six subgroups are generally accepted as valid: Numic, Takic, Pimic, Taracahitic, Corachol, and Aztecan. That leaves two ungrouped languages: Tübatulabal and Hopi (sometimes termed "isolates within the family"). Some recent studies have begun to question the unity of Taracahitic and Takic and computer-assisted statistical studies have begun to question some of the long-held assumptions and consensuses. As to higher-level groupings, disagreement has persisted since the 19th century. Presently scholars also disagree as to where to draw language boundaries within the dialect continua.

The similarities among the Uto-Aztecan languages were noted as early as 1859 by J. C. E. Buschmann, but he failed to recognize the genetic affiliation between the Aztecan branch and the rest. He ascribed the similarities between the two groups to diffusion. Daniel Garrison Brinton added the Aztecan languages to the family in 1891 and coined the term Uto-Aztecan. John Wesley Powell, however, rejected the claim in his own classification of North American indigenous languages (also published in 1891). Powell recognized two language families: "Shoshonean" (encompassing Takic, Numic, Hopi, and Tübatulabal) and "Sonoran" (encompassing Pimic, Taracahitan, and Corachol). In the early 1900s Alfred L. Kroeber filled in the picture of the Shoshonean group,[4] while Edward Sapir proved the unity among Aztecan, "Sonoran", and "Shoshonean".[5][6][7] Sapir's applications of the comparative method to unwritten Native American languages are regarded as groundbreaking.[citation needed] Voegelin, Voegelin & Hale (1962) argued for a three-way division of Shoshonean, Sonoran and Aztecan, following Powell.[8]

As of about 2011, there is still debate about whether to accept the proposed basic split between "Northern Uto-Aztecan" and "Southern Uto-Aztecan" languages.[2] Northern Uto-Aztecan corresponds to Powell's "Shoshonean", and the latter is all the rest: Powell's "Sonoran" plus Aztecan. Northern Uto-Aztecan was proposed as a genetic grouping by Jeffrey Heath in Heath (1978) based on morphological evidence, and Alexis Manaster Ramer in Manaster Ramer (1992) adduced phonological evidence in the form of a sound law. Terrence Kaufman in Kaufman (1981) accepted the basic division into Northern and Southern branches as valid. Other scholars have rejected the genealogical unity of either both nodes or the Northern node alone.[9][10][11][12] Wick R. Miller's argument was statistical, arguing that Northern Uto-Aztecan languages displayed too few cognates to be considered a unit. On the other hands he found the number of cognates among Southern Uto-Aztecan languages to suggest a genetic relation.[11] This position was supported by subsequent lexicostatistic analyses by Cortina-Borja & Valiñas-Coalla (1989) and Cortina-Borja, Stuart-Smith & Valiñas-Coalla (2002). Reviewing the debate, Haugen (2008) considers the evidence in favor of the genetic unity of Northern Uto-Aztecan to be convincing, but remains agnostic on the validity of Southern Uto-Aztecan as a genetic grouping. Hill (2011) also considered the North/South split to be valid based on phonological evidence, confirming both groupings. Merrill (2013) adduced further evidence for the unity of Southern Uto-Aztecan as a valid grouping.

Hill (2011) also rejected the validity of the Takic grouping decomposing it into a Californian areal grouping together with Tubatulabal.

Some classifications have posited a genetic relation between Corachol and Nahuan (e.g. Merrill (2013)). Kaufman recognizes similarities between Corachol and Aztecan, but explains them by diffusion instead of genetic evolution.[13] Most scholars view the breakup of Proto-Uto-Aztecan as a case of the gradual disintegration of a dialect continuum.[14]

Present scheme

Below is a representation of the internal classification of the language family based on Shaul (2014). The classification reflects the decision to split up the previous Taracahitic and Takic groups, that are no longer considered to be valid genetic units. Whether the division between Northern and Southern languages is best understood as geographical or phylogenetic is under discussion. The table contains demographic information about number of speakers and their locations based on data from The Ethnologue. The table also contains links to a selected bibliography of grammars, dictionaries on many of the individual languages.( = extinct)

Genealogical classification of Uto-Aztecan languages
Family Groups Languages Where spoken and approximate number of speakers Works
Uto-Aztecan languages Northern Uto-Aztecan
(possibly an areal grouping)
Numic Western Numic Paviotso, Bannock, Northern Paiute 700 speakers in California, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada Nichols (1973)
Mono About 40 speakers in California Lamb (1958)
Central Numic Shoshoni, Goshiute 1000 fluent speakers and 1000 learners in Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Idaho McLaughlin (2012)
Comanche 100 speakers in Oklahoma Robinson & Armagost (1990)
Timbisha (Panamint) 20 speakers in California and Nevada Dayley (1989)
Southern Numic Colorado River dialect chain: Ute, Southern Paiute, Chemehuevi 920 speakers of all dialects, in Colorado, Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona Givón (2011), Press (1979), Sapir (1992)
Kawaiisu 5 speakers in California Zigmond, Booth & Munro (1991)
Serran Serrano, Kitanemuk No native speakers Hill (1967)
Cupan Cahuilla, Cupeño 35 speakers of Cahuilla, no native speakers of Cupeño Seiler (1977), Hill (2005)
Luiseño-Juaneño 5 speakers in Southern California Kroeber & Grace (1960)
Tongva (Gabrielino-Fernandeño) Last native speakers died in early 1900s, in 21st century undergoing revival efforts, Southern California Munro & Gabrielino/Tongva Language Committee (2008)
Hopi Hopi 6,800 speakers in northeastern Arizona Hopi Dictionary Project (1998), Jeanne (1978)
Tübatulabal Tübatulabal Currently spoken by growing community of speakers [15] Voegelin (1935), Voegelin (1958)
Southern Uto-Aztecan
(possibly an areal grouping)
Tepiman Pimic O'odham (Pima-Papago) 14,000 speakers in southern Arizona, US and northern Sonora, Mexico Zepeda (1983)
Pima Bajo (O'ob No'ok) 650 speakers in Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico Estrada-Fernández (1998)
Tepehuan Northern Tepehuan 6,200 speakers in Chihuahua, Mexico Bascom (1982)
Southern Tepehuan 10,600 speakers in Southeastern Durango Willett (1991)
Tepecano Extinct since approx. 1985, spoken in Northern Jalisco Mason (1916)
Tarahumaran Tarahumara (several varieties) 45,500 speakers of all varieties, all spoken in Chihuahua Caballero (2008)
Upriver Guarijio, Downriver Guarijio 2,840 speakers in Chihuahua and Sonora Miller (1996)
Tubar Spoken in Sinaloa and Sonora Lionnet (1978)
Cahita Yaqui (Hiaki) 11,800 in Sonora and Arizona Dedrick & Casad (1999)
Mayo 33,000 in Sinaloa and Sonora Freeze (1989)
Opatan Ópata Extinct since approx. 1930. Spoken in Sonora. Shaul (2001)
Eudeve Spoken in Sonora, but extinct since 1940 Lionnet (1986)
Corachol Cora 13,600 speakers in northern Nayarit Casad (1984)
Huichol 17,800 speakers in Nayarit, Jalisco, and western Zacatecas. Iturrioz Leza & Ramírez de la Cruz (2001)
Aztecan (Nahuan) Pochutec Extinct since 1970s, spoken on the coast of Oaxaca Boas (1917)
Core Nahuan Pipil 20-40 speakers in El Salvador Campbell (1985)
Nahuatl 1,500,000 speakers in Central Mexico Launey (1986), Langacker (1979)

In addition to the above languages for which linguistic evidence exists, it is suspected that among dozens of now extinct, undocumented or poorly known languages of northern Mexico, many were Uto-Aztecan.[16]

Extinct languages

Main article: List of extinct Uto-Aztecan languages

See also: List of extinct languages of North America

A large number of languages known only from brief mentions are thought to have been Uto-Aztecan languages that became extinct before being documented.[17]

Proposed external relations

Main article: Aztec–Tanoan languages

An "Aztec–Tanoan" macrofamily that unites the Uto-Aztecan languages with the Tanoan languages of the southwestern United States was first proposed by Edward Sapir in the early 20th century, and later supported with potential lexical evidence by other scholars. This proposal has received much criticism about the validity of the proposed cognate sets and has been largely abandoned since the end of the last century as unproven.[18]


Main article: Proto-Uto-Aztecan language


  1. ^ /ˈjt.æzˈtɛkən/ YOO-toh az-TEK-ən
  2. ^ or Uto-Aztekan languages or (rarely in English) Uto-Nahuatl[1]


  1. ^ "Nahuatl Family". SIL International. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b Caballero 2011.
  3. ^ Ethnologue (2014). "Summary by language family". SIL International. Retrieved July 2, 2014.
  4. ^ Kroeber 1907.
  5. ^ Sapir 1913.
  6. ^ Kroeber 1934.
  7. ^ Whorf 1935.
  8. ^ Steele 1979.
  9. ^ Goddard 1996, p. 7.
  10. ^ Miller 1983, p. 118.
  11. ^ a b Miller 1984.
  12. ^ Mithun 1999, p. 539-540.
  13. ^ Kaufman 2001, [1].
  14. ^ Mithun 1999.
  15. ^ Ahland, Michael. "The Pahka'anil Language". The Pahka'anil (Tübatulabal) Text Project. Retrieved May 21, 2023.
  16. ^ Campbell 1997.
  17. ^ Campbell 1997, pp. 133–135.
  18. ^ Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 269–273.


Individual languages

  • Boas, Franz (1917). "El dialecto mexicano de Pochutla, Oaxaca". International Journal of American Linguistics (in Spanish). 1 (1): 9–44. doi:10.1086/463709. OCLC 56221629. S2CID 145443094.
  • Hopi Dictionary Project (1998). Hopi Dictionary: Hopìikwa Lavàytutuveni: A Hopi–English Dictionary of the Third Mesa Dialect With an English–Hopi Finder List and a Sketch of Hopi Grammar. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
  • Campbell, Lyle (1985). The Pipil Language of El Salvador. Mouton Grammar Library, no. 1. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-010344-1. OCLC 13433705. Archived from the original on 2014-06-06. Retrieved 2014-06-06.
  • Dayley, Jon P. (1989). "Tümpisa (Panamint) Shoshone Grammar". University of California Publications in Linguistics. 115.
  • Givón, Talmy (2011). Ute Reference Grammar. Culture and Language Use Volume 3. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  • Jeanne, LaVerne Masayesva (1978). Aspects of Hopi grammar. MIT, dissertation.
  • Voegelin, Charles F. (1935). "Tübatulabal Grammar". University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology. 34: 55–190.
  • Voegelin, Charles F. (1958). "Working Dictionary of Tübatulabal". International Journal of American Linguistics. 24 (3): 221–228. doi:10.1086/464459. S2CID 145758965.
  • Robinson, Lila Wistrand; Armagost, James (1990). Comanche dictionary and grammar. publications in linguistics (No. 92). Dallas, Texas: The Summer Institute of Linguistics and The University of Texas at Arlington.
  • Lamb, Sydney M (1958). A Grammar of Mono (PDF). PhD Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved July 8, 2012.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Zigmond, Maurice L.; Booth, Curtis G.; Munro, Pamela (1991). Pamela Munro (ed.). Kawaiisu, A Grammar and Dictionary with Texts. University of California Publications in Linguistics. Vol. 119. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.
  • Nichols, Michael (1973). Northern Paiute historical grammar. University of California, Berkeley PhD dissertation.
  • McLaughlin, John E. (2012). Shoshoni Grammar. Languages of the World/Meterials 488. Muenchen: LINCOM Europa.
  • Press, Margaret L. (1979). Chemehuevi, A Grammar and Lexicon. University of California Publications in Linguistics. Vol. 92. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.
  • Sapir, Edward (1992) [1930]. "Southern Paiute, a Shoshonean Language". In William Bright (ed.). The Collected Works of Edward Sapir, X, Southern Paiute and Ute Linguistics and Ethnography. Berlin: Mouton deGruyter.
  • Seiler, Hans-Jakob (1977). Cahuilla Grammar. Banning, California: Malki Museum Press.
  • Hill, Kenneth C. (1967). A Grammar of the Serrano Language. University of California, Los Angeles, PhD dissertation.
  • Hill, Jane H. (2005). A Grammar of Cupeño. University of California Publications in Linguistics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Caballero, Gabriela (2008). Choguita Rarámuri (Tarahumara) Phonology and Morphology (PDF) (PhD Dissertation). University of California at Berkeley.
  • Thornes, Tim (2003). A Northern Paiute Grammar with Texts. PhD Dissertation: University of Oregon at Eugene.
  • Kroeber, Alfred L.; Grace, George William (1960). The Sparkman Grammar of Luiseño. University of California Publications in Linguistics 16. Berkeley: The University of California Press.
  • Zepeda, Ofelia (1983). A Tohono O'odham Grammar. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press.
  • Willett, T. (1991). A reference grammar of southeastern Tepehuan (PDF). Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and University of Texas at Arlington.
  • Miller, Wick R. (1996). La lengua guarijio: gramatica, vocabulario y textos. Mexico City: Instituto de Investigaciones Antropologicas, UNAM.
  • Bascom, Burton W. (1982). "Northern Tepehuan". In Ronald W. Langacker (ed.). Studies in Uto-Aztecan Grammar, Volume 3, Uto-Aztecan Grammatical Sketches. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington. pp. 267–393.
  • Lionnet, Andrés (1978). El idioma tubar y los tubares. Segun documentos ineditos de C. S. Lumholtz y C. V. Hartman. Mexico, D. F: Universidad Iberoamericana.
  • Casad, Eugene H. (1984). "Cora". In Ronald W. Langacker (ed.). Studies in Uto-Aztecan grammar 4: Southern Uto-Aztecan grammatical sketches. Summer Institute of Linguistics Publications in Linguistics 56. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington. pp. 153–149.
  • Dedrick, John; Casad, Eugene H. (1999). Sonora Yaqui Language Structures. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 9780816519811.
  • Freeze, Ray A. (1989). Mayo de Los Capomos, Sinaloa. Archivo de Lenguas Indígenas del Estado de Oaxaca, 14. 14. 166. México, D.F.: Instituto de Investigación e Integración Social del Estado de Oaxaca.
  • Lionnet, Andrés (1986). Un idioma extinto de sonora: El eudeve. México: UNAM. ISBN 978-968-837-915-8.
  • Estrada-Fernández, Zarina (1998). Pima bajo de Yepachi, Chihuahua. Archivo de Lenguas Indigenas de Mexico. Colegio de México.
  • Munro, Pamela; Gabrielino/Tongva Language Committee (2008). Yaara' Shiraaw'ax 'Eyooshiraaw'a. Now You're Speaking Our Language: Gabrielino/Tongva/Fernandeño. Lulu.com.[self-published source?]
  • Launey, Michel (1986). Categories et operations dans la grammaire Nahuatl. Ph. D. dissertation, Paris IV.
  • Langacker, Ronald W., ed. (1979). Studies in Uto-Aztecan Grammar 2: Modern Aztec Grammatical Sketches. Summer Institute of Linguistics Publications in Linguistics, 56. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington. ISBN 978-0-88312-072-9.
  • Mason, J. Alden (1916). "Tepecano, A Piman language of western Mexico". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 25 (1): 309–416. Bibcode:1916NYASA..25..309M. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1916.tb55171.x. hdl:2027/uc1.c077921598. S2CID 86778121.
  • Shaul, D. L. (2001). The Opatan Languages, Plus Jova. Festschrift. INAH.
  • Iturrioz Leza, José Luis; Ramírez de la Cruz, Julio (2001). Gramática Didáctica del Huichol: Vol. I. Estructura Fonológica y Sistema de Escritura. Departamento de Estudios en Lenguas Indígenas–Universidad de Guadalajara – Secretaria de Educación Pública.