Uto-Aztecan Language

Uto-Aztecan Language Family

Alternate Names: Uto, AztekanUto-Aztecan is a native american language family and is one of the largest (both in geographical extension and number of languages) and most well-established linguistic families of the Americas.

Uto-Aztecan languages are found from the Great Basin of the Western United States (Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, California, Nevada, Arizona), through western, central and southern Mexico (including Sonora, Chihuahua, Nayarit, Durango, Zacatecas, Jalisco, Michoacán, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Puebla, Veracruz, Morelos, Estado de México, and the Federal District), and into parts of Central America (Pipil in El Salvador; extinct varieties in Guatemala and Honduras).

Utah is named after the indigenous Uto-Aztecan Ute people. Classical Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and its modern relatives are part of the Uto-Aztecan family.The similarities between the Uto-Aztecan languages were noted as early as 1859 by J.C.E. Buschmann.

However, Buschmann failed to recognize the genetic affiliation between the Aztecan branch and the Northern Uto-Aztecan languages, instead ascribing the similarities between the two groups to Aztec contact influence.

Brinton included the Aztecan languages in the linguistic family 1891 and coined the term Uto-Aztecan. The idea nonetheless remained controversial, and was rejected in Powell’s 1891 classification.

The Uto-Aztecan family was established through systematic work in the early 1900s by linguists such as Alfred L. Kroeber, who established the relations between the Shoshonean languages, and especially Edward Sapir, who proved the unity between Powell’s Sonoran and Shoshonean languages in a series of groundbreaking applications of the comparative method to unwritten Native American languages.

Most issues related to Uto-Aztecan subgrouping are uncontroversial. Six groupings are universally accepted as valid–the Numic, Takic, Pimic, Taracahitic, Corachol, and Aztecan branches–along with two ungrouped languages–Tübatulabal and Hopi. Higher level relations between these groups remain controversial.

The Sonoran branch (including Pimic, Taracahitic and Corachol) and Shoshonean branch (including Numic, Takic, Tübatulabal and Hopi) first postulated in the 19th century, in particular, are not accepted by a number of scholars.

Uto-Aztecan has been included in some long range proposals of linguistic super-families. A hypothesis proposed by Benjamin Lee Whorf relating Uto-Aztecan to Kiowa-Tanoan, in an Aztec-Tanoan family formerly had modest support, but Lyle Campbell (1997) and the great majority of modern specialists consider this hypothesis possible, but unproven (Mithun 1999).

Joseph Greenberg included Uto-Aztecan in his widely criticized and highly controversial Amerind macro-family along with all Native American linguistic families except for Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dene.The Uto-Aztecan homeland is generally thought to have been somewhere in the Southwestern United States – Arizona, New Mexico or northern Mexico where the first split between Northern and Southern branches took place.

The homeland of the Numic branch has been placed near Death Valley, California and the Southern Uto-Aztecan languages are thought to have spread out from a place in north-western Mexico in southern Sonora or northern Sinaloa.

Northern Uto-Aztecan

Many recent linguists have not accepted the validity of the division between Northern and Southern Uto-Aztecan as a genuine genetic branching. They have either recognized seven to nine independent branches of Uto-Aztecan or accepted Southern Uto-Aztecan but recognized four independent branches in the place of Northern Uto-Aztecan.


     Central Numic languages          


          Timbisha (a dialect chain with main regional varieties being Western,Central, Eastern)                   

          Shoshone (a dialect chain with main regional varieties being          Western, Gosiute, Northern, and Eastern)
          Southern Numic languages
          Colorado River (a dialect chain with main regional varieties being        Chemehuevi, Southern Paiute, and Ute)

          Western Numic languages

          Mono (two main dialects: Eastern and Western)

          Northern Paiute (a dialect chain with main regional varieties being   Southern Nevada,  Northern Nevada, Oregon, and Bannock)





        Kitanemuk †

       Gabrielino-Fernandeño †






       Southern Uto-Aztecan

       Pimic (Tepiman)

      Pima-Papago (Upper Piman)

      Pima Bajo (Lower Piman)

      Tepehuán languages (Northern and Southern)

      Tepecano †




      Guarijío (Varihio)

      Tubar †

      Cahita (Yaqui, Mayo Cahita)


      Ópata †

      Eudeve †? (Heve, Dohema)





     Nahuan (Aztecan, Nahua, Nahuatlan)




     Pipil (Nahuate, Nawat)

     Nahuatl (Mexicano, Aztec )

In addition to the above languages for which linguistic evidence exists, there were several dozen extinct languages with little or no documentation in Northern Mexico, many of which were probably Uto-Aztecan (Campbell 1997).

† = extinct



Article Index:

Alliklik Language

The Alliklik belonged to the Californian group of the Shoshonean division of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic stock, their closest relatives probably being the Serrano.

Are you related to the Aztecs?

For five centuries, North Americans have been fascinated and intrigued by stories of the magnificent Aztec Empire. This extensive Mesoamerican Empire was in its ascendancy during the late Fifteenth and early Sixteenth Centuries. The Aztec Empire of 1519 was the most powerful Mesoamerican kingdom of all time.

This multi-ethnic, multi-lingual realm stretched for more than 80,000 square miles through many parts of what are now central and southern Mexico. This enormous empire reached from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf coast and from central Mexico to the present-day Republic of Guatemala. Fifteen million people, living in thirty-eight provinces and residing in 489 communities, paid tribute to the Emperor Moctezuma II.

Cahuilla Language

The Cahuilla belonged to the southern California group of the Shoshonean division of the Uto-Aztecan stock.

Chemehuevi Language
Fernandeno Language
Gabrielino Language
Juaneño Language
Kawaiisu Language
Kitanemuk Language
Koso Language
Luiseño Language
Nicoleño Language
Northern Paiute Language
Serrano Language
Tubatulabal Language of California
Vanyume Language