Uto-Aztecan or Uto-Aztekan /ˈjuːtoʊ.æzˈtɛkən/ is a family of
Indigenous languages of the Americas. The language family consisting
of over 30 languages. Uto-
Aztecan languages are found almost entirely
Western United States
Western United States and Mexico. The name of the language
family was created to show that it includes both the
Ute language of
Utah and the
Aztecan languages 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. 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.
Ethnologue gives the total number of languages in the family as 61,
and the total number of speakers as 1,900,412. The roughly 1.5
million speakers of
Nahuatl languages account for almost four-fifths
(78.9%) of these.
The internal classification of the family often divides the family
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 (including O'odham and
Tarahumaran languages including Raramuri and Guarijio
Cahitan languages (Yaqui and Mayo language), Corachol
(including Cora and Huichol) and Nahuan languages.
The homeland of the Uto-
Aztecan languages is generally considered to
have been in the
Southwestern United States
Southwestern United States or possibly Northwestern
Mexico. Linguistic scholars have discussed the possibility that the
language family originated in southern Mexico, within the Mesoamerican
2 Geographic distribution
2.1 Present-day locations of living Uto-
Aztecan languages in Mexico
3.1 History of classification
3.2 Present scheme
3.3 Extinct languages
5.1 Individual languages
6 External links
Proto-Uto-Aztecan is the hypothetical common ancestor of the
Uto-Aztecan languages. Authorities on the history of the language
group have usually placed the Proto-Uto-Aztecan homeland in the border
region between the United States and Mexico, namely the upland regions
Arizona and New
Mexico and the adjacent areas of the Mexican states
Sonora and Chihuahua, roughly corresponding to the Sonoran Desert
and the western part of the Chihuahuan Desert. It would have been
Mesolithic foragers in Aridoamerica, about 5,000 years ago.
Reconstructions of the botanical vocabulary offer clues to the
ecological niche inhabited by the Proto-Uto-Aztecans. Fowler placed
the center of Proto-Uto-Aztecan in Central
Arizona with northern
dialects extending into
Nevada and the Mojave desert and southern
dialects extending south through the Tepiman corridor into Mexico.
The homeland of the
Numic languages has been placed in Southern
California near Death Valley, and the homeland of the proposed
Southern Uto-Aztecan group has been placed on the coast of Sonora.
A contrary proposal suggests the homeland of Proto-Uto-Aztecan to have
been much farther to the south; it was published in 2001 by Jane H.
Hill, based on her reconstruction of maize-related vocabulary in
Proto-Uto-Aztecan. By her theory, the assumed speakers of
Proto-Uto-Aztecan were maize cultivators in Mesoamerica, who gradually
moved north, bringing maize cultivation with them, during the period
of roughly 4,500 to 3,000 years ago. The geographic diffusion of
speakers corresponded to the breakup of linguistic unity. The
hypothesis has been criticized on several grounds, and it is not
generally accepted by Uto-Aztecanists. A survey of
agriculture-related vocabulary by Merrill (2012) found that the
agricultural vocabulary can be reconstructed for only Southern
Uto-Aztecan. That supports a conclusion that the Proto-Uto-Aztecan
speech community did not practice agriculture but adopted it only
Mesoamerica from the north.
A recent proposal, by David L. Shaul, presents evidence suggesting
contact between Proto-Uto-Aztecan and languages of central California,
such as Esselen and the Yokutsan languages. That leads Shaul to
suggest that Proto-Uto-Aztecan was spoken in California's Central
Valley area, and it formed part of an ancient Californian linguistic
Proto-Uto-Aztecan is reconstructed as having an unusual vowel
inventory: *i *a *u *o *ɨ. Langacker (1970) demonstrated that the
fifth vowel should be reconstructed as *ɨ as opposed to *e, and there
has been a long-running dispute over the proper
*n and *ŋ may have actually been *l and *n, respectively.
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, Arizona) and of
Mexico (states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Nayarit, Durango, Zacatecas,
Jalisco, Michoacán, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Puebla,
Veracruz, Morelos, Estado de México, and Ciudad de México. 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
and Honduras, and it is nearly extinct in western El Salvador, all
areas dominated by use of Spanish.
Present-day locations of living Uto-
Aztecan languages in
History of classification
Uto-Aztecan has been accepted by linguists as a language family since
the early 1900s, and six subgroups are accepted as valid by all
experts: Numic, Takic, Pimic, Taracahitic, Corachol, and Aztecan. That
leaves two ungrouped languages: Tübatulabal and Hopi (sometimes
termed "isolates within the family"). 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
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
Alfred L. Kroeber
Alfred L. Kroeber filled in the picture of the Shoshonean
Edward Sapir proved the unity among Aztecan,
"Sonoran", and "Shoshonean". Sapir's applications of the
comparative method to unwritten Native American languages are regarded
as groundbreaking. Voegelin, Voegelin & Hale
(1962) argued for a three-way division of Shoshonean, Sonoran and
Aztecan, following Powell.
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. Northern-Utoaztecan 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 (1978) based on morphological evidence, and Manaster
Ramer (1992) adduced phonological evidence in the form of a sound law.
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.
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. 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
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. Most scholars view the breakup of
Proto-Uto-Aztecan as a case of the gradual disintegration of a dialect
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
Where spoken and approximate number of speakers
(possibly an areal grouping)
Paviotso, Bannock, Northern Paiute
700 speakers in California, Oregon,
Idaho and Nevada
About 40 speakers in California
1000 fluent speakers and 1000 learners in Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Idaho
100 speakers in Oklahoma
Robinson & Armagost (1990)
20 speakers in
California and Nevada
Colorado River dialect chain: Ute, Southern Paiute, Chemehuevi
920 speakers of all dialects, in Colorado, Nevada, California, Utah,
Givón (2011), Press (1979), Sapir (1992)
5 speakers in California
Zigmond, Booth & Munro (1991)
Californian language area
Serrano, Kitanemuk (†)
No native speakers
35 speakers of Cahuilla, no native speakers of Cupeño
Seiler (1977), Hill (2005)
5 speakers in Southern California
Kroeber & Grace (1960)
Tongva (Gabrielino-Fernandeño) (†)
Extinct since ca. 1900, Southern California
Munro & Gabrielino/Tongva Language Committee (2008)
6,800 speakers in northeastern Arizona
Hopi Dictionary Project (1998), Jeanne (1978)
5 speakers in Kern County, California
Voegelin (1935), Voegelin (1958)
(possibly an areal grouping)
14,000 speakers in southern Arizona, US and northern Sonora, Mexico
Pima Bajo (O'ob No'ok)
650 speakers in Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico
6,200 speakers in Chihuahua, Mexico
10,600 speakers in Southeastern Durango
Extinct since 1972, spoken in Northern Jalisco
Tarahumara (several varieties)
45,500 speakers of all varieties, all spoken in Chihuahua
Upriver Guarijio, Downriver Guarijio
2,840 speakers in Chihuahua and Sonora
Spoken in Sinaloa and Sonora
Sonora and Arizona
Dedrick & Casad (1999)
33,000 in Sinaloa and Sonora
Extinct since approx. 1930. Spoken in Sonora.
Spoken in Sonora, but extinct since 1940
13,600 speakers in northern Nayarit
17,800 speakers in
Nayarit and Jalisco
Iturrioz Leza, Ramírez de la Cruz & (2001)
Extinct since 1970s, spoken on the coast of Oaxaca
20-40 speakers in El Salvador
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
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
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck
Institute for the Science of Human History.
^ a b Caballero 2011.
Ethnologue (2014). "Summary by language family". SIL International.
Retrieved July 2, 2014.
^ Fowler 1983.
^ Campbell 1997, p. 137.
^ Hill 2001, .
^ Hill 2010, .
^ Kemp et al. 2010, .
^ Merrill et al. 2010, .
^ Brown 2010, .
^ Campbell 2003.
^ Campbell & Poser 2008, p. 346-350.
^ Merrill 2012.
^ Shaul 2014.
^ Langacker 1970, .
^ Dakin 1996, .
^ Campbell 1997, p. 136.
^ Kroeber 1907.
^ Sapir 1913.
^ Kroeber 1934.
^ Whorf 1935.
^ Steele 1979.
^ Goddard 1996, p. 7.
^ Miller 1983, p. 118.
^ a b Miller 1984.
^ Mithun 1999, p. 539-540.
^ Kaufman 2001, .
^ Mithun 1999.
^ Campbell 1997.
^ Campbell 1997, pp. 133-135.
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Uto-Aztecan language family
Swadesh vocabulary lists for Uto-
Aztecan languages (from Wiktionary's
Colorado River (Chemehuevi, Southern Paiute, Ute)
Northern Paiute (including Bannock)
Shoshoni (including Gosiute)
Italics indicate extinct languages
List of primary language families
East Geelvink Bay
Northeast New Guinea?
Hawai'i Sign Language
Plains Sign Talk
Plains Sign Talk
(extant in 2000)
Maku-Auari of Roraima
List of sign languages
Families with more than 30 languages are in bold. Families in italics
have no living members.
Language families of Mesoamerica
Totozoquean (Mixe–Zoque, Totonacan)
Mesoamerican language area
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
Mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas
List of deities
Native American religion
Trinidad and Tobago
Indigenous American studies