Posted by: ayac | November 9, 2014

Colonial Nahuatl loanwords in other indigenous languages

There are words in indigenous languages of Mexico, referring to things introduced by the Spaniards, which are of Nahuatl rather than Spanish origin. There are also some words of Spanish origin which seem to have passed through Nahuatl before being loaned into indigenous languages.

Here’s an incomplete list of such words. I’ve tried to exclude words that may have been loaned via Spanish (e.g. Huichol tupíiri is ultimately from Nahuatl tōpīleh, but possibly via Spanish topil rather than directly), as well as inherited Uto-Aztecan cognates, but it’s hard to be certain and other interpretations are sometimes possible. There’s definitely still a lot more missing. I’m adding things to this post from time to time.

Nahuatl Caxtīllān ‘Spain’ (< Spanish Castilla ‘Castile’) — adapted as a Nahuatl placename following the same pattern as Tōllān. As people from Tōllān are Tōltēcah, people from Caxtīllān are Caxtīltēcah.
Kaqchikel castilan ‘Spain’
Totonac (Papantla; Sierra) xtīlān ‘gallina’
Totonac (Xicotepec de Juárez) caxli ‘gallina’

Nahuatl miztōn ‘domestic cat’ (< miztli ‘mountain lion’)
Cora mistu
Huichol míisu
Purépecha misitu
Seri miist
Tepehuan (Northern) miixítu
Tepehuan (Southeastern) mistuiñ
Tohono O’odham mi:stol, mi:tol
Totonac (Papantla) mistun
Totonac (Xicotepec de Juárez) mistu
Zapotec (Isthmus) mistu’

Nahuatl -oa (verb ending, used with native words and Spanish infinitives)
Yaqui -oa (used productively with Spanish loanwords)

Nahuatl pahtli ‘medicinal plant; drug, medicine, poison’
Yaqui pahti ‘poison’ (but pahtiam ‘aspirin’ < Spanish pastilla ‘pill’)

Nahuatl pitzotl ‘pig’
Hopi pitsooti ‘pig’

Nahuatl tamachīhua ‘to measure’
Yaqui tamachia ‘measure; survey, lay out a building’

Nahuatl -tēco ‘(one’s) lord; master, boss’
Huarijío teekó ‘landlord’
Mayo teeco ‘patrón’
Yaqui teeko ‘boss, supervisor, director, manager’

Nahuatl tēnāntzin ‘mother (respectful)’
Yaqui tenanchim ‘female litter bearers’

Nahuatl teōchīhua ‘to bless’
Mayo teo’ochía, tio’ochía
Yaqui teochia, te’ochia

Nahuatl teōcuitlatl ‘gold; silver’
Yaqui teokita ‘silver’

Nahuatl teōpan ‘temple; church’ (< teōtl ‘god’)
Cora teyuj (p. 52), téyuu (p. 99)
Huichol teyeupáni
Mayo teó’opo, teópo, tiópo
Tarahumara ri’obá
Tepehuan (Northern) kiuúpai
Tepehuan (Southeastern) chiop
Tohono O’odham ceopĭ, ciopĭ
Yaqui teopo

Nahuatl tepoztli ‘copper; iron; metal object, esp. an axe’
Cora tepuústi’i ‘fierro’ — distinguished from ‘fierro (para herrar)’ (p. 43)
Mayo tepojti ‘fierro de herrar’
Tohono O’odham cepos-id ‘to brand’
Yaqui tepohti ‘brand, branding iron’

Nahuatl tequipanoa ‘to work; to serve’
Huarijío tekihpánani
Mayo tequipanoa
Seri ca-tikpan
Tohono O’odham cikpan, cipkan
Yaqui tekipanoa

Nahuatl tequitl ‘work; tribute; duty, office’
Huarijío tehkí ‘work, difficult’
Mayo técquil ‘trabajo’, tequia ‘cargo’
Yaqui tekil ‘work, job, task, duty’, tekia ‘talent, job, intended purpose’

Nahuatl tēzcatl ‘obsidian mirror’
Mayo tejca ‘etsá obsidiana’

Nahuatl tlahtoāni ‘king; governor’ (< tlahtoa ‘to speak’)
Cora tajtuhuaan ‘gobernador’

Nahuatl tlapītza ‘blow something’
Mayo tápicha ‘está echando viento’, tapichaléero ‘abanico’ (via Spanish?)
Yaqui tapicha ‘fan fire’

Nahuatl tlaxcalli ‘tortilla’
Mayo tájcarim ‘tortillas’, tájcare ‘está haciendo tortillas’
Yaqui tahkaim ‘tortilla’, tahkae ‘make tortillas’

Nahuatl tomīn ‘money’ (< Spanish tomín, old name for a real < Arabic ṯumn ‘one eighth’) — these could have been independently loaned from Spanish, but tomín apparently fell out of use in Spanish very early, and was never used to mean ‘money’ generically.
Cora túmiin
Huarijío tomí
Huichol tumíini
Mayo tommi
Purépecha tumina
Seri tom
Tepehuan (Northern) tumíñxi
Tepehuan (Southeastern) tuumiñ
Totonac (Papantla; Sierra; Xicotepec de Juárez) tumīn
Yaqui tomi ‘money, cash; twelve and a half cents (1/8 of a dollar)’, tomin ‘coin’

Nahuatl Tōnatiuh ‘the sun; name of the sun god; Pedro de Alvarado
Kaqchikel Tunatiuh ‘Pedro de Alvarado’
K’iche’ Dunadiu ‘Pedro de Alvarado’

Nahuatl totahtzin ‘our father’
Hopi tota’tsi ‘dictator, bossy person, baby, Catholic priest’

Nahuatl tōtolin ‘turkey hen; chicken’
Huarijío totóri, to’tóri
Mayo tótori
Seri tootar
Tohono O’odham cucul
Yaqui totoi

Nahuatl xāmitl ‘adobe brick’
Mayo saami ‘pared’, sáamim ‘adobes’
Seri ca-zaamt ‘make adobe bricks’
Tohono O’odham ṣa:mt
Yaqui saami

The Annals of the Cakchiquels
Diccionario seri-español-inglés (2nd ed.)
Diccionario tarahumara de Samachique, Chihuaha, México
Diccionario tepehuano de Santa María Ocotán, Durango
Diccionario totonaco de Papantla, Veracruz
Diccionario totonaco de Xicotepec de Juárez
Dictionary: Hiaki-English, Yaqui-Yoeme-Hiaki
Dictionary: Tohono O’odham/Pima to English, English to Tohono O’odham/Pima (2nd ed.)
A Grammar of River Warihío
Tohono ‘O’odham-English Dictionary
Vocabulario cora
Vocabulario del idioma purépecha
Vocabulario Huichol-castellano Castellano-huichol
Vocabulario mayo
Vocabulario totonaco de la sierra
Vocabulario zapoteco del Istmo



  1. K’iche also has xan “adobe”, otomi also has loans mbixtu “cat” and tentsu “goat”. And kaxlan is found for chickens in many Mayan languages.

  2. The vast majority seem to be examples of similarities between the Uto Aztecan languages, not necessarily loan words from Classical Nahuatl, but very interesting compilation.


    • No, only a few of them could possibly be examples of Uto-Aztecan inherited cognates. Most of them are morphologically complex in Nahuatl, but unanalyzable in the other language, which clearly suggest a borrowing from Nahuat. In fact I would say that only tezcatl and totolin might be examples of inherited similarities.

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