Javier Cuétara- Priede gave a talk about the impact of Nahuatl in reverentials and diminutives in Spanish spoken in Mexico

On 29 January 2019, Javier Cuétara Priede returned to London to speak about the impact of indigenous languages in Spanish spoken in Mexico. The Mexican academic, current coordinator at CEPE Polanco, began his talk emphasising the diversity and richness of languages in Mexico, as well as in the Americas. He also spoke about the high number of users of these languages. Nevertheless, Cuétara-Priede also highlighted that these languages are gradually being less used. Users of these languages have augmented in number, but decreased in percentage to the rest of the population.

The decrease in indigenous language speakers responds to different motives, both at an individual and cultural level, and because of a lack of public policies and large-scale rescue campaigns. El Colegio de México, INALI and UNAM are just some of the institutions that have made great progress with their projects, but there is still much to do. The decrease of speakers in these languages represents a loss of cultural diversity in the country. Ways of naming the world are lost, and it reduces the diversity in surviving languages. The cultural loses are evident in the endangered languages but also in ‘healthier’ languages such as Spanish, in this case.

Despite the loss of languages and the decrease in speakers, Spanish shows a significant influence of indigenous languages. Javier Cuétara-Priede highlighted that the majority of words that have been incorporated into Spanish como from Nahuatl because of the spread of the Aztec empire before conquest, and most of these have been nouns. For instance, Spanish speakers in Mexico have adopted: cacao, chocolate, coyote, jitomate, metate and petate, among others (some have even been incorporated in foreign languages). In addition, nouns have also been transformed to verbs using Spanish grammar. One of such examples is “petatear.”

The linguist from UNAM ended his talk speaking about the influence of Nahuatl in the reverentials and diminutives in Spanish. Javier Cuétara-Priede affirmed that even though these characteristics are not unique to Mexico, they reflect a history of coexistence. The structure of Nahuatl allows phrases such as: “Me duele mi brazo”, which is not grammatically correct in Spanish. Nahuatl can also alter nouns, adjectives and even adverbs. Javier Cuétara-Priede explained that this is why it is common to hear in Mexico, phrases like: “ahorita.” Cuétara-Priede concluded that these are some of the forms that distinguish Spanish spoken in Mexico from other variants.

The conference came to an end with questions from the audience. The attendees spoke about the importance of recovering indigenous languages, and thus of richer cultural forms. UNAM UK, Centre for Mexican Studies, has the goal of developing activities to better understand Spanish and other languages spoken in Mexico. We invite all of those interested in these topics to get in touch with us so we can organise more events like this one.