General Characteristics of the language
A great majority of words in Spanish in Mexico come from Nahuatl, an agglutinative language whose speakers live in North and Central America. This language is the second most-spoken language in Mexico after Spanish, with approximately 1.5 million speakers. Before the arrival of Europeans, Nahuatl was widely spoken in Mexico and other parts of Central America due to the existence of the Mexica Empire.
Variations in Time and Space
Much like all human languages that have existed, Nahuatl has evolved and there are differences in the language depending on the time and region in which it has been spoken. At the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico in the 1500's, the Spanish were in contact with Nahuatl speakers from the Central Mexican Valley. Many Spanish priests learned Nahuatl and created a writing convention for the Nahuatl language. This writing convention is currently referred to as Classical Nahuatl. Classical Nahuatl was used to write many literary works, including dictionaries, whose diffusion was widespread. Although Classical Nahuatl had a major impact on existing written Nahuatl, it is of course, not the only form of Nahuatl that exists.
While Classical Nahuatl was widespread in the 1500's, it does not accurately represent the great variations in the language that existed then and that exist today. All languages change with time and space and Nahuatl is not different. It is estimated that there are approximately 30 different variants of Nahuatl currently. These include Nahuatl de Guerrero, Orizaba, Morelos, Veracruz, Oaxaca and more. Nahuatl expressions vary by region in terms of pronunciation and word usages but speakers from different regions can understand each other. Since writing has not yet been officially standardized for all regions, there are a wide variety of writing conventions used in different regions. Therefore, one way of spelling is not "more right" than another way. The writing convention in the book series follows Classical Nahuatl and forms the basis of the alphabet chart below.
Nahuatl is an agglutinative language, which means that most words are formed by stringing a series of affixes and root words to create other words. English uses prefixes and suffixes to confer meaning to words. For example, to say "not able to be broken", English can create a word like "unbreakable" (un- + break + -able). Nahuatl extends the use of affixes much more. An example would be the word for teacher, which is "temachtihquetl". It is made up by "te" + "machtia" + ni". "Machtia" comes from "mati"(know) + "tia" (to make). "Te" means the action is done to people and "quetl" is "one who does". This means that teacher literally translates to "Person who makes people know". Agglutination (creating other words from simpler roots) is the reason why many Nahuatl words seem long when compared to English words. This agglutination also makes the language more malleable since new ideas can be created by arranging the root word elements in different ways.