Uto-Aztecan Languages

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Uto-Aztecan Languages


a North American Indian language family consisting of more than 25 living languages and several extinct languages. There are more than one million speakers of Uto-Aztecan languages (1973, estimate).

The Uto-Aztecan language family is divided into three branches: Shoshonean, or Northern; Sonoran; and Aztecan (Nahuatlan), or Southern. The Shoshonean branch (Western United States) consists of two isolated languages—Tübatulabal and Hopi—and two groups—Plateau Shoshonean, comprising Mono, Bannock, Ute, and Comanche; and Southern Californian Shoshonean, made up of Luiseño, Serrano, and Cahuilla. The Sonoran branch includes the Pima and Papago languages, Yaqui-Mayo, Tarahumara, Cora and Huichol, and Tepehuan (Arizona and northwestern Mexico). The Aztecan branch comprises the Nahuatl languages, Nahua, Mecayapan, Pochutla (Mexico), and Pipil (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras).

The Uto-Aztecan languages belong to the Aztec-Tanoan language group. Their phonetic structure is characterized by a small number of consonants; one or, less often, two series of stops occur in Bannock, Tübatulabal, and the Papago languages. Labialized consonants are typical, for example, pw, cw, kw, mw in Cora. The system of from four to six vowels is reduplicated by an opposition based on length. Prosodic features vary among the languages. Stress may be fixed (Nahua), movable (Papago, Cora), or rhythmic (Yaqui, Ute, Hopi, Cahuilla). Tepehua has tones. The verb, noun, and adjective are clearly distinguished. Nouns are marked for number, possession, and, in several languages, case. The verbal system has categories for tense, mood, transitivity, and aspect. In subject-object conjugations, the affixes of subjects of transitive and intransitive verbs are identical. Word order is free; in most of the languages the most common sentence pattern is subject-predicate-object.


Voegelin, C. F., F. M. Voegelin, and K. L. Hale. Typological and Comparative Grammar of Uto-Aztecan: I (Phonology). Baltimore, 1962.
Lamb, S. M. “The Classification of the Uto-Aztecan Languages: A Historical Survey.” In Studies in Californian Linguistics. Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1964.
Seiler, H. J. “Accent and Morphophonemics in Cahuilla and in Uto-Aztecan.” International Journal of American Linguistics, 1965, vol. 31, no. 1.
Miller, W. R. Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets. Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1967.