Nahuatl/Nawat in Central America (NECA) is a collaborative project to gather, transcribe, translate, and analyze documents written in Nahuatl or Nawat from Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua during the Spanish colonial period. You can view recently transcribed/translated documents here.

We invite you to browse the database, create a document team, transcribe and/or translate a text, grow the list by adding new documents, and join the discussion.

What is Nahuatl/Nawat?

Nahuatl is a Nahuan language of the Uto-Aztecan family, most famously associated with the Tenochca (Aztec) empire of central Mexico. After 1521 the Spanish invaders used Nahuatl as a transitional language of empire throughout Mesoamerica, in commerce, law, politics, and Catholic evangelization. Colonial-era scribes produced thousands of pages of Nahuatl documentation, some very formal, others recording everyday transactions.

Nahuan languages were also spoken in Central America from at least the twelfth century C.E. The Spanish noticed many different features of these Nahuan languages compared to the varieties of Nahuatl in central Mexico. They called the Central American language and its varieties “mexicana corrupta” or “pipil.” Nineteenth and twentieth-century linguists agreed with the colonial-era Spanish that Pipil, or Nawat, is a separate language from Nahuatl.

For more on the relationship between Nahuatl and Nawat, see this explanation by our friends at TUSHIK.

Why Central America?

Most scholars have focused on the more famous and abundant documentation in Nahuatl from Mexico. We know far less about the history of Nahuatl/Nawat in Central America (including Chiapas). Indeed, many scholars have assumed that hardly any Central American colonial-era documents in any Nahuan language exist. The Nahuatl/Nawat in Central America database shows this is untrue.

Many basic questions remain that the items in our database may help answer, for instance: Is any colonial-era documentation written in Nawat rather than Nahuatl? What influence did Mayan, Lencan, and other Central American languages have on either Nawat or Nahuatl, and vice-versa? How does the Nahuatl/Nawat from Central America compare to other Nahuan languages, especially those outside central Mexico? What historical information can we discover in these Central American Nahuatl and Nawat texts?

Living Communities

Nahuan languages were spoken throughout Central America for nearly a millenia, until the end of the nineteenth century. Today, however, only a few hundred native speakers of Nawat in El Salvador remain.

Many of the oldest generation of El Salvadoran Nawat speakers remember their government’s massacre of Indigenous peasants in 1932, after which Nawat suffered a significant decline. Modern media, prejudice, and educational materials also promote Spanish and other world languages at the expense of Nawat. Like so many indigenous languages, Nawat is on the verge of extinction.

Initiatives like TUSHIK and Cuna Náhuat alongside teachers throughout El Salvador are working to revitalize Nawat. We hope this website can play a small part in connecting contemporary Nawat-Pipiles, young and old, to the written words of their ancestors.

Recently Added Items

Cuentas de tributo

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Receipt of tribute payment signed by officials of Tepeguitzin.

Autos sobre tierras

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The residents of Guanazacapa and Hueymango protest the sale of lands to Martín Ximenez. Bernal Díaz del Castillo also testifies as their…

Cuentas de tributo

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Tribute counts from towns around Ciudad Real. Nahuatl on folios 3, 5, 5v, and 8v.