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Tips on Pronouncing Nahuatl

Tips on Pronouncing Nahuatl

This page is intended for academic use as a tool to help students hear a native speaker of Nahuatl (Catalina de la Cruz Cruz) pronounce words and phrases. None of the files on this page or the rest of the site should be used without prior consent, and can never be used for commercial purposes.

Esta página fue creada para uso académico solamente con el fin de que los estudiantes del náhuatl pueden escuchar a una nativo hablante (Catalina de la Cruz Cruz) pronunciar palabras y frases. Ninguna parte de esta página o sitio se puede usar sin consentimiento previo y expreso. Ninguna parte se podrá usar para propósitos comerciales.

First rule of thumb, if you speak Spanish, default to pronouncing Nahuatl like Spanish over any other language. Nahuatl has very specific sounds that did not derive from Spanish nor should they be mistaken with Spanish, but the two languages have developed together over the course of the last 500 years. Nahuatl was put into the Latin alphabet by early modern Spanish speakers, thus written Nahuatl is closer to Spanish, than French or English.

With that in mind, open your mind, and get ready to pronounce Nahuatl.

The “C”  Sound

Like Latin American Spanish the “C” in Nahuatl makes an “S” sound when it is followed by an “I” or “E.” When followed by any other vowel it sounds like a “K.”

Ce – One


Cecec – Cold, a cold thing


Caxtolli – Fifteen


Cualli – Good


Cihuatl – Woman


The “X”

In Nahuatl the X is pronounced like the “Sh” in American English.

Xochitl – Flower


Xihuitl – Year, Leaf, Herb


The “Tl,” in any part of a word

What is represented by two letters should be considered a one letter sound that is a “T” sound with air being pushed from both sides of the tongue. This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult sounds to recreate as a student of Nahuatl. There is nothing quite like it in English or Spanish. Listen closely to how Caty ends her words with “tl,” and how the “tl” sound is special in any part of the word, such as, tlacatl

Mazatl – Deer


Tlacatl – Man


Pahtli – Medicine


Etl – Bean


Tetl – Rock


The “Hu” Sound

The Hu produced a sound very similar to the “W” in American English. Let the vowel that follows the “Hu” guide the sound. Hu+a = Wa, Hu+I=We, Hu+e = Wee (as in Wet). Thus, Cuahuitl, sounds like kwa-we-tl

Cuahuitl – Tree


Cihuatl – Woman


Qu, Cu

The “Qu” and “Cu” sounds can cause some confusion because they are similar in apperance. “Que” sounds just like Latin American Spanish’s “que,” or American English’s “Ke” as in “Kelp.” “Qui” sounds just like American English’s “KEY.” “Cui” sounds like the “Quee” in “Queen” in American English. “Cue” sounds like “Coo-eh” in American English. Finally, “Cua” and “Qua” are interchangeable and sound like the “Qua” in “QUADRANT” in American English.

Cueloa – To bend or fold something


Cui – To grab something


Ximoquetza – Get up


Tlacua – Eat


Quiza – Leave, emerge, or exit

An Archival Research Kit

An Archival Research Kit

It can be difficult to know what gear you need for any given archive. I have come up with a small kit that comes in handy at any archive. Keep in mind that I mostly look at documents from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, where extra precautions have to be taken to protect documents. However, I think this kit will be useful when looking at documents from any period. I carry this kit with me when ever I know I will be going to an archive, because some if not all of the items will come in handy. My kit contains the following:



  1. Clear carrying case
    1. Some large archives (such as the AGN) will allow you to enter their viewing rooms with a clear bag. This makes it easier for you to carry things without dropping them. Take advantage of this option if it is available. See it in action below.
  2. Nitrile Coated Gloves
    1. Most archives require you to wear gloves, typically archival gloves (see 4), but some allow you to wear latex or nitrile gloves. I like coated gloves because they allow your hands to breath better than latex or nitrile gloves, and they keep their shape better than cotton gloves. Keep in mind that some archives (such as the Archivo Historico Judicial de Puebla) will demand that you wear only cotton gloves, so its always good to carry a pair of each.
  3. Magnifying Glass
    1. A magnifying glass will come in hand when you are transcribing in the archive and you need to get a little extra detail to make out a word or letter. You can see it in action below.
    2. I would suggest getting a 4x folding magnifier such as the one pictured above. I bought mine in Puebla in an antique tianguis but you can pick one up on amazon or other places. I would opt for a glass lens when possible.
  4. Archival Gloves
    1. These are the classic gloves you need to see documents in an archive. I try to avoid these when possible because they turn brown from dirt, and lose their shape after a couple of hours of use. I would suggest buying them online and flying with them to Mexico, they are cheaper that way.
  5. Face Mask
    1. Some archives require that you wear a mouth cover, others make it optional. I always carry one because you never know when you will request a document that has water damage and might have mold or something of the sort.
  6. Lead Pencil / Pencil
    1. Most archives will not allow you to enter a viewing room with a pen, some even ban lead pencils because it is hard to determine if they are a pen or not. I really like the lead pencil in the picture because it is made out of wood and resembles a real pencil thus avoiding potential issues. While most archives provide golf pencils, that is not always the case and you can’t always take them to your desk to write notes or call numbers. Always carry a pencil in your kit.
  7. Art Spatula a.k.a. Page Turner
    1. Some archives will require that you use a spatula, and if they do, they will provide one. However, when the archive is slammed they can run out and this might prevent you from doing work that day.
    2. Even when an archive doesn’t require using a spatula, I like to use them. I find it makes turning pages easier and puts less stress on fragile corners. This is crucial for the preservation of materials, and I seem to flip pages more quickly. See it in action below.
    3. I bought mine in Mexico City but you can also grab something similar online or any US arts and crafts store such as Michael’s. Go for something thin so it can easily glide under the page