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Minh Cuong DOAN

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Nahuatl influence on Spanish and other Romance languages

Image of traditional ingredients and symbols including tomatoes, avocados, chili peppers, a sombrero, and a cactus, representing the Nahuatl influence on Spanish cuisine and culture.

I. History of Nahuatl language

Nahuatl is widely spoken in Mexico and has left a significant impact on both the Spanish and English-speaking world. There are over 4.000 Spanish words that have originated from Nahuatl. This is because when the Spanish arrived in Mexico during the 16th century, Nahuatl was one of the dominant languages.

When the Spanish conquerors encountered numerous animals and fruits that were unfamiliar to them, which led to the integration of Nahuatl words such as avocado, tomato, and chocolate into the Spanish vocabulary. This is because the conquistadors greatly expanded their language with Nahuatl words that referred to items and goods not present in Spain.


II. 10 words that Nahuatl gave to Spanish and other romance languages

1. Apapachar

I find the Spanish word “apapachar” to be one of the most beautiful in Mexican Spanish. It refers to an affectionate pat, or as the Mexicans would say, caressing with the soul.

Ex: Mi abuela siempre me apapacha cuando estoy triste para hacerme sentir mejor (My grandmother always hugs me when I’m sad to make me feel better)


2. México

México, is an acronym derived from Nahuatl: Mextli= MOON, Xictli= NAVEL or CENTER, CO= PLACE. So the meaning of Mexico could be interpreted as “The center of the Moon“.


3. Tomate (Tomato) 

Our favorite vegetable “tomato” has origin from Nahuatl. The word “tomato” comes from the Nahuatl word “tomatl”, which is used to refer to the fruit of the tomato plant.


4. Aguacate (avocado)

The Nahuatl word “ahuacatl,” which means “testicle,” is where the name “avocado” first appeared. This might be as a result of how the fruit’s form resembles that of the testicles.


5. Chicle

Chicle is a Spanish word meaning Chewing gum, adopted from The Nahuatl word “chicle,” which was used to refer to a type of sap extracted from the sapodilla tree. The sapodilla tree is native to Central America and Mexico, and the sap was used by the indigenous peoples of the region as a natural chewing gum. Not very relevant, but I love eating sapodilla =))


6. Chocolate

The term “chocolate” originates from the Nahuatl word “xocolatl” which signifies “bitter water“. The Nahuatl used cocoa beans to make a bitter drink that was valued for its medicinal and spiritual properties. When the Aztecs introduced the drink to the Spanish conquistadors, they added sugar to make it easier to drink, and the word “chocolate” came to mean the sweet confection we know today.


7. Chilli (chili pepper)

The Nahuatl word “chilli” refers to a type of hot chili pepper. Today, when people think of Mexican food, The ingredients from chili will impress everyone with these spicy dishes. There are many types of chili with different names, extremely rich.


8. Xícara

Xícara” is a Brazilian Portuguese word that means “cup”. Xícara” is indeed derived from the Nahuatl. The Nahuatl word “xicalli” originally referred to a type of drinking cup made from a deep gourd, and the word was later adopted into Portuguese.


9. Chicharrón (Pork rinds)

This plate has its origins in the Nahuatl language, specifically from the word “chicharroni,” which means “fried.” It’s referring to a dish made from deep-fried pork skin that is very popular in Latin America. This dish can be used as a snack or added to other dishes to add flavor and crunch.


10. Tequila

This is the most famous Mexican drinks, the etymology of the word comes from the Nahuatl word “tequila” which means “plant harvest place”. The drink we know today as Tequila was first made by the indigenous people of Mexico using the green agave plant, which is native to the area around the city of Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico.

In short, as you can see from the examples above, the highlights of the importance and historical significance of Nahuatl in shaping language and culture, the influence of the Nahuatl language was huge on Spanish, and other Romance languages.

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Photo profile_Minh Cuong Doan

Minh Cuong DOAN

As a language lover and international trade marketer, my goal is to share my knowledge and experience in learning romance languages with others.

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