Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy


Hispanic Studies


Bruhn de Garavito, Joyce

2nd Supervisor

Taylor, Shelley

Joint Supervisor


This thesis assesses the language vitality of Nahuatl (also known as Mexicano) in Santiago Tlaxco, a rural bilingual community in the municipality of Chiconcuautla, located in Puebla, Mexico, in the face of the growing trend of language endangerment for many Indigenous languages. It explores the linguistic use and attitudes of community members, and how they contribute to language maintenance and language shift of Nahuatl. The main research questions are: a) what are the language use patterns of the community? and b) what are the prevailing language attitudes of this Nahuatl-speaking community towards its Indigenous language? Data on the language practices with multiple interlocutors and linguistic attitudes were gathered by means of questionnaires, interviews and participant observation.

The results show that adults actively use Nahuatl in almost all linguistic domains, except in formal and unfamiliar domains where they prefer to use Spanish. Conversely, young people rarely use Nahuatl except with their grandparents. The factors favoring the language maintenance of Nahuatl are intergenerational transmission, cultural, ethnic and personal pride in the language, the isolated geographical location of Tlaxco, Nahuatl-speaking neighboring towns, bilingual education, and the presence of Nahuatl-speaking elders. In contrast, factors encouraging language shift are negative attitudes towards Nahuatl in mainstream society and by some community members, discrimination towards Nahuatl-speakers, absence of Nahuatl as medium of instruction, and the dominance of Spanish in Mexico.

These results indicate that more emphasis needs to be placed on the intergenerational transmission of Nahuatl to stem its declining use among young people. Additionally, the domains of Nahuatl need to be expanded and its home language use strengthened. The findings also provide a snapshot of a community at the early stage of language shift. This project is the first sociolinguistic study in Santiago Tlaxco and sets the foundation for future studies in the community. The factors favouring Nahuatl language maintenance-shift in Tlaxco also provide insights for other Indigenous communities facing language endangerment.

Summary for Lay Audience

In face of the growing trend of many Indigenous languages losing speakers, this thesis examines the circumstances favouring or discouraging the use of Nahuatl (also known as Mexicano) in Santiago Tlaxco, a rural bilingual community in the municipality of Chiconcuautla, located in Puebla, Mexico. Community members were asked to indicate the languages(s), whether Nahuatl, Spanish, or both, they used in various settings (home, work, market, church, etc.) and when speaking with different individuals (spouse, children, teacher, doctor, etc.). Additionally, they were interviewed concerning their opinions and beliefs in relation to the use of Nahuatl and teaching it to the younger generations.

The study found that adults regularly use Nahuatl with different individuals and in many settings, while young people prefer to use either Spanish or both languages. Their infrequent use of Nahuatl is attributed by the speakers themselves to their lack of knowledge or fluency in the language as a result of not being taught at home and school. Additionally, parents prefer that their children learn Spanish first before Nahuatl since Spanish is the dominant language used in mainstream society and within the schools and is associated with economic opportunity. As a positive factor, both adults and young people consider Nahuatl to be an important language for their community and identity.

The findings indicate that in order for Nahuatl to survive and flourish, adults have to make a concerted effort to use it with the younger generations and to strengthen its use at home with their children. Furthermore, government authorities can support the survival of this Indigenous language by expanding its use within the bilingual school system and improving teaching resources and effectiveness. This project is the first to comprehensively evaluate the health of Nahuatl in this rural Mexican community and sets the foundation for future studies in this region.