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Uto Aztecan Languages
You've probably guessed that these languages have something to do with Native Americans. The name "Uto-Aztecan" comes from two important peoples of this linguistic family, the Utes and the Aztecs. The Utes, and the closely related Paiutes and Gosiutes, live today in the states of Nevada and Utah. In grade school, everyone learned about the Aztecs, their calendar and their practice of human sacrifice. So how much do we know about the language of the ancient Aztec people? Actually, quite a bit. It is still spoken by over million people in central Mexico today. It is called "Nahuatl" or "clear speech".
Unlike many other language families, the relationship between the Uto-Aztecan languages is well established by linguists. This far-flung group includes languages spoken over the western third of the U.S., much of Mexico and parts of Guatemala. Some of the most important languages in this group are Hopi, Nahuatl, Shoshoni, Comanche, Ute, Paiute, Pima/Pagapo, Tarahumara and Yaqui.
One interesting feature of this family is that it includes tribes living in a large number of different cultural areas: The Great Basin, the Plains, the Pueblo region, Mesoamerica and California. (Yes, California is considered a "cultural area" by anthropologists, contrary to what New Yorkers might think.) Despite this diversity, there are striking similarities in the religious beliefs and mythology of all these peoples. For example, special powers are often attributed to the hummingbird. Anthropological and archeological evidence suggests that the ancestral homeland of the Uto-Aztecan peoples was in the present day state of Nevada.
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