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Nahuatl Language Program

nahuatlFor six weeks during the summer of 2013, Yale became an international center for the study of Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs of Central Mexico before the Spanish conquest, and a language still spoken by over one million native speakers in Mexico today.  The result of a collaboration between the Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies (CLAIS) at Yale and the Instituto de Docencia e Investigación Etnológica de Zacatecas, Mexico (IDIEZ), the program attracted students from 14 different institutions in the U.S. and Mexico at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels of language study. 

Each day, students at every level divided their studies between courses in Modern Huaxtecan Nahuatl taught by native speakers Catalina Cruz de la Cruz, Ofelia Cruz Morales, Eduardo de la Cruz, and Abelardo de la Cruz de la Cruz, and courses in classical Nahuatl, the form of the language recorded in documents written under the Spanish colonial administration between the 16th and 18th centuries, taught by John Sullivan. Part of an ongoing language revitalization effort, one of the goals of the program is to develop tools and a vocabulary to analyze classical Nahuatl documents in modern Nahuatl, rendering these texts accessible to speakers of the modern language, and not just to English- and Spanish-speaking scholars.

Daily tutorials with native speakers supplemented class time, allowing students the opportunity to practice their spoken Nahuatl and tailor the program to their interests.  Students also participated in Nahuatl-language artistic activities, including poetry, embroidery, dance, and theatre, presenting the results in a festival at the end of the course.  One of the other highlights of the program was a Nahuatl corn-planting ceremony at the Yale Farm at 345 Edwards Street, where heirloom seed corn was prepared, blessed, and planted following the traditional practices of Nahua communities around Tecomate Chicontepec, Veracruz. 

Many of the participants in the course will surely return to Yale next summer to continue their studies. Yale will also host the Northeastern Group of Nahuatl Studies Annual Conference on May 9-10, 2014. (More information is available at