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Last Updated: Friday, 4 May 2007, 04:42 GMT 05:42 UK
Mexico City to teach Aztec tongue
By Emilio San Pedro
Americas Editor, BBC News

A figure from a frieze on an Aztec altar
Many of today's words are derived from the ancient Aztec language
Mexican authorities will teach an ancient Aztec language as a required part of the curriculum in the capital, Mexico City.

The language, Nahuatl, is spoken by a tiny percentage of the 20 million people who live in the city.

The official language of the ancient Aztec empire, Nahuatl thrived throughout Mexico until the Spanish conquistadores of the 16th Century.

Like many indigenous traditions, it persisted through the centuries.

Indigenous roots

The language continued even despite attempts by the continent's European colonisers to erase it from the cultural landscape.

The decision, five centuries later, by the local authorities in the Mexican capital to make the teaching of Nahuatl compulsory is an attempt - to some extent symbolic - to recapture Mexico City's indigenous roots.

The new law says teaching the language will become a compulsory part of the curriculum in the capital's schools by the start of the 2008 academic year.

In the longer term, the authorities hope that it will also be taught in universities, as a way of increasing the number of Nahuatl speakers.

At the moment, it is estimated that the language of the once-mighty Aztecs is spoken by less than 1% of the more than 20 million people who inhabit the Mexican capital.

However, although we may not know it, many of us use words borrowed from Nahuatl, on a daily basis.

Words like avocado, chocolate, coyote, tomato, and even tequila, that most potent of Mexican alcoholic beverages, are all based on the Nahuatl language.

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