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The Role of Nahuatl in the Formation of Mesoamerica as a Linguistic Area

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image of Language Dynamics and Change

A number of attributes widely shared by languages of the culture region known as Mesoamerica have been identified by Campbell, Kaufman, and Smith-Stark (1986) as diagnostic of a linguistic area. Distributions of shared traits, including some features not previously recognized, suggest that Mesoamerica's development as a linguistic area at least in part involved diffusion of traits from Nahuatl, a regional lingua franca, to other Mesoamerican languages. While this could have occurred at any time from the beginning of the Postclassic period (c. 900 ce) until well after the arrival of the Spanish (1519 ce), the few clues at hand suggest the major diffusional interval to have been late, either in post-contact times or, if earlier, in the immediately preceding Late Postclassic era.


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