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The Nahuan (Aztecan) branch of Uto-Aztecan is widely accepted as having two divisions: "General Aztec" and Pochutec. "Nahuatl" denotes at least Classical Nahuatl together with related modern languages spoken in Mexico. Lyle Campbell (1997) classified Pipil as separate from the Nahuatl branch within general Aztecan, whereas dialectologists like Una Canger, Karen Dakin, Yolanda Lastra and Terrence Kaufman have preferred to include Pipil within General Aztecan branch, citing close historical ties with the eastern peripheral dialects of General Aztec. Nahuatl and the other 63 indigenous languages of Mexico are recognized as lenguas nacionales ("national languages") in the regions where they are spoken, enjoying the same status as Spanish within their region. Nahuan languages exhibit a complex morphology characterized by polysynthesis and agglutination. The word Nahuatl is itself a Nahuatl word, probably derived from the word nāhuatlahtōlli or mēxihcatlahtolli "Mexica language". Now, the term "Aztec" is rarely used for modern Nahuan languages, but linguists' traditional name of "Aztecan" for the branch of Uto-Aztecan that comprises Nahuatl, Pipil, and Pochutec is still in use (although some linguists prefer "Nahuan").

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Sometimes, older terms are substituted with newer ones or with the speakers' own name for their specific variety. Current subclassification of Nahuatl rests on research by Canger (1980), Canger (1988) and Lastra de Suárez (1986). The Nahuas After the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries. Canger introduced the scheme of a Central grouping and two Peripheral groups, and Lastra confirmed this notion, differing in some details. Through a very long period of coexistence with the other indigenous Mesoamerican languages, they have absorbed many influences, coming to form part of the Mesoamerican language area. Many words from Nahuatl have been borrowed into Spanish, and since diffused into hundreds of other languages.

Sometimes, older terms are substituted with newer ones or with the speakers' own name for their specific variety. Current subclassification of Nahuatl rests on research by Canger (1980), Canger (1988) and Lastra de Suárez (1986). The Nahuas After the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries. Canger introduced the scheme of a Central grouping and two Peripheral groups, and Lastra confirmed this notion, differing in some details. Through a very long period of coexistence with the other indigenous Mesoamerican languages, they have absorbed many influences, coming to form part of the Mesoamerican language area. Many words from Nahuatl have been borrowed into Spanish, and since diffused into hundreds of other languages. As a language label, the term "Nahuatl" encompasses a group of closely related languages or divergent dialects within the Nahuan branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family.