Versión en español

bescomatl (granary)
Nahuatl of Tetelcingo, Morelos
(ISO code nhg)
Listen to a greeting in Mösiehuali̱.

Mösiehuali̱ is the dialect of Nahuatl (also often called Mexicano, or Aztec) which is spoken in the town of Tetelcingo, Morelos, and its two colonias (independent neighborhoods), Colonia Cuauhtémoc and Colonia Lázaro Cárdenas. Tetelcingo is located six kilometers north of the city of Cuautla, Morelos.

Map: location of Tetelcingo

The word greeting Mösiehuali̱ refers either to the language or to a speaker of the language. What is common between the two meanings is that mösiehuali̱ refers to something that is part of the Indian culture rather than the surrounding Hispanic culture. It comes from the word macehualli (māsēwalli), which in Classical Nahuatl meant vassal, townsman. It contrasts with castiya Spanish (language), or else with greeting qui̱xtiöno outsider (man) and xejnula outsider (woman). (These three words are all borrowings from Spanish. Castiya comes from Castilla Castille or castellano Castilian, qui̱xtiöno from cristiano Christian, and xejnula from señora madam, lady.)

Woman in a chincuete

Sente sohuatl qui̱bica icuie
A woman wearing a chincuete

Mösiehuali̱ is unique among the Nahuatl dialects in its vowel system, which converts the length distinction into other, more easily heard phonetic distinctions. Because of this it has been important for those who study vowel length in Nahuatl. Mösiehuali̱ also has a notably extensive and flexible system of honorifics.

It is admirable how Mösiehuali̱ has survived even though Nahuatl in many other Morelos towns has died out, even towns which are much more isolated than Tetelcingo. Today (in 2002) Tetelcingo and its colonias have been practically-speaking absorbed as suburbs of Cuautla, but a significant proportion of the population continue to use Mösiehuali̱ in their daily lives, and there are still a few monolinguals. A number of the women still prefer to wear their traditional dress: the cuieyi̱tl or chincuete.

Along with the language, a number of customs were preserved in Tetelcingo which are particularly interesting from an anthropological point of view. Among them was the construction of the bescomatl, a coke-glass-shaped granary whose overhanging sides kept rats and squirrels from climbing up and getting in to eat the stored corn (maize).

Sente bescomatl
A granary

SIL in Tetelcingo

Tetelcingo has a special place in the history of the Summer Institute of Linguistics. It was here, in 1935, that W. Cameron Townsend began the work of SIL, which now extends to over 1400 language projects in more than 50 countries. It was in Tetelcingo that Townsend's friendship with Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas began. (See the Brief History by Dr. Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán.)

Richard Pittman, the founder and first editor of the Ethnologue, began his linguistic work in Tetelcingo, and wrote a number of works about Mösiehuali̱, including A Grammar of Tetelcingo (Morelos) Nahuatl, 1954.

--David Tuggy


The picture of the woman in a chincuete came from the Vocabulario mexicano de Tetelcingo.
The photograph of the bescomatl was taken in 1937; it is from the SIL-Mexico historical archive.

See also:
Related materials:
On a related site:
Materials in Mösiehuali̱:

Popocatépetl volcano
Secui̱stli̱ (Popucatepietl)
The Popocatépetl volcano as viewed from Tetelcingo