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Current subclassification of Nahuatl rests on research by Canger (1980), Canger (1988) and Lastra de Suárez (1986). Canger introduced the scheme of a Central grouping and two Peripheral groups, and Lastra confirmed this notion, differing in some details. "Nahua loan words from the early classic period: Words for cacao preparation on a Río Azul ceramic vessel". 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. "Reply to Hill and Brown: Maize and Uto-Aztecan cultural history". Madrid: Ediciones de Cultura Hispánica, Instituto de Cooperación Iberoamericana. Nahuan languages exhibit a complex morphology characterized by polysynthesis and agglutination. The Ethnologue recognizes 28 varieties with separate ISO codes. Sometimes the label also is used to include the Pipil language (Nawat) of El Salvador.
During the centuries preceding the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, the Aztecs had expanded to incorporate a large part of central Mexico, and its influence caused the variety of Nahuatl spoken by the residents of Tenochtitlan to become a prestige language in Mesoamerica. Regardless of whether the Nahuatl is considered to label a dialect continuum or a group of separate languages, the varieties form a single branch within the Uto-Aztecan family, descended from a single Proto-Nahuan language. Within Mexico the question of whether to consider individual varieties to be languages or dialects of a single language is highly political. 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. The Mexican Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas (National Institute of Indigenous Languages) recognize 30 different individual varieties within the "language group" labeled Nahuatl.