Nahuatl has often been described as a lingua franca in colonial Central America, but this conclusion has rested on a narrow range of Spanish and Nahuatl-language documents. In this article we broaden the evidentiary base, analyzing a corpus of forty-six Nahuatl documents spanning the years 1549–1666 from Central America. Most of these documents date from the turn of the sixteenth century and are in the Central American Nahuatl dialect of Pipil. Some exhibit incorrect emulations of the Classical Nahuatl of central Mexico, brought to the region by the Spaniards' Nahua allies. Those written in Classical Nahuatl were generally produced in areas of significant Nahua and/or Spanish colonization. We conclude that Nahuatl in colonial Central America was significantly impacted by indigenous Pipil. As a vehicular language, Pipil was as useful as the central Mexican Nahuatl of the invaders, and it developed its own written standard. In general, Nahuatl of all kinds served as a vehicular language in colonial Central America for only about a century after conquest and followed the path of the invaders.

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