I have several science fiction projects that depict the use of Nahuatl in the future or alternate presents, so I thought it would be cool to devise a fictional alphabet to represent that Indigenous Mexican language.
I’m going to explain my process below. At the very bottom, you’ll find a link to a Neo Nahuatl Font you can download and use for free.
When the Spanish invaded, Nahuas were already using glyphs to represent sounds. For the most part, these were entire syllables, not single consonants or vowels. Consequently the glyph you see in the above image for “tsintli” would read “tsin,” not “ts” as in my invented system.
It seems clear that, given more time, an “Aztec alphabet” would have evolved. However, the Spanish invasion of Mesoamerica altered the development of writing among Nahuas. Still, from a conlang (constructed language) or Mexican-futurist perspective—it is fascinating to speculate as to what might have happened otherwise.
I used common pre-Invasion glyphs as a starting point, favoring those with a shape suggestive of existing letters in different syllabaries and alphabets around the world. The round “etl” (bean) glyph lends itself to a circular symbol; the pointed “itsli” (obsidian) glyph lends itself to a triangular one, etc. For each of these glyphs, I crafted letters that represented the initial sound of the original.
While creating the basic alphabet, I realized I should add a few features. I imagined that some dialects of “Starspeech” (future Nahuatl) or other speculative iterations of the language might need the ability to mark vowels as long or to indicate the voicing of consonants. I also decided to integrate a wholly new visual element: teskahkwilolli or letter mirroring, which allows for symbols to be flipped horizontally or vertically in certain contexts.
Because I’ve been learning Korean, which is written in Hangeul symbols arranged in syllable blocks, I decided that there ought to be two…