Tlilli tlapalli

Frances Karttunen karttu at
Thu May 31 19:28:41 UTC 2001

Perhaps it would be more helpful to understand tli:lli, tlapalli as 'the
black ink, the colored paint'  that is, the two elements used in creating
meaningful representations on amate paper or deerskin screenfolds.  Tli:lli
as 'ink' derives from 'soot.'  Tlapalli also can mean 'ink' as well as
paint, but probably not black ink.  Its core meaning seems to be derived
from palli, a type of clay used in dying cloth.

From: David Wright <dcwright at>
To: Nahuat-l <nahuat-l at>
Subject: Tlilli tlapalli
Date: Thu, May 31, 2001, 11:53 AM

Does anyone have any idea what could have been the reason Dibble and
Anderson (Florentine Codex VI: 259) translated the metaphor "Intlil
intlapal" as "their black, their red" rather than "their black, their
colors"? The translation of "tlapalli" as "red" keeps cropping up in modern
sources. I can't remember where all I've seen it; another example is in
Garibay's vocabulary, in the Porrua edition of the Castillian text of the
Florentine Codex; "Tlapallan" is translated as "Lugar del rojo". Molina (I,
27r; II 130v) makes it clear that "tlapalli" and the radical "tlapal-" refer
to pigments for painting or dying in general, regardless of hue; the same is
true of Sahagun (Florentine Codex XI: 245). Why red? The only possible
explanation I can come up with is that "colorado, -a" in old Castillian was
used for red, and retains this meaning today, especially in informal speech;
this could have led to imprecise translations.

Comments regarding the deeper meanings of this metaphor, or possible modern
survivals, would also be greatly appreciated.

Best regards,

David Wright

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