for nahuatl info?

r. joe campbell campbel at
Mon Jan 6 06:36:57 UTC 2003

   I think that this discussion could be of interest and value to two
groups: those of Nahuat-l and those of itztliehecatl at
Some of the discussions may turn out to be of more interest than value if
we all think like most people do about language: namely, my way is better
and the most important reason is because it is what I learned first (the
other reasons? -- well, I don't have any really substantive ones...).

   I sympathize with the desire to spread knowledge about Nahuatl.  I am
familiar with the enthusiasm that the language arouses in one.  I have
often said (with no chauvinistic motives) that if a Great Language
Engineer sat down at His table and set out to design a beautiful clockwork
language system, it would end up looking just like Nahuatl.  I have also
noted that most people who ever get bitten by the Nahuatl bug never
totally get over their fever.  The interest lives on.

   I hope that it is obvious that my remarks are meant in a constructive
way.  And naturally, most of what I take the trouble to write needs to
concentrate on *improvement*, not head-nodding on everything that I agree

   A basic choice that we all make in our lessons and materials about
Nahuatl is the orthography.  On the Nahuatl Tlahtokalli website (hereafter
NT), they say "... these lessons is NOT the classical form but the
phonetics [sic] for.  The classical form of Nahuatl is severly [sic]
outdate and few people speak ... form today."  I have thought about the
spelling issue for years and it seems to me that the choice most people
make is the way they chose their political parties or their religion -- it
is seldom a matter of what advantages are offered by one system or the
other.  It is more often decided by one's early environment, perhaps a
declaration by a teacher or a group feeling concerning tradition (or
breaking with tradition).
   My own first written records (thick files of them) are filled with 'k',
'w', 'c-hachek', etc.  I approached the dialect of Tepoztlan (and outlying
Santa Catarina), Morelos with a tape recorder, a pad of yellow paper, and
no regard for any possible body of related language material.  However,
after a whole summer in Tepoztlan and returning to my home library, I can
be excused for my next act of over-exuberance -- I opened the overflowing
treasures of: 1) Molina's 1571 dictionaries and 2) Dibble and Anderson's
text and translation of the Florentine Codex.  If time had been short
during the summer (and the flesh too weak to extend the work days), here
was a way to continue penetrating the language!
   But I *did* have to face the difference in orthography -- Molina didn't
use my 'k w kw s ts...etc.' -- he did a natural and common thing -- he
simply adapted his Spanish spelling system (ignoring long vowels and
glottal stops), as did Sahagun with the "Florentine Codex" (with
considerably more irregularity).  But it was easy to read and I soon found
myself writing with 'qu' instead of 'k'.
   When I moved to 'qu', I put myself in touch with a large body of
material which has been recorded since the arrival of the Spaniards.
If I had stuck with 'k', all that rich body of text would look "quaint" to

   If I were designing materials that I hoped would be helpful to Spanish
speakers (some of them possible monolingual), I would use the 'qu' (and
the spelling that goes with it) in order to reduce impediments in learning
the important things.

to be continued.....

Best regards with your endeavors,

(Ce:ncah Xo:chichil)

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