for nahuatl info?

Michael Mccafferty mmccaffe at
Mon Jan 6 14:46:43 UTC 2003

On Mon, 6 Jan 2003, Matthew Montchalin wrote:

> On Mon, 6 Jan 2003, r. joe campbell wrote:
> |   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),
> Perhaps you will explain why adopting the Spanish spelling system strikes
> you as a natural and common thing?

I can't speak for Joe or anyone, but from my experience it's very *useful*
to have the  Spanish spelling system under your belt as it opens up a
universe of dictionaries, grammars and texts. It's the perfect key.
In my Algonquian work I use strictly IPA symbols. It's good to know your
way around different orthographies. In early historic North America the
Jesuit and Recollect missionaries used a digraph that looks a lot like the
number 8 to represent a whole host of somewhat related sounds that
occurred in the native languages. For example, in the recordings of the
Miami-Illinois language, in word-initial position, this orthographic
symbol can represent /w-/, sometimes /o:w-/ before a vowel, and  /o-/ ~
/u-/ before a consonant. In intervocalic position it stands for /-w-/,
sometimes /-o(:)w-/. Between consonants that are not followed by /w/ and a
following vowel it stands for  either  /o(:)w/ - ~ /u(:)-/. When it
appears between two consonants,the glyph represents /-o(:)-/ ~ /-u(:)-/.
And in word-final position, 8 typically represents /-o(:)/ ~ /-u(:)/.

( the sign  : = vowel length  )

Depending on what you're doing and what you want, knowing other
orthographies can be very useful.

> |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'.
> For those of us with little or no exposure to Spanish's orthography,
> I am not so sure it will be an 'easy' thing to chin up and plod
> through.

I teach Nahuatl. It takes even the slowest learners about two minutes to
learn the old Spanish orthography. I had a woman in my class last semester
who did not have any language "talent". But she had a desire to learn
Nahuatl since some of her ancestors had spoken it. She learned the
orthography in a day. It's basically straight forward "continental"
spelling with a few changes. Very simple to learn. No biggy/

> |   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.
> This seems to be the most telling argument in favor of Spanish's
> orthography.  And you seem to be suggesting that the body of material
> is so vast that it will never be regularized with the 'k' and 'kw'
> orthography.

Ah. Joe does make this point. Ok.

Right, Matthew. It's so huge nobody will ever *want* to sit down and
piddle with the orthography. What it boils down to is this: you gotta know
both the old and the modern to be a successful learner of the entire
chronological spectrum of Nahuatl.

> |If I had stuck with 'k', all that rich body of text would look
> |"quaint" to me.
> Are you saying it is impractical - if not impossible - to write a
> computer program to translate the spellings from Nahuatl to Nawatl?

Since I'm not a computer maven, I'll bow out on this one. I imagine you
could, but why?  It's not a perfect analogy-- and I can certain
understand, say, translating Shakespeare into 21st century Bronx English,
but don't you think it's also nice to have good old Wm. around as well to
enrich things.

> |   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.
> But you are presupposing a Spanish-speaking audience to receive
> your preferred spelling system.  If you start your argument with
> a chip on your shoulder, it is that much harder to put some other
> chip there.

Well, now I can speak for Joe. There ain't no chip. So, your point is



Michael McCafferty
307 Memorial Hall
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana
mmccaffe at

"When you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you
will keep saying again and again, "This is certainly not like we thought
it was".


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