Newbie questions.

r. joe campbell campbel at
Thu Jan 16 21:44:11 UTC 2003


   I thought that I'd pass along to you my "parecer" -- and some of my
prejudices.  On what I think is your main point, there will be a
difference of opinion if people take your question in a not totally
literal way.

   First, everyone would agree on the fact that "classical" Nahuatl is no
longer spoken, in the same sense that 16th century Mexican Spanish, 12th
century Iberian Spanish, and 18th century American English are no longer

   Second, is modern Nahuatl very much like "classical" Nahuatl?  Since
most towns differ in their speech from other towns, the answer is gray,
rather than black and white.  A relatively complete answer on this would
require some commentary from many silent members of the list, but on the
basis on my contact with several dialects, there are some that are
amazingly (for me) close to "classical" and others that differ
   Tepoztla'n, Morelos (back in the 60s) seemed fairly close to
"classical", but the "line" of speaker/non-speaker has moved since then.
Now the youngest Nahuatl speaker that I know of there is 70 and most
people who really speak it are considerably older than him.  Another close
match is San Miguel Canoa, Puebla.
   Dialects that differ greatly from "classical" are, among others,
Po'maro, Michoacan (one characteristic: has /l/ for /tl/), and San
Agusti'n Oapan, Guerrero.

   The point that I am afraid that some people might disagree with is how
worthwhile your study of "classical" would be for the purpose of
communicating with people who speak modern dialects.  I believe that
studying "classical" Nahuatl is a valuable investment for various reasons.

 1. The materials available to you in "classical" Nahuatl are extensive.
In vocabulary, you have Molina's and Karttunen's dictionaries (not joint
ones -- each did his or her own); in grammar, you have Carochi and
Andrews; and for practice in reading text, you have (just as a starting
point) Sahagun's 12 volume commentary done in the 16th century and
translated into English facing by Dibble and Anderson in the 20th.
In contrast, there is no modern dialect that offers you even a small
percentage of this coverage.  (((My wife, reading over my shoulder,
insists that I add: "As an intro to "classical", you also have Campbell
and Karttunen, _Foundation Course in Nahuatl Grammar." -- which was
intended for *real* beginners.)))

 2. "Help" that you derive in going from one dialect to another:  when you
go from the study of "classical" to any modern dialect, you will feel the
constant support of familiar vocabulary and derivational suffixes.  Of
course, there are some differences, since languages do change, but the
degree of conservatism is comforting.  On the other hand, if you started
with a "further-out" modern dialect, going to another dialect would
present more difficulties.  I think of it with the "hub and spoke"
metaphor: if you start at the hub, each spoke is immediately related to
what you know, but if you start "way out there" on any arbitrary spoke,
who knows how much that spoke is going to contribute your learning the
next one?

May your ohtli be chipahuac and not alactic,


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