Naive Questions

Ricardo J. Salvador salvador at
Mon Jan 20 07:00:25 UTC 2003

On Friday, January 17, 2003, at 12:09  PM, Brett Breitwieser wrote:

> How useful would a study of Nahuatl be to someone who is also
> interested in
> learning the Hopi Language?
> I want to learn Hopi/Aztec for both archaeological and personal
> reasons...

If you're interested in documenting the development of Uto-Aztecan
langugages, that would be one thing. But, for someone interested in
learning Hopi for practical reasons, I personally don't see learning
Nahuatl as a productive route. The main reason, simplistically, is that
though Hopi and Nahuatl share a common ancient lineage, they are today
distinct languages (not mutually intelligible), as opposed to dialects
of a single language, and they are not related linearly. Furthermore,
there is no shortage of materials and opportunities for the direct
learning of Nahuatl.

The recent question on this list involving the usefulness of learning
Classic Nahuatl in order to then acquire a contemporary dialect
resulted in the general conclusion that this strategy could be useful
(assuming lack of immediate facility to learn a contemporary dialect
directly). The difference with your query is that contemporary Nahuatl
dialects FOLLOWED Classic Nahuatl, and that circumstances and the
relatively short timeline involved have not caused great
differentiation among most of the descendants (today's most divergent
dialects were probably also strongly differentiated at the time of
European contact.) Hopi on the other hand, preceded the development of
Nahuatl, and the time remove is significant. It is also important that
Hopi was not a direct predecessor of Nahuatl, but is rather the end
point of a lone branch in the northern group of the greater Uto-Aztecan
language family, and that this branch diverged deep in prehistoric
time. So, for practical purposes, understanding the structure of
Nahuatl will afford you no particular advantages for learning Hopi,
which has its own peculiar properties (for example, Hopi would be an
ideal language for astrophysicists, because in Hopi you equate events
that happen very far from your location with things happening a very
long time ago. The farther the event is from you in space, then the
farther it is from you in time. Perfect for astrophysical research ;-)).

To briefly give you an idea of the time-space difference between Hopi
and Nahuatl, consider an analogous case. You are an English speaker.
English is a language belonging to the western branch of the greater
Germanic family of languages. The Germanic family, in turn is related
with the Italic and Indo-Aryan language families due to a common
ancestry in proto-Indoeuropean. Consider the wide variance in these
languages and the time depths involved with their evolution. The west
Germanic languages probably diverged in the first few centuries of the
common era. When was the original common Indoeuropean spoken? A safe
estimate is probably about 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. So, within that
span of time languages as diverse as Bengali, Kurdish, Catalan, German,
Slovene and English have formed. Now for comparison, Nahuatl is grouped
with the southern branch of Uto-Aztecan, with the Sonoran language
group. Hopi belongs to the northern branch. The best estimates
available at present indicate that Nahuatl diverged from the main
Sonoran branch about 4,500 years ago, probably some place in
present-day western Sonora, approximately at the time when the
progenitor of all major European and Indo-Iranian languages was spoken
in a small corner of south-central Eurasia. The southern branch of
Uto-Aztecan had diverged from the northern branch BEFORE this point.

The recent discussion on Classical Nahuatl as a precursor for the study
of modern Nahuatl prompted the following comment:

On Thursday, January 16, 2003, at 03:44  PM, r. joe campbell wrote:
> 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?

Using Joe's example, you're asking not whether an end point on a spoke
will help you get to the hub, but whether an end point on a spoke on a
totally different wheel (albeit on the same cart ;-), will help you get
to the hub on the wheel of your interest.

> Is the book listed below still available from the same source
> (University of Minnesota)?

Quemah. (Yes ;-)).

> Campbell, Joe R. and Frances Karttunen, Foundation Course in Nahuatl
> Grammar. Vol. I: Text and Exercises; vol. II: Vocabulary and Key
> (Missoula:
> University of Montana, 1997) 336p. & 272p. $40.00 for both volumes,
> shipping
> included
> Dr. J. F. Schwaller
> Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean
> University of Minnesota, Morris
> Morris, MN 56267

Ricardo J. Salvador          Voice: 515.294.9595
1126 Agronomy Hall         Telefax: 515.294.8146
Iowa State University        e-mail: salvador at
Ames, IA 50011-1010       WWW:

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