[Fwd: [Aztlan] Nahuatl Writing]

John F. Schwaller schwallr at potsdam.edu
Sat May 31 20:53:06 UTC 2008

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: [Aztlan] Nahuatl Writing
From:    ECOLING at aol.com
Date:    Fri, May 30, 2008 9:07 pm
To:      aztlan at lists.famsi.org

The most recent issue of the PARI newsletter
which can be obtained as part of membership, or purchased separately, see

has some very rich articles on Nahuatl writing by Alfonso Lacadena,
the result of a decade of research by him,
with supporting material by Marc Zender and a quotation from Zelia  Nuttall.
It includes Lacadena's Nahuatl syllabary.

These articles show clearly that Nahuatl writing, like Mayan writing,
is composed of logograms and a phonetic syllabary,
but with some differences from Maya writing in that consonants are
not written at ends of words or ends of syllables.  The writing  is
not as complete as Mayan, since syllables may also be skipped,
but the first syllable is always written except in a few very rare  late
examples which begin with a sound which did not exist in Nahuatl
and was omitted from the writing.

The articles contain many examples, with citations of source pages,
and make several methodological points.

(1) The same types of reasoning can be used as for Mayan writing,
to establish whether a sign is a logogram or a phonogram.

(2) The decipherment of Nahuatl writing would have occurred
much earlier if those looking at it had had comparative knowledge
of logosyllabic writing systems elsewhere in the world,
since several individuals (Aubin, Nuttall, and others) had noticed
crucial types of spellings.

(3) Decipherment of Nahuatl writing was hampered by the
assumption (the wish to believe?) that the more phonetic spellings
reflected influence from Spanish and the Latin-script.
Instead, it turns out that the scribes of most parts of the Texcoco realms
(Acolhuas) on the eastern side of Lake Texcoco
chose to use far more phonograms,
while scribes of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco on the western side
chose to use far more logograms.  Otherwise, Lacadena argues
that there was no difference in early vs. late spellings,
that exactly the same sets of logograms and phonograms were
available in the two areas, with a single exception, signs for /wa/,
probably to avoid confusion with a numerical sign for "2".
(In the later period additional logograms appeared for items
introduced by the Spanish.)
The difference between these two areas is much like a difference  among
Mayan areas, that scribes at Chich'en Itza' used far more phonograms,
compared with other Mayan sites using far more logograms.  Yet  no
one suggests that Chich'en was under more influence from the Latin

These findings will have a substantial long-term effect on studies
of Central Mexico.  The papers report important advances.

A brief discussion of the stone of Tizoc suggests that new
perspectives may also change many interpretations of Aztec

We can be very grateful both to the authors and to Joel Skidmore
for seeing that this material is published.

Lloyd  Anderson
Ecological Linguistics
PO Box 15156
Washington, DC  20003
ecoling at aol.com

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