Calques in Otomi and Nahuatl

John Sullivan, Ph.D. idiez at
Sun Jan 31 23:05:21 UTC 2010

Piyali listeros,
	I agree with you, David. One very highly regarded tepahtihquetl/xochitlalquetl in the Chicontepec area of northern Veracruz is the otomí, don Juanito. He speaks no Nahuatl, but the form and content of his performance (for lack of a better word) of the tlatlacualtia ceremony in Nahua villages is indistinguishable from that of Nahua practitioners.

On Jan 30, 2010, at 5:10 PM, David Wright wrote:

> Muy estimados listeros:
> We have become accustomed to equating language and culture, when in reality
> language is but one element in the complex mosaic of learned behavior that
> constitutes culture. After searching for three decades for significant
> nonlinguistic cultural differences between speakers of Otomi and Nahuatl in
> late pre-Hispanic and early colonial central Mexico (and not finding many),
> I have reached the tentative conclusion that there was an essentially
> homogenous plurilinguistic culture in this region. Nonlinguistic cultural
> differences exist, but their distribution rarely coincides with linguistic
> boundaries (which are, to say the least, quite fuzzy).
> One way to put this idea to the test is to look at the words and phrases
> used by different language groups to talk about aspects of culture. When
> this is done with Otomi and Nahuatl we often find calques, sometimes
> metaphorical in nature, in which key concepts cross language boundaries,
> each group expressing the same idea in their own words. The list published
> by Thomas Smith-Stark* is a useful starting point, athough the Otomi corpus
> is inadequately represented; when 16th century vocabularies are considered,
> the list expands enormously.
> Needless to say, this has important implications for the interpretation of
> pictorial texts, and explains in part why groups with languages as diverse
> as Nahuatl, Mixtec, and Otomi used the same pictorial signs to express the
> same concepts within a basically semasiographic system which straddles the
> blurry border between the western categories of writing and visual arts
> (although each group could use homophonic word plays to create glottographs,
> which can be divided into logographs --which express morphemes, that is,
> sounds with meaning-- and phonographs --which express sounds that are not
> necessarily tied to meaning, like syllables and phonemes--).
> In the new volume (no. 16) of Tlalocan, I look at Otomi and Nahuatl
> calendrical terms, where calques are the norm. If anyone would like for me
> to e-mail them a PDF file scanned from the published text, please let me
> know at dchwrightcarr at
> In another article, published on line, I explore Otomi and Nahuatl names for
> social structures, where there are also many calques. I think I mentioned
> this on the Nahuat-l list when it came out, but since it relates to the
> Tlalocan article I'll provide the URL again:
> Comments are welcome, preferably off-list, unless there is something that
> you feel is a worthy topic for group discussion.
> Saludos,
> David
> * Smith-Stark, Thomas C., “Mesoamerican calques,” in Investigaciones
> lingüísticas en Mesoamérica, Carolyn J. MacKay and Verónica Vázquez,
> editors, Mexico, Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, Universidad
> Nacional Autónoma de México, 1994, pp. 15-50. Some of the data presented in
> the latter article also appears in: Campbell, Lyle; Kaufman, Terrence;
> Thomas C. Smith-Stark, “Meso-America as a linguistic area,” in Language
> (Linguistic Society of America), vol. 62, no. 3, September 1986, pp.
> 530-570.
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