A Language of Empire, a Quotidian Tongue: The Uses of Nahuatl in Colonial Mexico

An issue of: Ethnohistory

A Language of Empire, a Quotidian Tongue
Journal Issue Pages: 136 Volume 59, Number 4 Published: Fall 2012 An issue of Ethnohistory
Special Issue Editor: Robert C. Schwaller
This special issue of Ethnohistory highlight new aspects of the use of Nahuatl as a lingua franca during the colonial period. The language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl was also spoken by mestizos, mulatos, and Spaniards. By emphasizing interethnic communication in largely quotidian contexts, this issue breaks new ground in the examination of colonial language, investigating the many ways in which Nahuatl shaped the lives of all inhabitants of New Spain.

One essay shows how the bilingual ability of many mestizos and mulatos, which resulted from acculturation to both indigenous and Hispanic society, facilitated cultural and linguistic transfer across ethnic boundaries. One contributor considers the use of Nahuatl by clerics, including early colonial creole clergy, while another uses inquisitorial records to argue that the Church frequently lacked the translators required to conduct its investigations. The issue also reproduces a unique Nahuatl language sermon, demonstrating the influence of Nahua aides in modifying the messages conveyed by catechistic documents. Another contributor argues that classical Nahuatl's utility as an imperial lingua franca was limited and influenced by Pipil, a form of Nahuatl spoken in the region prior to the Nahua-Spanish invasions of the sixteenth century.

Robert C. Schwaller
is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Kansas.

Mark Z. Christiansen, Laura E. Matthew, Martin Austin Nesvig, Caterina Pizzigoni, Sergio Romero, John F. Schwaller, Robert C. Schwaller, Yanna Yannakakis


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Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: How Did They Talk to One Another? Language Use and Communication in Multilingual New Spain–Yanna Yannakakis


The Expansion of Nahuatl as a Lingua Franca among Priests in Sixteenth-Century Mexico–John F. Schwaller

The Use of Nahuatl in Evangelization and the Ministry of Sebastian–Mark Z. Christensen

The Importance of Mestizos and Mulatos as Bilingual Intermediaries in Sixteenth-Century New Spain–Robert C. Schwaller

Spanish Men, Indigenous Language, and Informal Interpreters in Postcontact Mexico–Martin Nesvig


Conclusion: A Language across Space, Time, and Ethnicity–Caterina Pizzigoni

Additional InformationBack to Top
ISBN Paperback: 978-0-8223-6775-8