Nahuatl across Frontiers: Dynamics of Culture Change and Language Shift in the Northern Periphery of New Spain

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:50 AM
Salon 2 (Palmer House Hilton)
Justyna Olko, University of Warsaw
he paper addresses the dynamics of the transformations affecting the Nahuatl language and its speakers in the northern periphery of New Spain toward the end of the colonial period, a time of increasing pressures on native communities. I explore the available indigenous sources, including Nahuatl texts and pertinent Spanish sources such as the 1765 Arte, vocabulario y confessionario en el idioma mexicano, como se usa en el Obispado de Guadalaxara by Jerónimo Tomás de Aquino Cortés y Zedeño. In order to explain the culture contact and change occurring in the northern frontiers of New Spain I take a holistic approach, correlating ethnohistorical perspectives with linguistic data in order to pinpoint precipitating factors embedded in the broader socio-cultural evolution and dominant ideologies that drive language-in-culture change. Therefore, I also employ comparative data from contemporary Nahua communities undergoing acculturation and language shift to Spanish. This approach reveals that historical developments documented in colonial sources can be meaningfully compared and linked to later, modern stages of language and culture change; however, it departs from earlier uniform reconstructions of Nahua cultural and linguistic history (comp. Lockhart 1992), emphasizing multiple scenarios of survival, change and attrition which differed considerably in time and space. It would seem then, that a deep reappraisal of our understanding of “centers” and “peripheries” in indigenous world(s) is called for, and in this context I raise questions about the reciprocal dynamics of colonial and postcolonial institutions and policies, different levels of ideologies, social agents, and shifting sets of conditions. Consequently, based on what I argue to be an accelerated rate of culture change in the northern periphery of the Nahua world, I propose to view significant historical changes as a complex constellation of continuities and discontinuities that reveal meaningful moments of transition, even though they are in a state of flux.