FIGURE 1. Front cover of Molina’s 1555 _Vocabulario_.

FIGURE 1. Front cover of Molina’s 1555 Vocabulario.

Fray Alonso de Molina’s Vocabulario en la lengua Castellana y Mexicana was first published in 1555 at the Mexico City printing house of Juan Pablos (Figure 1).1 It consists of a title page, a six-page introduction, and a 260 folio (520 page) Spanish-to-Nahuatl dictionary. Three full-page woodcut illustrations were also included: the Christly monogram IHS (on the verso side of the cover page); a scene of two angels, the Virgin, and the baby Jesus supporting the Franciscan coat of arms (a shield with the Five Wounds of Christ); and a scene of San Ildefonso receiving a chasuble from the Virgin.

This was the first indigenous-language dictionary to be published in the New World. At the time, Alonso de Molina was guardian of the Franciscan monastery of San Antonio in the town Texcoco—due east of Tenochtitlan, on the shores of the lake that filled the Valley of Mexico. Not surprisingly, the style of Nahuatl Molina privileged in his entries was that which “is used here in Texcoco and in Mexico [City], which is where the language is best and most carefully spoken.”2 Although Molina is the only author credited on the cover of the book, it is clear that he was helped—as were other Franciscan linguists—by indigenous Nahua collaborators. Perhaps the most important of these was Hernando de Ribas, an indigenous man from Texcoco fluent in Nahuatl, Castilian, and Latin.3

Sixteen years later, in 1571, Molina published a revised and expanded version of the Vocabulario. It began with a Spanish-to-Nahuatl vocabulary, as in the 1555 edition, but was followed by a reversed Nahuatl-to-Spanish vocabulary.4

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1 On Juan Pablos, see López Bernasocchi and Galeote 2010, 15-18.

2 Molina 1555, v (verso): “se vsan aqui en Tetzcuco y en Mexico, que es donde mejor y mas curiosamente se habla la lengua…”

3 Hernández de León-Portilla 1993, 210; Hernández de León-Portilla 1995.

4 Molina 1571; for more recent Nahuatl dictionaries, see Kartunnen 1992 and Lockhart 2001. An excellent on-line Nahuatl dictionary (with translations into English, French, Spanish, and German) has been created by Alexis Wimmer (