User's Guide: Orthography, Punctuation, Conjugation

FIGURE 2. Folio 1r of Molinas 1555 _Vocabulario_.

FIGURE 2. Folio 1r of Molina’s 1555 Vocabulario.

FIGURE 3. Detail from the front cover of Molinas 1555 _Vocabulario_: use of the long s.

FIGURE 3. Detail from the front cover of Molina’s 1555 Vocabulario: use of the long s.

On the surface, Molina’s Vocabulario looks a great deal like the translating dictionaries we still use today (Figure 2). Down the left-hand side of each page is a word in Castilian (that is, Spanish as spoken in the kingdom of Castile and surrounding regions of central Iberia).

Each entry is followed by the translation of that term into Nahuatl. These entries are arranged alphabetically into sections: first entries for A, then B, then C, etcetera. Closer inspection, however, reveals the Molina Vocabulario to be somewhat more complicated. The most important issue to consider when using the Molina is how the Castilian entries themselves were chosen, and how these entries shaped their Nahuatl translations. Why did Molina seek Nahuatl translations for Castilian terms like mosque (mezquita) and Roman senator (Senador Romano)—categories totally alien to Mesoamerica? This fundamental issue is complex, and will be discussed in following section of this tutorial. First, however, we want to address with some simpler issues confronting the twenty-first century user of the sixteenth-century Vocabulario.

Perhaps the most prominent initial difficulty for users of the Vocabulario today is spelling. Sixteenth-century spelling had not been standardized to the degree it is today, and so different writers might spell the same words with slightly different spellings. Furthermore, sixteenth-century Castilian was pronounced slightly differently than twenty-first century Spanish, and this, too, affected how words were spelled. Because of these factors, sixteenth- century spellings are sometimes different from twenty-first century spellings, and thus words may not be alphabetized in the ways we would expect now. For example, the term wild boar, spelled jabali today, is in the Vocabulario are spelled with an initial I (Iabali)—and thus alphabetized under I. The word for shoes, spelled zapatos today, is in the Vocabulario spelled çapatos—and thus alphabetized at the end of the entries for C. The modern volver (to return) is written boluer—and thus alphabetized under B. Fortunately, these spelling transformations are not infinite: they focus on six basic letter clusters:

b and u and v
ç and s and z
h and u
j and i i and y j and x and h

Another spelling variation involves the letter s. Early modern writing throughout Europe used an alphabetic character called a “long s.” The long s looks like a lower case f, but it does not have a crossbar on the front side. For example, at first glance the second line of the title page to Molina’s Vocabulario (Figure 3) might seem to be written thus:

…rio en la lengua Caftellana y Mexicana, Compuefto…

On closer inspection, however, you can see that what looks like the letter “f” in Caftellana and Compuefto is actually a long s, and so the words are actually Castellana (Castilian) and Compuesta (Composed). In Mesolore’s version of the Vocabulario, all long s characters have been typed as a regular lower case s.

We have already seen how spelling variations shape the alphabetical ordering of the Vocabulario (such as with the word zapatos being spelled çapatos and thus alphabetized at the end of entries for the letter C). Another alphabetic irregularity—from our point of view today—is that Molina sometimes organizes conceptually-related words together, even if this means arranging those words out of alphabetic order. Thus, the very first page of A entries contains these Castilian entries:

Abad prelado o dignidad. [Abbot, prelate or dignitary]
Abad ser. [to be an Abbot]
Abadia del tal. [Abbey of the aforesaid]
Abadessa de monjas. [Abbess of nuns]

Strictly speaking, Abadessa should be placed after Abad ser. However—given the male-dominated structure of the Catholic church—this cluster of four entries focuses first on the male category of abbot, and then follows those entries by referring to the female Abbess (as a female variant of the male model).

Similarly, Molina often lists the infinitive form of a verb first, followed by derived verbal forms (such as gerunds or past participles)—even if those derived forms are technically out of alphabetical order. Returning to the first page of A entries, Abadessa de monjas is followed by

Abahar. [to give off vapor, baho]
Abahada cosa. [steamed thing]
Abahamiento. [steaming]

Alphabetically speaking, these three terms should be arranged as Abahada cosa, Abahamiento, Abahar. However, by placing the terms in this order, the reader first encounters the core verb (abahar), followed by secondary terms derived from that core verb (abahada, abahamiento). An alphabetical hierarchy, then, is replaced with a conceptual hierarchy.

Turning to the specifics of Molina’s writing style, consider his use of punctuation marks. The Vocabulario uses periods to separate different word entries in lists of synonyms.6 For example, two options (xuchitl and cueponcayotl) are given for defining Flor generalmente (flower in general):

Flor generalmente. xuchitl. cueponcayotl.7

The next entry on the same page is for “Flower or rose from Castile,” followed by two possible Nahuatl translations. Significantly, both of these two options reveal the complex linguistic borrowings that had already taken place in Nahuatl by 1555. “Flower or rose from Castile” is defined both by castillan xuchitl (“Castilian flower,” which combines the Nahuatlized transformation of castellano into castillan with the Nahuatl term xuchitl) as well as simply the loan word Rosa (“rose”):

Flor o rosa de castilla. castillan xuchitl. Rosa.8

In cases where a Castilian term had been adopted by Nahuas without modification, Molina follows the main entry by lo mesmo / lo mismo (the same) or idem (Latin for “the same”), as in these entries for Arroba (a measurement of volume) and Reprouar (“to condemn”):9

Arroba. lo mesmo.10

Reprouar idem est quod reprouar. (note the full-on use of Latin here)11

If the Vocabulario uses periods to separate separate Nahuatl synonyms, commas are used in the translations of verbs. Castilian verbs are listed in their infinitive form (Abaxar [today’s abajar], Abrir, Beuer [today’s beber]), but they are defined by Nahuatl examples their first person present-tense (“indicative”) conjugated forms.12 Nahuatl conjugations are too complex to explain in detail as part of this tutorial, but here are some basic pointers.13 If conjugations in English and Spanish usually involve adding suffixes to the end of a verb, in Nahuatl conjugations above all involve prefixes added at the beginning. Molina separates these prefixes with a comma in his entries, to make clear what is the conjugated addition and what is the core term. First-person conjugations typically begin with ni-. Thus the definition for the verb vivir, “to live” (here spelled with an initial B) appears as

Biuir. ni, yolli. ni, nemi.14

Both niyolli and “ninemi” mean “I live.”

Nahuatl uses many other additional verbal prefixes for conjugation—too many to review here. Two of the more common of these prefixes are_te_ (for personal indefinite objects) and tla (for nonpersonal indefinite objects). Thus the entry for “To love someone” appears as

Amar a alguno. nite, tlçotla.

Nitetlaçotla (ni+te+tlaçotla) literally means “I love [someone].” Similarly, the entry for “To eat,” comer, appears as

Comer. nitla, qua.15

Nitlaqua (ni+tla+qua) literally means “I eat [something].”

Orthography, punctuation, conjugation: these are three key issues to keep in mind when using Molina’s Vocabulario. But an even more basic issue remains to be considered: how did the Castilian terms in the Vocabulario get chosen for translation in the first place?

The Translations of Nebrija >
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6 “Todos los vocablos que ouiere diferentes para significar vna misma cosa, que enel latin llamamos sinonomos, se distinguiran con un punto” (Molina 1555, vi r).

7 Molina 1555, 125r.

8 Molina 1555, 125r.

9 “Donde se pone, lo mesmo, o, idem (despues del romance) se ha de entender que los naturales no tienen otro vocablo proprio en su lengua, si no que vsan del mismo que nos otros tenemos ala letra: y otras vsan del mismo que nos otros tenemos ala letra: y otras vezes de nuestro romance y su lengua forman sus nombres o verbos variando o mudando algo del romance nuestro y su lengua, o mezclando el vn lenguaje conel otro” (Molina 1555, vi v).

10 Molina 1555, 24v.

11 Molina 1555, 214r.

12 “Todos los verbos de la lengua se pondran en la primera persona del presente del indicatiuo (si la tuuieren) y si no enla tercera, por que esta todos los verbos la tienen: y sirue siempre vna mesma para singular y plural pero el romance delos verbos se pondra enel infinitiuo, comolo pone Antonio de librixa en su vocabulario” (Molina 1555: v v); “Porque es muy necessario para vsar bien delos verbos y delos nombres verbales que dellos salen, saber qual es la substancia del verbo, y qual es el propio nombre o particulas que se le anteponen, se porna vn semicirculo para que se entienda, que lo que se pone despues del dicho semicirculo, es la substancia y cuerpo del verbo, y lo que esta antes del semicirculo, es el pronombre o particulas que se anteponen al verbo. Pero aun que aya diuision entre el verbo y particulas, todo seha de pronunciar junto. Exemplo. Nitetla, cuilia: tomar algo a alguno, la substancia del verbo es, cuilia, y el pronombre y particulas son, nitetla: pero ha se de pronunciar, nitetlacuilia” (Molina 1555, vi r-v).

13 For further information on Nahuatl grammar, see Lockhart 2001 (especially pages 1-30 for conjugation basics).

14 Molina 1555, 33v.

15 Molina 1555, 49r.