Ancient Nahuatl Poetry
It has special recommendations, therefore, to one who would acquaint himself with an American language. The passionate love with which the Nahuas cultivated song, music and the dance is a subject of frequent comment by the historians of Mexico. These arts are invariably mentioned as prominent features of the aboriginal civilization; no public ceremony was complete without them; they were indispensable in the religious services held in the temples; through their assistance the sacred and historical traditions were preserved; and the entertainments of individuals received their chief lustre and charm from their association with these arts.
The profession of the poet stood in highest honor. It was the custom before the Conquest for every town, every ruler and every person of importance to maintain a company of singers and dancers, paying them fixed salaries, and the early writer, Duran, tells us that this custom continued in his own time, long after the Conquest. He sensibly adds, that he can see nothing improper in it, although it was condemned by some of the Spaniards.
We are told that the chief selected the song which was to be sung, and the tune by which it was to be accompanied; and did any one of the choir sing falsely, a drummer beat out of time, or a dancer strike an incorrect attitude, the unfortunate artist was instantly called forth, placed in bonds and summarily executed the next morning! With critics of such severity to please, no wonder that it was necessary to begin the training early, and to set apart for it definite places and regular teachers.
Therefore it was one of the established duties of the teachers in the calmecac or public school, to teach the pupils all the verses of the sacred songs which were written in characters in their books. After the Conquest the Church set its face firmly against the continuance of these amusements.
Few of the priests had the liberal views of Father Duran, already quoted; most of them were of the opinion of Torquemada, who urges the clergy to forbid the singing of the ancient songs, because all of them are full of idolatrous memories, or of diabolical and suspicious allusions of the same character. To take the place of the older melodies, the natives were taught the use of the musical instruments introduced by the Spaniards, and very soon acquired no little proficiency, so that they could perform upon them, compose original pieces, and manufacture most of the instruments themselves.
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To this day the old love of the song and dance continues in the Indian villages; and though the themes are changed, the forms remain with little alteration. Travelers describe the movements as slow, and consisting more in bending and swaying the body than in motions of the feet; while the songs chanted either refer to some saint or biblical character, or are erotic and pave the way to orgies. The Nahuatl word for a song or poem is cuicatl.
It is derived from the verb cuica , to sing, a term probably imitative or onomatopoietic in origin, as it is also a general expression for the twittering of birds. It is evident from these words, all of which belong to the ancient language, that the distinction between the one who composed the poems and those who sang them was well established, and that the Nahuatl poetry was, therefore, something much above mere improvisation, as some have thought. This does not alter the fact that a professed bard usually sang songs of his own composition, as well as those obtained from other sources.
Ancient Nahuatl Poetry
This is obvious from the songs in this collection, many of which contain the expression ni cuicani , I, the singer, which also refers to the maker of the song. In the classical work of Sahagun, the author describes the ancient poet: The worthy singer has a clear mind and a strong memory. He composes songs himself and learns those of others, and is always ready to impart either to the fellows of his craft. He sings with a well-trained voice, and is careful to practice in private before he appears before the public.
The unworthy singer, on the other hand, is ignorant and indolent. Classical Nahuatl had a passive voice also sometimes defined as an impersonal voice  , but this is not found in most modern varieties. However the applicative and causative voices are found in many modern dialects. The following verbal form has two verbal roots and is inflected for causative voice and both a direct and indirect object:. Some Nahuatl varieties, notably Classical Nahuatl, can inflect the verb to show the direction of the verbal action going away from or towards the speaker.
Some also have specific inflectional categories showing purpose and direction and such complex notions as "to go in order to" or "to come in order to", "go, do and return", "do while going", "do while coming", "do upon arrival", or "go around doing". Classical Nahuatl and many modern dialects have grammaticalised ways to express politeness towards addressees or even towards people or things that are being mentioned, by using special verb forms and special "honorific suffixes". Many varieties of Nahuatl have productive reduplication. By reduplicating the first syllable of a root a new word is formed.
In nouns this is often used to form plurals, e.
Some linguists have argued that Nahuatl displays the properties of a non-configurational language , meaning that word order in Nahuatl is basically free. It is prolifically a pro-drop language: it allows sentences with omission of all noun phrases or independent pronouns, not just of noun phrases or pronouns whose function is the sentence subject. In most varieties independent pronouns are used only for emphasis. It allows certain kinds of syntactically discontinuous expressions.
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Michel Launey argues that Classical Nahuatl had a verb-initial basic word order with extensive freedom for variation, which was then used to encode pragmatic functions such as focus and topicality. It has been argued that Classical Nahuatl syntax is best characterised by "omnipredicativity", meaning that any noun or verb in the language is in fact a full predicative sentence.
This prompts the omnipredicative interpretation, which posits that all nouns are also predicates. Nearly years of intense contact between speakers of Nahuatl and speakers of Spanish , combined with the minority status of Nahuatl and the higher prestige associated with Spanish has caused many changes in modern Nahuatl varieties, with large numbers of words borrowed from Spanish into Nahuatl, and the introduction of new syntactic constructions and grammatical categories.
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For example, a construction like the following, with several borrowed words and particles, is common in many modern varieties Spanish loanwords in boldface :. In some modern dialects basic word order has become a fixed subject—verb—object , probably under influence from Spanish. Also, "porque", a conjunction borrowed from Spanish, occurs in the sentence. Many dialects have also undergone a degree of simplification of their morphology that has caused some scholars to consider them to have ceased to be polysynthetic. Many Nahuatl words have been borrowed into the Spanish language , most of which are terms designating things indigenous to the American continent.
Some of these loans are restricted to Mexican or Central American Spanish, but others have entered all the varieties of Spanish in the world. A number of them, such as "chocolate", "tomato" and "avocado" have made their way into many other languages via Spanish.
For instance, in English, two of the most prominent are undoubtedly chocolate [cn 8] and tomato from Nahuatl tomatl. Other common words are coyote from Nahuatl coyotl , avocado from Nahuatl ahuacatl and chile or chili from Nahuatl chilli. The word chicle is also derived from Nahuatl tzictli "sticky stuff, chicle". Some other English words from Nahuatl are: Aztec from aztecatl ; cacao from Nahuatl cacahuatl 'shell, rind' ;  ocelot from ocelotl. Traditionally, Pre-Columbian Aztec writing has not been considered a true writing system, since it did not represent the full vocabulary of a spoken language in the way that the writing systems of the Old World or the Maya Script did.
Therefore, generally Aztec writing was not meant to be read, but to be told. The elaborate codices were essentially pictographic aids for memorizing texts, which include genealogies, astronomical information, and tribute lists. Three kinds of signs were used in the system: pictures used as mnemonics which do not represent particular words , logograms which represent whole words instead of phonemes or syllables , and logograms used only for their sound values i. The Spanish introduced the Latin script , which was used to record a large body of Aztec prose, poetry and mundane documentation such as testaments, administrative documents, legal letters, etc.
In a matter of decades pictorial writing was completely replaced with the Latin alphabet. When Nahuatl became the subject of focused linguistic studies in the 20th century, linguists acknowledged the need to represent all the phonemes of the language. Several practical orthographies were developed to transcribe the language, many using the Americanist transcription system. Among the indigenous languages of the Americas , the extensive corpus of surviving literature in Nahuatl dating as far back as the 16th century may be considered unique.
Ancient Nahuatl Poetry, Containing the Nahuatl Text of XXVII Ancient Mexican Poems
It appears that the preconquest Nahua had a distinction much like the European distinction between " prose " and " poetry ", the first called tlahtolli "speech" and the second cuicatl "song". Nahuatl tlahtolli prose has been preserved in different forms. Annals and chronicles recount history, normally written from the perspective of a particular altepetl locally based polity and often combining mythical accounts with real events.
Many annals recount history year-by-year and are normally written by anonymous authors. These works are sometimes evidently based on pre-Columbian pictorial year counts that existed, such as the Cuauhtitlan annals and the Anales de Tlatelolco. Purely mythological narratives are also found, like the "Legend of the Five Suns ", the Aztec creation myth recounted in Codex Chimalpopoca.
Its volumes cover a diverse range of topics: Aztec history, material culture, social organization, religious and ceremonial life, rhetorical style and metaphors. The twelfth volume provides an indigenous perspective on the conquest itself. This work is like a dragnet to bring to light all the words of this language with their exact and metaphorical meanings, and all their ways of speaking, and most of their practices good and evil. Some songs may have been preserved through oral tradition from pre-conquest times until the time of their writing, for example the songs attributed to the poet-king of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl.
Aztec poetry makes rich use of metaphoric imagery and themes and are lamentation of the brevity of human existence, the celebration of valiant warriors who die in battle, and the appreciation of the beauty of life. The Aztecs distinguished between at least two social registers of language: the language of commoners macehuallahtolli and the language of the nobility tecpillahtolli. The latter was marked by the use of a distinct rhetorical style.
Since literacy was confined mainly to these higher social classes, most of the existing prose and poetical documents were written in this style. An important feature of this high rhetorical style of formal oratory was the use of parallelism ,  whereby the orator structured their speech in couplets consisting of two parallel phrases. For example:. Another kind of parallelism used is referred to by modern linguists as difrasismo , in which two phrases are symbolically combined to give a metaphorical reading.
The sample text below is an excerpt from a statement issued in Nahuatl by Emiliano Zapata in in order to convince the Nahua towns in the area of Tlaxcala to join the Revolution against the regime of Venustiano Carranza. Tlanahuatil Panoloani An Altepeme de non cate itech nin tlalpan de netehuiloya den tlanahuatiani Arenas.
Message to be passed around To the towns that are located in the area that fought under General Arenas. Now, that the dwellers of this earth, of those towns, finish shaking out that black, evil life of the Carrancismo my heart is very happy and with the dignity in the name of those who fight in the ranks, and to you all I send a happy greeting and with all of my heart I invite those towns, those who are there, to join the fight for a righteous mandate to not vainly issue statements, to not allow to be done away with your good way of life.
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We salute those fighters who turn towards this joyous labour and confront the greed in this great war, which can never end, nor will ever end until the end of the black tyrant of that glutton, who mocks and always cheat people and whose name is Venustiano Carranza, who takes the glory out of war and who shames our motherland, Mexico completely dishonouring it.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Nahuatl Aztec, Mexicano of Huejutla de Reyes.
The speech scroll indicates that she is speaking. Language family. Uto-Aztecan Nahuan Nahuatl. Main article: Nahuan languages. Main articles: Nahuan languages and Nahua peoples. For details, see Classical Nahuatl grammar. Main article: Words of Nahuatl origin. Main article: Nahuatl orthography. See also: Aztec writing and Aztec codices. Main article: Mesoamerican literature.
Retrieved 6 July Naoatl, Nauatl, Nahuatl, Nawatl. In a back formation from the name of the language, the ethnic group of Nahuatl speakers are called Nahua. Glosses have been standardized. The use of the suffix -oa on a Spanish infinitive like entender , enabling the use of other Nahuatl verbal affixes, is standard. The sequence lo que tlen combines Spanish lo que 'what' with Nahuatl tlen also meaning 'what' to mean what else 'what'.