Posted by: ayac | January 15, 2016

Latin-Nahuatl code-switching?

From the Codex Carolino (italics as in the source):

Quedam mulier senex dixit quando hispani maxitico ye nicuiloni. l. nicuilontic quasi diceret iam eram corrupta.

Maxitico ye nicuiloni literally means “(he/she/it/they) arrived here; I am already a non-virgin”. That makes little sense on its own, and quando hispani “when Spaniards” is not even a complete clause. The only way I can make sense of this is if quando hispani maxitico is a single bilingual clause, meaning “when the Spaniards arrived here”. It’s as if the writer got two words into the quotation before he realized he was supposed to be using Nahuatl.

Here’s the whole sentence, with underlines indicating words corresponding to Nahuatl, lack of an underline indicating Latin:

A certain old woman said, “When the Spaniards arrived here, I was already a non-virgin“, or “I had already become a non-virgin“, as if she had said, “I had already been defiled”.

This is also interesting because it shows the word cuiloni (literally “one that gets taken”) being used to describe females, which is otherwise only known to describe male homosexuals (and the god Tezcatlipoca).

Another slightly less clear example of possible code-switching from the same text:

Mexicani dicebant itonal Motecuzoma tlalli quemdam iter [sic; read inter] Tenochtitlan et Cuyoacan.

The Mexica called a certain [piece of] land between Tenochtitlan and Coyoacán “Motecuzoma’s lot“.

Here it seems like quemdam “a certain” is modifying tlalli “land”. Even if iter “road” is actually intended rather than inter “between”, ×quemdam iter is ungrammatical because the genders don’t agree. (And iter Tenochtitlan et Cuyoacan would still not make sense.)

In both examples it seems like the writer intended to switch to Nahuatl just for the quotation and then switch back to Latin, but occasionally got stuck in the wrong language, delaying the switch by a word or two.


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