To linguistically label, or not

A couple of decisions we’ve made regarding metadata in the NECA database require explanation, and help clarify what we’re aiming for in the project as a whole:

We’ve avoided labeling types of Nahuatl in the documents.

The historical evolution of Nahuan languages, the relationship between Pipil (Nawat) and Nahuatl, and the spread and influence of Nahuatl in Central America are underexplored topics with real-life implications for Indigenous rights, territorial sovereignty, and national identity. Linguists agree on the basic features that differentiate modern Nawat from Nahuatl. Nevertheless, the linguistic heterogeneity of the NECA documents and the varied backgrounds of their authors led us to not assign labels in haste. Indeed, one of the primary aims of NECA is to stimulate conversation about exactly what kinds of Nahuan languages were written and possibly spoken in Central America during the colonial period, where, and for how long.

We’ve excluded Nahuatl documents from neighboring regions such as Oaxaca.

The dialects evident in our Central American documents are sometimes described as “peripheral,” a term also applied to other regional varieties of Nahuatl outside central Mexico. We are isolating Central American Nahuatl and Nawat from these other varieties in order, first, to build a database from the ground up with enough documents from a discrete geographical area to provide useful rather than isolated or idiosyncratic information. Secondly, we want to encourage the comparative regional study of Nahuatl (although it may turn out that what we are positing as a region here will need to be adjusted based on linguistic analysis of the documents). Finally, we want to maintain the project’s focus on historical questions related to the modern-day Indigenous of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.


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