Article published in:Quot homines tot artes: New Studies in Missionary Linguistics
Edited by Otto Zwartjes and E.F.K. Koerner †
[Historiographia Linguistica 36:2/3] 2009
► pp. 345–360
Translating Non-Denominational Concepts in Describing a Religious System
A semantic analysis of colonial dictionaries in Nahuatl and Yucatec
In an earlier article (Pharo 2007), the author investigated how Spanish ethnographer-missionaries and missionary-linguists of the Colonial period translated the concept of ‘religion’ into various indigenous Mesoamerican languages. In the present article, he concedes that “assorted Mesoamerican notions may well together, as a family of concepts, be subordinated to the abstract superior concept of ‘religion’. Other relevant modern Spanish concepts like ‘sagrado’, ‘creencia’, ‘ritual’ and ‘costumbre’ etc. can thus be studied in the dictionaries.” In particular ‘costumbre’ (“custom”, “habit”) proves to be a central word among present-day Mesoamericans, not only to circumscribe their own religious practice, but also to designate ‘religion’ as well. As a result, the author, this time, analyses Spanish concepts associated with religion – but not exclusively with Christianity, i.e., neutral religious notions are the object of the analysis – translated into Nahuatl and Yucatec as recorded in colonial period dictionaries. The general hypothesis is that the dictionaries, in particular the Vocabulario (1555 and 1571) by the Franciscan Alonso de Molina (1514–1585), constituted a pedagogical strategy of transculturation at this early stage of the mission, not a radical linguistic attempt at acculturation, in order to transmit the unfamiliar Christian notions (such as conversion) to the natives of Mesoamerica.
Published online: 02 December 2009
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