Sunday, March 28, 2010

History of My Life, Part II (in Nahuatl)

On and off I've been working on my "autobiography" using Nahuatl (Aztec) hieroglyphs for a few years now. It'd be somewhat like Mixtec manuscripts documenting the history of various towns in pre-Columbian Oaxaca, but using Nahuatl naming conventions. But since my Nahuatl is pretty rudimentary and the Nahuatl writing system isn't that well-understood, my progress is pretty glacial.

Two years ago I started the whole thing by figuring out how to write names of various local places that I've lived in Nahuatl, which I've detailed in History of My Life, Part III (in Nahuatl). I only managed to translate the names of two places, namely Mountain View (my hometown) and San Francisco, the nearest big city (and which I tell people is where I'm from when I'm not in California since Mountain View will draw blank stares):



The first glyph is that of San Francisco, phonetically transcribed using Nahuatl syllabograms because the meaning of San Francisco would be difficult to represent.

In case of Mountain View, I translated its name to Nahuatl as Tepetlachiayan, which written in a mixture of logograms and syllabograms. I actually made up a logogram for tlachia, "to see", by overloading the sign for "eye" and attaching a phonetic complement of tla (the set of teeth) on top of it to yield the reading of tlachia "to see" instead of ixco "eye".

My next attempt is to translate the other places I've lived. I spent my first ten years of life living in Hong Kong (香港), which in fact translates as "Port of Incense" in English. So I translate that into Nahuatl as Copalacaltecoyan, which is actually composed of copal ("incense"), acal(li) ("canoe"), teca ("to put something"), and -yan (location suffix). Probably not the best Nahuatl but what the hey, it got the job done.

On the left is Hong Kong, written in a mixture of logograms and syllabograms to spell out Copalacaltecoyan. Both copal and acal(li) are written in logograms, but when it came to write the verbal conjugation teco, I decided to fully use phonetic signs, but with a twist. The sign for the sound te is a stylized stone with wavy lines, and that of ko is a pot. I could've written a stone with a pot, but instead I combined or conflated the two signs into a single sign that looks like a pot made of stylized stone.



The next place I lived was Costa Rica, which means "rich coast" in Spanish. The Nahuatl name is Necuiltonolanahuac. While the second component, anahuac, has a well-known glyph as it means a body of water, the first part, necuiltonol- is actually a complex verbal conjugation from the root cuilonoa which means "to become rich" and completely stumped me as to how to represent it in Nahuatl glyphs.

Eventually after much futile research I just gave up and decided to write the name of the city that I lived in, San José. Once again, like San Francisco, I'll have to phonetically transcribe that using Nahuatl syllabograms. San José is written using the syllabograms sa-xo-se. First of all, Nahuatl writing doesn't write consonants at the end of syllables, and that's why "San" is written with only sa. Also, Nahuatl of the 16th century does not have the 21st century Spanish sound represented by the letter j (so called uvular fricative), I went for the closest sound, "sh" as in English "ship", represented by the 16th-century Spanish letter x. Modern transcription of Nahuatl in the Roman alphabet retains the letter x and so is used also in academic works.

The Nahuatl syllabary can be found at old Ancient Scripts preview at LiveJournal, or in real academic works:
This is all I got for now. Next time we should get to Part I, which would be my name.

2 comments:

  1. I hope this short note of thanks for your great explanation and demonstration of "Romanized" Nahuatl script/manuscripts gets through to you. I would like to bolster your style of presentation. Have you ever followed the discussion on Nick Pelling's Cipher Mysteries blog in re the "Voynich" manuscript (aka: Boenicke mss 408) ?
    PS: Back in the 1980's I worked for the City of San Jose CA (Clerk's Office and Attorney's Office) You might like to know that the San Jose Historical Museum has an undecipherable 'Spanish' document. More later if you reply.....bdid1dr

    ReplyDelete
  2. I hope this short note of thanks for your great explanation and demonstration of "Romanized" Nahuatl script/manuscripts gets through to you. I would like to bolster your style of presentation. Have you ever followed the discussion on Nick Pelling's Cipher Mysteries blog in re the "Voynich" manuscript (aka: Boenicke mss 408) ?
    PS: Back in the 1980's I worked for the City of San Jose CA (Clerk's Office and Attorney's Office) You might like to know that the San Jose Historical Museum has an undecipherable 'Spanish' document. More later if you reply.....bdid1dr

    ReplyDelete