UCLA Brings Aztec From the Past into the Present

vector illustration sketch drawing aztec pattern cacao tree, mayans, cacao beans and decorative borders yellow, red, green, brown, grey colors on white background
aztec chocolate pattern

In an interesting combination of art and language, a UCLA professor is leading the research for an Aztec text.

UCLA historian, Kevin Terraciano, is working with art experts at the Getty Center in collaboration with Italy’s Laurentian Library in Florence to create an online, annotated version of the ancient Florentine Codex —an Aztec text written in Nahuatl dating from 1577. There is only one copy of the codex currently in existence, so the creation of an online version will make the text accessible to both the public, and also the very descendants of Aztecs living in Mexico.

Terrancino has been at the forefront of research in Nahuatl. As director of the Latin American Institute, he had a large part in bringing Nahuatl to classrooms in UCLA. According to the UCLA Newsroom, the historian says that most Mexicans consider Nahuatl the language of ancient Mexico.

Currently, varieties of Nahuatl are spoken by an estimate 1.5 million Nahua peoples, many of whom live in central Mexico. During the period before the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, the language was something of a coda franca of Mexico. The language also began to be used in literary instances, with many chronicles, grammars, works of poetry, administrative documents, and codices like the Florentine Codex. Generally the language was distributed orally, not visually. However, some researchers argue that the Aztecs had developed a sufficient means of visual representation of the language shortly before the Spanish Inquisition.

While the language is currently spoken widely in Mexico, and hints of it can be seen even in English (avocado, coyote, chili, coyote and tomoto all come from Nahuatl), it is not often studied or taught in Mexico or the United States. The move to digitize the codex is emblematic of a move to not only make ancient Nahuatl resources more accessible to speakers of the language, but also to move the indigenous language into academia.

 

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