Christianizing the Nahua

Unidentified Author
Trilingual manuscript copy of Antonio de Nebrija’s Dictionarium ex Hispaniensi in Latinum sermonem
Central Mexico, ca. 1540

Antonio Nebrija’s Grammar and Dictionary was the first systematic study of the Spanish language. His methodology, derived from scholarly studies of Latin, provided a linguistic model that Spanish missionaries applied to the study of indigenous languages and utilized when creating an alphabetic version of Nahuatl.

This handwritten copy of Nebrija’s printed dictionary is trilingual—Nahuatl (in red ink) has been added to the original Spanish and Latin. Although the author is not identified by name, he is believed to be a native Nahuatl speaker. Scholar Mary L. Clayton finds evidence of this in the way that the author translated certain Spanish language expressions and phrases. Indigenous authorship indicates that this manuscript dictionary was for use by other Nahuatl speakers, not by native Spanish speakers.

Newberry Library: Vault Ayer MS 1478

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