As Alfredo López Austin and Leonardo López Luján point out in their book The Indigenous Past, ancient Mexico never existed as a historical entity. Its limits are artificially fixed from the political borders of our days.
Luis Fernando Lara, linguist.
“Historically, Hispanists have been very separated from indigenists. This separation in the case of Mexico is absurd, because if we want to understand one and the other languages, we have to study them together, we must not separate them”.
It is an observation by the linguist, researcher and academic Luis Fernando Lara, a member of El Colegio Nacional, said at the start of the Historia del español de México 2022 cycle, which was installed in person on Monday night in the Aula Mayor of said institution, in the Historic Center of Mexico City.
It is usually thought that the Spanish of the end of the 15th century, the one that finally prevailed in the American territory, was already a consolidated and generalized unit, just as it is assimilated to a large part of the languages today. However, the also director of the project of the Dictionary of Spanish in Mexico, of El Colegio de México, and National Prize for Sciences and Arts 2013 refuted the conception.
“It seems to me that this is not how we should consider the Castilian of that time, because it was something that was changing (…) the (Iberian) peninsula was a great communicative space, and in it its inhabitants communicated with each other through their different languages: the Spanish, Latin in the church and universities, Aragonese, Valencian Catalan, Galician Portuguese, Basque and Andalusian Arabic to name only the most important. There were individuals who spoke different dialects, but managed to understand each other.”
In the years before and even during the Conquest, different languages were spoken on the peninsula that, however, found points of understanding, perhaps as is the case today with Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. All this created, he said, “a variational space” on Castilian until it became the language that we assimilate today as Spanish. Consequently, he declared, “we cannot think of the existence of a Castilian identical to himself but of one in full evolution, varied in its constitution”.
Likewise, he specified that the popular belief that they were “evildoers” who finally embarked on the ships on their way to the conquest of America is erroneous. From the so-called Casas de Contratación, in Seville, those who could embark for new lands were carefully controlled.
Once permission was obtained, the interested party had to wait months until he was assigned a place on a ship. “In the meantime, they had to survive in Seville as best they could, mixing with the population and possibly assimilating its character and its way of speaking. This is a hypothesis. This fact would have been the main reason why the Spanish that arrived in America had an Andalusian and specifically Sevillian imprint”, postulated the linguist.
Distance from school history
Another “fascinating” phenomenon of this hodgepodge today called Spanish, the referee related, happened already in American territory, beginning with the enigmatic list of translators who accompanied Hernán Cortés on his journey through the territory: Gerónimo de Aguilar, a castaway who he learned Maya during his captivity and translated for him into Spanish, and Malitzin, who spoke Maya and Nahuatl, and when it was necessary to translate from Nahuatl, he did so through the Maya interpreted by De Aguilar.
Luis Fernando Lara pointed out that in order to better understand the process of our history and the development of the Spanish language that defines us today, it is necessary to renounce the idealization of the pre-Hispanic world and the repulsion of the European world, two impositions of the educational systems of the past , and in force in many cases.
“We have to separate ourselves from the school history that we were taught so that we can better appreciate its individuals. We could better appreciate Malinche, for example. Now that they removed Colón from Paseo de la Reforma, I said: why don’t they put Malinche? He is the one who deserves it the most. In other words, we have to recover the humanity of our history and forget about all the caricatures that they taught us.”
The vast pre-Cortesian population
Throughout two hours of applications and temporal and geographical references, the collegiate also demonstrated the relevance of the pre-Columbian past and its geographical distribution for understanding the way in which Spanish subsequently expanded and prevailed throughout the pre-Columbian territory. Likewise, he pointed out an important lack of historical studies on the northern languages, whose cultures tended to disappear even more than those of the center of the country, although the conquest of the north did not take place until the 17th century.
He explained that over 350 years after the Conquest, researchers documented nearly 1,000 names of ethnic groups in the country. “This means that the pre-Cortesian population, in terms of ethnic groups, was enormous. I say this because the canonical history books, made in Spain, used to think that the continent was uninhabited and that the Spanish had arrived and everything had been easily imposed.
Luis Fernando Lara will continue tracing the details of the gestation of the richness of Mexican Spanish throughout five more sessions until next September at El Colegio Nacional.
Friday July 1:
The language of the conquerors
Tuesday, July 19
New Spain: the coexistence of Spanish and Nahuatl
Friday, August 5
Monday August 22
The Nueva Planta Decrees, the Novohispanic Enlightenment and its effects on languages
Friday September 2
Spanish in independent Mexico