Yale to Offer Program Teaching the Nahuatl Language

Yale University’s Summer Language Institute will offer – for the first time – a program in Nahuatl, an indigenous language spoken from northern Mexico to El Salvador. Yale is the only place in the United States where Nahuatl will be taught this summer, according to K. David Jackson, chair of the Council on Latin American Studies, which is sponsoring the program with funding from a federal Title VI grant. The Institute, open to undergraduates, graduate students and scholars, will be held June 15-Aug. 7 under the auspices of the Yale Summer Programs.

Nahuatl predates Christopher Columbus, when it was the common language shared among several native cultures. During the Spanish conquest, it became the language through which Europeans and indigenous peoples communicated in Mexico. Today, there are about 1 million Nahuatl speakers and a vast body of written literature, including poetry, historical accounts, court documents and mythology. Historically it was one of the most important New World languages and remains of importance to linguists, anthropologists, historians and scholars of Meso-America.

“Being able to offer an indigenous language of Latin America gives much added depth to our Council, as well as supporting studies of Mexican and Central American ancient civilizations at Yale,” says Jackson. “Our plans are to offer two years of Nahuatl by summer of 1999, and we plan to put a large part of the course on CD ROM and on video. ”

The program at Yale will include three hours of language instruction a day, five hours of language laboratory a week, sessions with native speakers, and a series of workshops featuring world-renowned scholars in the field of Nahuatl language and culture. Students will earn six hours of course credit from Yale Summer Programs.

Program coordinator and language instructor will be Jonathan Amith, an anthropologist who lived for five years in the Nahuatl-speaking communities of Ameyaltepec and Oapan in Mexico. He is author of “The Amate Tradition: Innovation and Dissent in Mexican Art” (1994), articles about the Nahuatl language, and a forthcoming comprehensive dictionary of the Ameyaltepec dialect of Nahuatl.

“Nahuatl is a seldom-taught but important language,” Amith says, noting that in any given year, only one or two universities in the United States offer instruction in the language. “Yale’s institute is a unique opportunity to work in-depth with three visiting scholars, who are the leading experts in their field.”

The eight-week program will incorporate three intensive one-week seminars with scholars in Nahuatl language and culture: Michel Launey, from the Universite de Paris; Una Canger, University of Copenhagen; and Karen Dakin, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

Professor Launey is an expert in classical Nahuatl and theoretical linguistics. He has written the definitive “Introduction a la langue et a la litterature azteques” and has conducted fieldwork in the modern dialect of Milpa Alta. He is director of the linguistic section of the National Scientific Research Center in France.

Una Canger specializes in Nahuatl dialectology and historical linguistics and has conducted extensive fieldwork in Nahuatl-speaking communities of Guerrero and northern Mexico for over 20 years. For over 15 years she has worked on the Copenhagen Nahuatl Dictionary Project, a computer database of classical and colonial texts.

Karen Dakin’s expertise encompasses Uto-Aztecan and historical linguistics, particularly Nahuatl phonology and morphology. She has done fieldwork in Santa Catarina, Morelos; has directed the Seminario de Lenguas Indigenas de la Universidad Nacional Autonomia de Mexico, and edited the English-language version of “Thelma Sullivan’s Compendium of Nahuatl Grammar.”

Guest lecturers will include Rolena Adorno, professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Yale; Mary Miller, chair and professor of art history at Yale; Louise Burkhart (SUNY Albany), expert in colonial religious texts; and Dana Leibsohn (Smith College), expert in mapping and indigenous artistic traditions.

The Nahuatl Summer Language Institute is sponsored by Yale University Summer Programs, the Center for Latin American Studies of the University of Chicago, and by the Latin American Studies Consortium of New Enland, a Title VI partnership between the universities of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Brown and Yale.

The Latin American Studies Consortium of New England, designated a National Resource Center, is one of only 14 centers in the nation to receive U.S. Department of Education funding.

For application materials and further information, check the website at http://www.yale.edu/nahuatl or contact the Nahuatl Summer Language Institute at the Council on Latin American Studies, Yale Center for International and Area Studies, Yale University, P. O. Box 208206, New Haven, CT 06520-8206; call (203) 432-3422; or send e-mail to latin.america@yale.edu

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325