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Creature From My Sink

The creature in the pictures below appeared in my sink this evening. Upon spying it, I was immediately taken aback, because it evaded my attempts to identify it. It greatly resembles a dillapede, and all I can say at this point is it is an invertebrate. It exhibits attributes of being an insect, except for the most obvious fact that it has way more than just six legs. And no, it’s not a caterpillar, because all those spindly appendages are most certainly legs. But neither is it a millipede or centipede, at least not according to appearances. I escorted it outside, but not before taking some pictures.

If you can help me identify this creature, please comment! I am most anxious to know what it is.

UPDATE: Upon consulting Wikipedia, it turns out this critter is a centipede after all, of the order Scutigeromorpha (see Centipede article). Learn something new every day!

Iron Horse, Iron Bird, And Other Entertaining Nahuatl Words

Sometimes I forget that Nahuatl is a Native American language. After all, the people I speak it with are not feathered Indian chiefs riding the plains, nor are they ancient Aztecs who read from pictographic codices and make human sacrifices. They’re just normal, modern people who happen to speak a language that has been handed down to them from time immemorial by their ancestors on this same continent.

But there are a few words that do make me think of it as an “Indian” language. Among them are teposkawayo, tepostototl, and teposkamanali. These are all compound words, and the first element is the word tepostli, which means “iron” or “metal.” You may recognize kawayo as a loan word from the Spanish caballo (horse), and thus you have the Nahuatl word for “car” or “vehicle.” Very clever, eh?

The other two are similar. Tototl means “bird,” so naturally tepostototl is their word for airplane. Finally, kamanali means “word,” “speech,” or “language,” and adding tepostli to the front creates the term they use to refer to a radio.

I always think it’s nice when speakers of various languages coin new words by combining old ones, instead of just borrowing them from mainstream languages. Granted, Nahuatl has its share of Spanish loanwords, but these few iron words demonstrate the language’s flexibility in describing new things in this modern era, technology that Nezahualcoyotl would never have dreamed of.

When Pigs Fly

I found this in one of my memo pads today. No context, no explanation, just this enigmatic sentence:

And hearkening the call of Xukuchotíren, the swine of Xukúxelen mounted up on their great wings, and were borne aloft on the wind to the succour of Dízefen.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of flying pigs, and it seems I worked them into the mythology of one of my fictional nations. Maybe I’ll finish the story someday!

“Those Who Speak Nahuatl Are Worth More”

That’s what my Mexican friend said, at least. Add to that the French proverb, “Une personne qui parle deux langues vaut deux personnes,” and I’m on my way to being quite valuable!

At any rate, I’ve got Nahuatl on the brain (a good thing, by the way), and I thought I would explain something that few know about this enigmatic language. You see, it’s actually a bit misleading to refer to Nahuatl as a language, because it is actually a family of closely related but widely varying dialects. Back during the Aztec Empire, Classical Nahuatl was the lingua franca of the meso-American peoples, but after the conquest, Spanish took control, and even though people still spoke Nahuatl, it started to fragment due to its relegation to a local instead of national language. That’s why today we see a great many dialects of Nahuatl scattered across the nation, and some vary to the point of being mutually unintelligible.

Of course the classification of these dialects is somewhat artificial, a thing invented by curious linguists. I have been studying Western Huasteca Nahuatl (NHW), because that’s what they speak in the Huasteca of San Luis Potosí. There is another very closely related dialect to the east, called by the linguists “Eastern Huasteca Nahuatl” (NHE).

When I first started talking to the Nahuatl speakers here in Georgia, I immediately noticed that they didn’t talk quite the same way as I was used to. For example, to say “I don’t know” in NHW, you would say Amo nijmati. However, these folks are from the state of Hidalgo, and they say Ax nijmati. From my studies, I thought that the use of ax instead of amo was a sure sign that these people were speaking the eastern dialect. I was OK with learning a different dialect, although I somewhat dreaded having trouble switching back and forth when I actually went to Mexico. But I am happy to report that upon further conversation, I have discovered that my Hidalgo friends’ language is much more western than eastern.

This only goes to show that those lines linguists draw between dialects are somewhat arbitrary, and certainly not objective. I have a map in one of my Nahuatl books that shows such a line, with a different shade for each dialect, but I imagine it is actually more of a gradient. And in the case of my friends from Hidalgo, their speech uses elements from both dialects.

I hope that didn’t bore you; personally I find it fascinating! Stay tuned for more news from my Nahuatl adventure in the near future.

A New Language Mission: Nahuatl

When I decided to move to Georgia, I knew I wasn’t just moving to another culturally homogeneous southern city. I had been there, and seen all the Koreans and their many Hangul signs along the roads. I fancied myself as moving to a mini Korea, where I could immerse myself in their culture and learn a lot along the way.

I was right, but I also far underestimated the linguistic diversity of this Atlanta suburb. Let me tell you about this place where I live.

When you turn off the main highway through town to get to my apartment complex, you’ll see a shopping center with business names in Korean, Spanish, Chinese, and English. When I walk to work every day, I hear Spanish, and go past signs in Chinese and Korean. But this is only scratching the surface! Go into some of the apartments of the Mexicans who live here, and a whole new linguistic world is revealed. Many of them speak Nahuatl, and others speak Mixtec, Otomi, and various other indigenous Native American languages. Yes, if I was looking for Multilingual U.S.A., I have found it!

But one language at a time, here. When I first got to Georgia, I started learning Korean. Not by talking to the people, but just getting the basics down first, studying on my own. I hadn’t gotten very far when I moved to this apartment, and since I will be returning to Mexico in November, I decided to put Korean on hold for now, and really focus on Nahuatl. My goal is this: to reach a conversational level in Nahuatl by the end of November. I currently speak it very haltingly, and when I hear it, I can only understand a little. “Four months is plenty for a mission of this size,” I thought, for I began this mission a month ago. I thought about asking around to see if anyone knew of anyone who spoke Nahuatl, but I wasn’t very optimistic. “Nahuatl in Georgia? That’s absurd!”

But very soon I found out I was mistaken, and I have just returned from my next door neighbours’ apartment where nearly everyone speaks Nahuatl, with much encouragement, and a promise that I can come by any time and practice!

As you can imagine, I am elated. Just think of the consequences of this fact:

  • I have a very good chance of reaching my mission if I take advantage of the proximity of native speakers to practice with
  • I have a chance to use my interest in the language to build relationships and shine Christ’s light
  • Because I live in a place where Nahuatl is spoken, I can actually add this language to those that I use on a daily basis, and not just whenever I go to Mexico (once or twice a year).

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I am really busy right now with preaching, teaching, and website building, but I know I will make time for what’s important to me, and if I’m motivated enough, I can be conversational in Nahuatl by November. ¡Ma tiyakaj!