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Language or Dialect?

In linguistic circles, there is much discussion over the definitions of language and dialect. It may be generalized that a language is made up of dialects, which are simply regional variants of the same tongue, but even here there is controversy. What about Chinese, a language spoken by millions in the world’s largest country? Among the Chinese dialects, some have drifted so far that mutual comprehension is no longer possible. Serbian and Croatian may also be considered, which although by all outward appearances may be considered one language, are spoken by two countries separated by religion and orthography.

So where do you draw the line? When does a dialect cease its dependence and become a full-fledged language? While I was among the Aztecs in San Luis Potosรญ, Mexico, I heard yet another explanation from a bilingual preacher there.

Nahuatl, he said, is not a language like Spanish or English, because of its variability. He cited two synonymous words in Nahuatl, the one being used only in that place, and the other heard in another village. In short, I believe he was essentially pointing out the disunity among the many variants of Nahuatl. Whereas English and Spanish both have standard forms understood by everyone, no such form of Nahuatl exists, only many different accents and differences in vocabulary across Mexico. Thus, when referring to Nahuatl in Spanish, the Mexicans will say el dialecto nรกhuatl instead of using the word idioma or lengua.

So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth.ย  Personally, I would consider Nahuatl as a language and its variants as dialects, but in Spanish I will refer to it as a dialect, for “when in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do.”


Xilitla municipality

Christians at TlapexmecayoAfter having driven several more miles through the mountains of the Huasteca that Sunday afternoon, we came to our next stop: the meeting-place of the congregation in the small Aztec town of Tlapexmecayo. We were quite grateful to the Christians there for waiting on us, since we were running behind. They were most gracious for waiting to have their worship service when we arrived, even though we had previously worshiped with the El Caรฑรณn congregation.

When we arrived, we were heartily greeted by the preacher there, and we were soon led to the meetingplace. Even though this group of Christians did not have a building, they were content to meet under a pavilion, under which there was only enough room for about half of them. The rest stood or sat on benches, and the preacher led the service from under the pavilion.

One thing I noticed was that the preacher did nearly the whole service, except for one of the prayers which he asked brother Josรฉ to lead (which he did entirely in Nahuatl, I may add!). Apparently the men present didn’t know how to lead various parts of worship, or weren’t confortable with it. Of course for all I know they were relatively new Christians!

Although I don’t remember the sermon topic, it was sound and biblical, as well as bilingual. It was actually a bit difficult for me to follow the preacher, since he kept switching between Nahuatl and Spanish. I noticed that he used a good number of Spanish words in his Nahuatl (mostly religious words), and upon asking him afterwards I learned that these are actually loanwords from Spanish, understood by all the Nahuatl speakers. Read More

Do you speak Mexican?

Brothers in ChristSometimes when my Grandpa talks about the Spanish-speaking people in Texas, he says they “talk Mexican.” While this is “incorrect” usage (they speak the same language in Spain, you know), if you go to Mexico you’ll find that they do use the term mexicano to refer to a language–Nahuatl, to be precise.

Nahuatl is the most widely-spoken indigenous tongue in Mexico, and is the native language of the Aztec people who once had a wide-stretching empire and a glorious capital city (Tenochtitlรกn) where Mexico City now stands. When reading histories of the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish conquistadores, you often get the impression that after the Aztecs were conquered, they just disappeared. However, this is far from the truth. This people is still alive and well, and although they have abandoned many of their traditions, their language still lives on and is in no danger of extinction.

Although Nahuatl is often treated as a single language, it has many variations and dialects in different regions, not to mention Classical Nahuatl which was spoken in ancient times. There are quite a few resources for Nahuatl to be found on the internet (although most are in Spanish), but nevertheless I have found nothing for the particular dialect that I encountered, Western Huasteca Nahuatl. Thus, I hope that the following words and phrases will be useful to anyone who may be going to the Huasteca and wants to be at least a bit knowledgeable of the native dialect. Read More

El Caรฑรณn

Xilitla municipality

In the clouds

Sunday morning found us on the highway south, headed to the Xilitla municipality. This part of San Luis Potosรญ was very near the state line of Querรฉtaro, but we did not go that far south. Instead we headed up into the green mountains, and forsaking the paved highway the van slowly crawled along the rocky roads along the slopes. I refrain from saying “dirt roads” because this would be misleading–the roads were paved with quite large rocks, making any speed whatsoever in a vehicle quite difficult. As we saw various people crossing the road as they took the footpaths through the hills, I could not help but envy them. How much I wished I could be out on the trails, taking a faster pace but also being able to enjoy God’s creation up close. But I was confined to the van, so I was content.

These mountains are not as rugged as those of central Mexico, and are probably not as high due to their close proximity to the ocean. They reminded me much of the Appalachians, since they were all green and covered with foliage. Beneath this outer covering, however, they are solid rock. As we followed the meandering road, mist overhung the mountains and we were soon in the clouds. Across the valley we were able to see the town of Xilitla–the chief city of that region–and all along the way the scenery was beautiful. There were numerous cattle grazing on the mountainsides, and as I watched the verdant landscape with occasional stone fences and steps, I could almost fancy myself in Ireland or Scotland.

At long last we turned off the road and came up to a concrete building painted turquoise on the front. As I read the words Iglesia de Cristo on the front, I knew we had arrived. We were running behind schedule, but since Mexicans are wont to do this as well, I’m sure no one minded waiting on us. Quite a few people came out to greet us, even with a holy kiss. Though this may seem odd, it is the custom of some, and it is certainly Biblical. Read More

Signs of Mexico

While travelling in Mexico, I discovered an amusing pastime of watching roadsigns and taking pictures of them. From what I gather it seems that in the past they’ve had trouble with someone abducting the signs; what do you think?

No Destruya Las Seรฑales “No Destruya las Seรฑales,” that is, “Don’t Destroy the Signs.”

Obedezca las Seรฑales “Obedezca las Seรฑales,” which means “Obey the Signs.”

Cinturones de Seguridad son ObligatoriosYes, you have to wear your seatbelt, even in Mexico! (In fact I would recommend it, seeing how some people drive down there.)

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