Monday, July 20, 2009

Hablando Español huan niquitica ica nahuatl (and speaking English, too)

This summer, Rivers teachers are embarking on a variety of activities through the school’s faculty enrichment grants, which aim to promote the intellectual growth of Rivers teachers through research, education, and other independent projects. Today, we hear from Ben Leeming, who is traveling to Zacatecas, Mexico to study the Uto-Aztecan language of Nahuatl.

One of the challenges of this summer has been navigating three languages, typically at the same time. Here's an example. In my afternoon classes I am studying the form of Nahuatl that was spoken and written during the 16th through the 18th centuries in Mexico, usually referred to as classical Nahuatl. In the class as students are not only Mexicans and estadounidenses (United-Statesians), but a number of the native-speaking instructors who teach the modern form of the language in the morning classes. Our teacher is the director of the program, John Sullivan, who is an Irish-Catholic native of Lowell, MA who has lived in Zacatecas for 30 years and is also fluent in Nahuatl. The result ends up looking like this: the majority of the class is taught in Spanish, however, some students ask questions in English, which in turn John answers in Spanish or Nahuatl. The native speakers ask questions to John in Nahuatl, which very few of us can understand well enough to follow, and John then answers in Nahuatl and then Spanish. The homework assignments and tests all have directions written in Nahuatl, but our answers may be written in Spanish or English depending on our preference. Whew! Outside of class, the situation is similar. A typical interaction might sound something like this:

"Piyali." (Hello.)
"Queniuhqui tiitztoc?" (How are you?)
"Bien" (Fine.)
"How was your weekend?"
"Good. We went to see La Quemada (an archaeological site nearby). ¿Y tú? (And you?)
"Nada mucho. Me descansé y estudié para el exámen hoy." (Not much. I rested and studied for the test today."
"Timoittazceyoc." (See you later.)
"Piyali." (Adiós.)

Sometimes my tongue gets completely tied in knots. Often I feel like I am speaking all three languages poorly and walk away from an interchange like the one above shaking my head and thinking, "What an idiot I must be!" Still, it's invigorating and challenging...which is invigorating and challenging. Time is flying by with just two weeks left in Mexico!

1 comment:

Tolteca said...

From Owen Thomas in San Miguel de Allende.
Tell John that the greeting used by my friends from Guerrero is "nextili" and finish is "totasque". They also like other variations of the language and call themselvees aztecs.