Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Nahuatlatos y familias de intérpretes en el México colonial

Icíar Alonso, Jesús Baigorri, Gertrudis Payàs


The colonisation of the American continent in general, and of Mexico in particular, brought with it an enormous amount of essentially oral intercultural contacts between the European colonisers and the Mexicans. The reconstruction of these contacts is confronted with the scarcity of historical written sources. Those texts reflect events known by the authors through the oral translation by mediators, but they usually omit references to their primary source and interpreters normally remain invisible. This paper evokes the historical context of official interpreters in New Spain and the characterization of their trade during the 16th and 17th centuries. It traces the social origins and the functions of the nahuatlatos and interpreters appointed by courts in New Spain and it mentions some members of noble families, both indigenous and mestizos, who played a privileged role thanks to their linguistic and cultural skills. It also gives examples of other Spaniards and mestizos of less noble ancestry who used their interpreting job as a way to improve their status in a society where language was yet another instrument of power. Finally, mention is made of the possible medieval precedents of those professionals, emphasizing the hereditary nature and the regulation of a trade, that of the alfaqueques, whose role of mediators is documented in Spain and Portugal several centuries before.

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