7326 - Towards a typology of toponym-topogram correlations in the Mixtec codices

Since the pioneering studies of Caso and Smith, the method for reading places in the codices has been to correlate an etymology of a Mixtec toponym with an interpretation of the complex iconography that constitutes a topogram. The correctness of such readings can then be assessed based on the coherence that results from their narrative, historical and geographical contextualization. Indeed, this contextualization itself may suggest possible toponymic candidates for the topograms, especially when the documentation includes some form of geographic orientation (e.g. the topogram appears in a map or lienzo ).  

The correlation between toponym and topogram itself is fundamentally about the nature of conventional relations between names and signs in the codices. Thanks to decades of work on the pictorial manuscripts, numerous signs have been identified which can be connected to expressions in the Mixtec language. Nevertheless, due to the linguistic diversity of Mixtec as well as its complex phonology (considerably underrepresented in historic orthographies), the conventional relations between Mixtec language and iconographical signs in the codices have remained vague. Phonetic elements in such relations are often described as “near homonyms”, “tone puns”, “shortened forms”, “contractions”, etc.  

In this talk I will advance a preliminary typology of conventional relations between iconographic signs in the Mixtec codices and the Mixtec language, taking into account the language’s complex phonology and its linguistic diversity. I will further argue that such a typology will also help assess proposed readings of places in the codices.

Keywords: linguistics, etymology, Mixtec toponyms

Author: Swanton, Michael (Biblioteca Francisco de Burgoa, Universidad Autónoma "Benito Juárez" de Oaxaca, Mexico / Mexiko)


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