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4938 - Noble subjects. The usage of the Nahuatl term pillotl in colonial written sources.

The Nahuatl term pillotl used to be understood as two separate nouns acting in different semantic spheres. When possessed, -pillo used to be thought to be a kin term with the meaning of ‘niece or nephew of a woman.’ On the other hand, its absolutive form has been interpreted as an abstract noun ‘nobility,’ derived from pilli , or noble. However, the contextual analysis of a number of attestations for pillotl in colonial Nahuatl written sources sheds new light on this term. Pillotl seems to form a coherent concept developed to describe a special kind of subordination in both family and broader social areas. Moreover, on both morphological and semantic grounds it is firmly associated with pilli which is known to act concurrently as a kin term (‘child’) and an indicator of social status. Such conclusions were allowed for by adopting an interdisciplinary approach that combined linguistic, philological, ethnohistorical and anthropological research methods. Different genres of written sources provided different contexts that were juxtaposed in order to obtain the fullest possible perspective on the term. Alongside indigenous texts, the works of Spanish grammaticians were taken into account. The ecclesiastics provided yet another ways of understanding pillotl by having translated it into their own cultural terms. In this paper I attempt to confront all these different perspectives with the purpose of showing how pillotl could have been functioning in prehispanic times and how it was then being interpreted in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Keywords: Nahuatl, kin terms, family, social hierarchy

Author: Madajczak, Julia (University of Warsaw, Poland / Polen)

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