3172 - Aztec Phonetic Glyphs in Early Colonial Pictorials

A large sixteenth-century colonial corpus exists of "Aztec" phonetic glyphs, distributed among several pictorial codices. Concentrations of these interesting glyphs are embedded in Books 9 and 10 of the Florentine Codex, and also occur abundantly especially in codices deriving from the eastern part of the Basin of Mexico and beyond. This paper asserts that phonetic elements were used in pre-Columbian codices (such as the Matricula de Tributos, arguably pre-Columbian), and then continued to be used and adapted to new contexts in colonial times. A study of these glyphs brings up some intriguing questions: What kind of information was conveyed through these glyphs and are there any patterns to that information? Why did the native scribes choose these devices to communicate specific details contained (or not) in the texts? Why are they dense in some parts (such as the Florentine Codex's section on featherworking) and rare in others? What do the glyphs tell us about the scribes, their backgrounds, their intentions and their interactions with the Spanish world? This paper presents some new translations of these phonetic glyphs and examines their uses and styles across a variety of different pictorial texts.

Keywords: Aztecs, glyphic writing, codices

Author: Berdan, Frances (California State University San Bernardino, Ud States of Am / USA)


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