Quot homines tot artes: New Studies in Missionary Linguistics
  • ISSN 0302-5160
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9781
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This article offers a treatment of the linguistic category ‘adjective’ that appears in two colonial sources, both written by Fray Juan de Córdova, O.P. in 1578: the Arte del idioma zapoteco and the Vocabulario en lengua çapoteca. Juan de Córdova was a Dominican friar, born in Córdoba, Spain in probably 1501. In 1543, Juan de Córdova was ordained at the Convento Imperial de México and later was sent to the Dominican Monastery of Oaxaca. He served as Province Minister for two years — from 1568 to 1570 — and later he continued to be a missionary among the Zapotec, when he wrote his great work on their language. Toward the end of his life, Juan de Córdova returned to Oaxaca and died in the Dominican Monastery of Old Antequera in 1595.
Based on the description of the category of the adjective, as proposed by Córdova and the analysis of the language as is currently spoken, particularly in the area of Santa Ana del Valle, Oaxaca, the author will show that the grammatical class proposed by Córdova was not actually formed as such during the period he describes. It will be shown, based on the analysis of two colonial texts — the testamentos by Gabriel Luis (1610) and Juan López (1618) — that the words that Cordova calls adjectives not only occur with very low-frequency but, more crucially, their categorization as adjectives has been due to their role in the Spanish translations more than to their grammatical characteristics. These two testaments had been compiled, with other testaments and documents of several kinds, namely as documents in a legal suit concerning a site named Gueguecahui. It is relevant to mention that testaments are not very reliable kind of document for a syntactic analysis of the language, since they have a very rigid structure that apparently mimics the schema used in testaments written in Spanish. Nevertheless, they can show that the attributive modification function is seldom used, and the cases found do not support that these expressions really pertain to the syntactic category of adjectives.
Furthermore, the analysis of adjectives as currently used in the Zapotec of Santa Ana del Valle shows that, more often than not, they do not correspond to adjectives but indeed verbs in Cordova’s Vocabulario. This affirmation is based on a comparative analysis of some adjectives in modern Zapotec of Santa Ana del Valle with related words given adjectival meanings in Cordova´s Vocabulario. In conclusion there is not enough evidence of the existence of adjective category in 16th-century Zapotec.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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