Quot homines tot artes: New Studies in Missionary Linguistics
  • ISSN 0302-5160
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9781
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In 1756 Joseph Zepherino Botello Movellán (1734–c.1785) wrote the Cathecismo breve en lengua tarasca (“Brief catechism in the Tarascan language”). It was written in Purepecha or Tarascan, an indigenous language spoken in the northwestern part of the state of Michoacan, Mexico, by about 100,000 people. This is the only known 18th-century religious document written in this language, thus its great importance. Botello includes four word lists in his catechism which give us a small vocabulary. The word lists clearly do not have the extensive coverage or the lexicographic importance of the dictionaries of the 16th century; however, the value of this hand-written vocabulary lies in the fact that there is nothing else comparable from the 18th century. The composition and content of Botello’s catechism, produced by a typical member of the illustrious Creole class, it has features characteristic of the end of the century.
In this paper, I describe the principal characteristics of Botello’s catechism with its four lexical lists, in particular that of body parts. A point of reference for my analysis is the list of body parts in the Arte y Diccionario: con otras obras en lengua Michoacana by Juan Bautista de Lagunas, OFM (fl.1539–1574, d.1604) of 1574. The Catechism gives us a good idea of Purepecha in the 18th century and its historical development. The language in the document shows it to be closer to that of the 16th century than it is to modern Purepecha. It suggests that Spanish prepositions were possibly introduced in the 18th century. Botello’s catechism contains much interesting information on a variety of topics, such as orthography, dialectal variations, derivational processes, loan words and semantic relations. The language in this document documents the grammaticalization of the plural markers. Some data for the Spanish of the 18th century are also presented.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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