Friday 6 April 2012

Intense Seeing in Nahuatl

The English language is enormously flexible, but in order to describe intensity we generally need to bring together two or three separate words; heavy rain, deafening roar, blinding light. Linguistically this is rather inelegant when we compare English with language systems that have special and direct ways of expressing intensity. 

For example, the Nahuatl languages and dialects of the Uto-Aztecan language family of Mesoamerica have an special `intensive' aspectual category in their language that indicates something has great intensity; 

Nahuatl, like many languages, employs reduplication to signal the intensive aspect ... the root itta means `see', but in reduplicated form, iita, means stare, as staring is equivalent to intense seeing. William Frawley. Linguistic Semantics. 1992. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Hillsdale, New Jersey. 
This Nahuatl word iita is a handy shorthand for intense seeing

An image of a Nahua woman from the Florentine Codex. The speech scroll indicates that she is speaking.