The Fun Side of Discursive Traditions and Colonial History

The study of discursive traditions reveals the cultural history embodied in language. Research explores colonial documentation, unveiling linguistic nuances between Spanish and indigenous languages. These words offer insights into our past, guiding our understanding of contemporary communication.

The Fun Side of Discursive Traditions and Colonial History
Idanely Mora Peralta, engrossed in her study of ancient colonial documents, bridging the linguistic gap between past and present. Credit: UNAM

The study of discursive traditions – the patterns and practices of speech within a community – holds immense importance from both linguistic and sociocultural perspectives. According to Idanely Mora Peralta, an academic from the Institute of Philological Research at UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), these traditions shed light on the “cosmovision” or worldview of a society.

More than just Words

Languages aren't just systems of sounds and symbols; they're embodiments of cultural histories and shared experiences. “Languages, beyond their morphosyntactic structure, are carriers of culture and history,” Mora Peralta stated in a recent interview.

Her ongoing research, titled “Hispanic discursive traditions in Novo-Hispanic territory”, delves deep into the diachronic (over time) and diatopic (geographical) variations of languages. Take Mexican Spanish, for instance. A single word for 'sweetener' varies dramatically across regions – it's 'piloncillo' in the center, 'panela' in Chiapas, and 'panocha' in Sonora.

But geographical distinctions aren’t the only contributors to linguistic diversity. Aspects like socio-economic status, gender, education, profession, and age play pivotal roles in shaping speech patterns, introducing what are known as diastratic variations. Moreover, situational context dictates diaphasic variations; the language used during a public speech is different from a casual conversation with friends.

Peeking into the Past

One of the fascinating areas Mora Peralta explores is colonial documentation crafted by scribes or notaries. These discursive traditions – seen as repetitive textual forms or structures preserved over time – offer invaluable insights into historical communication.

Her detailed analysis of two textual genres, inquisitorial processes against indigenous individuals accused of sorcery and wills, reveals a deep-rooted alignment between documents from Spain and those from New Spain (colonial Mexico). This alignment, evident in juridical-administrative systems, can be traced back to ancient traditions. For example, the manuals used by Spanish scribes in the New World were nearly identical to those in Spain, preserving even the minutiae like the use of a cross symbol, reminiscent of Roman emperor Constantine the Great's victory in 312.

Another timeless feature is the oath to tell the truth, a tradition that can be traced back to the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Even today, this oath remains an integral part of legal proceedings and documents.

A glimpse of colonial texts, highlighting the fascinating interplay between Spanish and indigenous languages.
A glimpse of colonial texts, highlighting the fascinating interplay between Spanish and indigenous languages. Credit: UNAM

Lingual Nuances

In the colonial period, the interaction between Spanish and indigenous languages birthed a unique linguistic tapestry. Mora Peralta highlights how the lack of equivalent terms in the Mayan language led to blended linguistic expressions. An example is the reference to the Christian Trinity, where Mayan words and Spanish terms combined to convey the concept. Additionally, the Mayan pluralization technique using the particle 'o'ob' saw an interesting adaptation in colonial documents, emphasizing the plural nature of nouns.

Significantly, while the conquest changed much of Mexico, it couldn’t alter the strong linguistic roots of regions like the Yucatán peninsula. The Mayan influence remains strong, preserving indigenous surnames until today.

Preserving the Past

Mora Peralta's methodology isn't just a window into the past. It can guide modern research areas, like journalistic discourse. Exploring contemporary discursive traditions can unveil the communicative structures in use today, highlighting the invaluable richness of orality and written traditions.

In essence, understanding our discursive traditions is akin to piecing together the intricate tapestry of our cultural and historical identity. Every word, variation, and preserved tradition brings us closer to understanding who we were, and consequently, who we are.