Palaeographic and translation conventions

Every document written is a reflection of both the standard conventions of its specific time and place and the idiosyncratic particulars of the writer and his or her circumstances and subject. Written documents produced in sixteenth-century New Spain, including the Codex Mendoza, are no exception.

Sixteenth-century orthographic coventions in the Codex Mendoza

In Codex Mendoza, Spanish glosses accompany the drawings on each pictorial page, and lengthier commentaries occupy complementary pages. The glosses were certainly written down before the commentaries (sec, for example, folio 62v). While the bulk of the text (both annotations and commentaries) seems to be written in a uniform style and hand, there may indeed have been more than one writer involved. For example, after the commentaries for part 1 (history of conquests) were written down, someone went through and corrected the number of reign years for each Mexica ruler, verifying each correction in a legalistic manner. If these emendations were made contemporaneously, there may have been animated discussions over the precise years of rule for each ruler, as in some cases more than one correction was made. Small additions were also made in pare 3 (daily life) annotations: the ration of tortillas permitted each child is clarified, seemingly in a different pen, or perhaps at a different time, from the rest of the annotations. Also, the handy guides indicating the beginning and end of each section of the codex appear to be written in a different hand.

Aside from these small details, the larger question of the process of interpretation and writing remains: were the annotator and commentator the same or different persons? And if different, was it perhaps the annotator who made the corrections in the reign years of the part l commentary? By the commentator's own admission on the final folio (71 v), the interpreter of the pictorial pages was ''well versed" in the Nahuatl language, and his interpretations should be taken as accurate. In this statement, the commentator clearly indicates that the annotator (assuming the "interpreter" wrote down his own interpretations) was a different individual from himself.

The writer(s) by necessity adapted to the constraints of the document and its schedule; everyone involved was limited in space and also in time. The commentator excuses his sloppy style by indicating that the job was hurried, and the final produce a bit messier than he wished (certainly messier than what should be presented to a king). The commentaries contain occasional corrections marked directly on the document; no time was available to develop a clean draft. In the tribute section the commentator saved time through a liberal use of "etc.," and in the daily life section he sometimes simply made reference to the annotations. In addition, the style of both annotations and commentaries was conditioned by the space available: annotations work their way around, above, and below pictorial glyphs and images; commentaries are at times squeezed at the bottom of a page, at other times boldly expansive to fill a page with few words. Nonetheless, the hand is clearly and carefully rendered, lacking much of the highly cursive style of notarial documents of the period.

Overall the writing is very uniform and consistent in style, [i] exhibiting expected variations current in the writing of the time. These are shown on table 1. Occasionally such variations result in momentarily unrecognizable words, such as byuyr for vivir or deuysa for divisa. There is no clear patterning in the document regarding the use of variant spellings; the various forms are mixed throughout, and the same word may be spelled differently just a line or two apart. The interchangeability of some of these forms is evidenced by their sometimes vague renderings; this is particularly notable with the ily and v/b variations. There in fact appear to be three distinct shapes used for ily: a short, above-the-line dotted i, a long, vertical, below-the-line undotted (ı), and a more flamboyant curved y. The two elongated versions are at times difficult to distinguish.

Similarly, v and b sometimes appear to overlap in form, occasionally requiring rather close calls in transcription.

As was usual ac the time, the document's writers were fond of abbreviations. The Spanish writing on Codex Mendoza displays a nice assortment of these scribal shortcuts (see table 2). Abbreviations were used quite liberally in the commentaries, but much less frequently in the annotations.

The annotator/commentator is normally very correct and classical in rendering Nahuatl terms. The mosc regular divergence from classical forms involves the variant use of g for h:[ii] guipiles/huipiles, guavtli/ hullvtli/ huauhtli, chaichiguitl/chalchihuitl, guegue/ huehue, and Ezguaguacatl for Ezhuahuacatl. This tendency to use a g also occasionally creeps into place-names. Other deviations from classical Nahuatl are found in tectli for tecuhli and the rather aberrant maxtlac for max-

Conventions table 1 orthographic variations*




mili, myll; seis, seys; bien, byen


deuysa; diuysa; virtud, vertud


chimalpopoca, chimalpopuca, chimalpupuca

v/u/b (intervocalic)

sus~esivamente, sus~esiuamente,



cavtiuos, cautivos; divysa, diuysa


veynte, beynte

u lb

Reuelado, Rebelde


yzcoa~i, yzcoatzi; axayaca<;i, axayacatzi

h/g (Nahuatl words)

huehue, guegue; huipiles, guipiles

*Some variations common at the time are not found here, notably tz/s, s/ҫ, and qu/cu. These forms are kept carefully distinct in Codex Mendoza. In Nahuatl words (especially place-names and titles), there is a definite preference for the qu form over its variant cu (e.g., Quauhnahuac instead of Cuauhnahuac, or Quauhnochtli rather than Cuauhnochtli).

Table 2 table of abbreviations in Codex Mendoza commentaries and annotations'*


Unabbreviated Form










dha, dho

dicha, dicho






justiҫia (justicia)

maggᶧ magᶧᶧ





mexico (Mexico)

natuL, natuLes

natural, naturales

Ϛnd, Ϛnds

mandar, mandones

nonbr ̾

nonbrados (nombrados)




casamyento (casamiento)


falleҫimyento (fallecimiento)


razonamyento (razonamiento)




pr ͣ, prͣm~ete, prͣ mente

primera; primeramente

p°, p°s

pueblo, pueblos




ques (que es)

·S··; ·ss·, ss·

señor; señores


sigyente (siguiente)


tiempo (tiempo)


terҫera (tercera)






vertud (virtud)


adertenҫia (advertencia)





*Not included in this table is the ubiquitous superscript dash used to represent the nasal n and m.

tiatl found at times in both annotations and commentaries. In Codex Mendoza, Nahuatl words are normally kept "pure," although tianguez (classical Nahuatl: tianquiztli) appears in its hispanicized form, probably reflecting the rapid incorporation of this word into the general vocabulary of Colonial New Spain.

Aside from the use of Nahuatl, the only non-Spanish words used in Codex Mendoza are those of Moorish derivation. [iii] The commentator feels sufficiently uncomfortable with using terms such as mezquita for templo (temple) and alfaqui for saҫerdote (priest) that he makes a point of apologizing for them in his final statement.

[i] Despite its hasty production, the writing only rarely misses a diacritic or misuses word (for example, applying both masculine and feminine adjectives, llenos and llenas, to a feminine noun, troxes).

[ii] This substitution is found only for the /w/ phoneme

[iii] There are a few other words, however, that worked their way into the vocabulary by somewhat indirect means: cacique is an Arawak, not Nahuatl, word; even alcalde, posing as a Spanish word, is of Moorish derivation.