Language Encounters: Toward a Better Comprehension of Contact‑Induced Lexical Change in Colonial Nahuatl


  • Justyna Olko University of Warsaw



Nahuatl, Spanish, language contact, language change, colonial period, cross‑cultural transfer


The extensive corpus of colonial Nahuatl texts lights on almost every sphere of colonial life and cross‑cultural interactions between the Europeans/Spaniards and the indigenous world. This corpus contains rich language data related to contact‑induced change that reveal a simultaneous, prolonged use of neologisms and loanwords, a widespread “Nahuatlization” of foreign terms as well as adoption of Spanish ideas and cultural stereotypes. The linguistic phenomena discussed in the present paper focus on lexical change, neologization, meaning change, borrowing and the creation of calques. These language innovations reveal the nuances of the complex process of cross‑cultural translation, the receptivity of European influence, the domestication of the new and the survival of traditional language resources.


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Author Biography

Justyna Olko, University of Warsaw

Researcher at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, specializing in preconquest and postconquest Mesoamerican ethnohistory and Nahua philology. Author of several books, including Turquoise Diadems and Staffs of Office. Elite Costume and Insignia of Power in Aztec and Early Colonial Mexico (Warsaw 2005), Meksyk przed konkwistą (Warsaw 2010, Klio Award 2010) and Insignia of Rank in the Nahua World. From the Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Century (Boulder 2014). Director of the team research projects “Language Encounters between the Old and New Worlds” (Foundation for Polish Science, Focus Program, 2010-2013), “Europe in America in Contact” (ERC Starting Grant, 2013-2018) and “Endangered Languages. Comprehensive models for research and revitalization” (National Programme for the Development of the Humanities, 2013-2016).


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How to Cite

Olko, Justyna. 2015. “Language Encounters: Toward a Better Comprehension of Contact‑Induced Lexical Change in Colonial Nahuatl”. Politeja 12 (6 (38):35-52.