General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 18 Mar 2019/7 Flint
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Did the Aztecs use ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Katia of Tonkam: What did Aztec children call their parents, siblings, and other relatives? Did they use informal nicknames like “Mom” and “Dad”? (Generously answered by Dr. Frances Karttunen for Mexicolore)

Mexica family: illustration by Felipe Dávalos
Mexica family: illustration by Felipe Dávalos (Click on image to enlarge)

There is a collection of dialogues (the Bancroft Dialogues, so called because they are now in the Bancroft Library in Los Angeles) showing the polite way for well-brought-up Aztecs to speak to each other which is the best authority we have for how Aztec children spoke to their relatives.

The literal way to say: “my mother,” “my father” is nonan, notah
But nobody would say that.
First of all, one would have to speak honorifically, so: nonantzin, notahtzin.
And if a boy (but not a girl) were speaking, there would be a vocative ending: nonantziné, notahtziné.
But there was polite avoidance of primary terms like this. In the Bancroft dialogues, boys greeting their mother do not say the equivalent of “our dear honored mother.” They address her as an esteemed noblewoman.

The words for “sibling” and “cousin” are the same but are distinguished by older and younger. Also there are different words depending on whether a boy or a girl is speaking:-
notiachcauh “my older brother, my older boy cousin” (as said by a boy)
nohueltiuh “my older sister, my older girl cousin” (as said by a boy)
noteiccauh “my younger sibling (as said by a boy)
nopih “my older sister, my older girl cousin (as said by a girl)
noiuc “my younger sibling, younger cousin (as said by a girl)
The honorific -tzin would be added to the older sibling/cousin words, and if a boy is speaking, also the vocative é.
Again, there is a great deal of polite inversion in the use of these terms. The rule almost seems to be: Avoid as much as humanly possible mentioning what one’s actual relationship is to the addressee.

If you have access to a copy, please see pp. 41-53 of The Art of Nahuatl Speech by Frances Karttunen and James Lockhart.

Picture source:-
Illustration courtesy of Felipe Dávalos, from Viaje al Mercado de México by Leonardo López Luján (Historias de México vol III, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico, 2000.

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