Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Pictorial Talking: the Figural Rendering of Speech Acts in Aztec Mexico

November 16th, 2012
4:00pm

Location
Dinwiddie Hall, Rm 103

Join us for a colloquium given by Dr. Elizabeth Boone of Tulane University, sponsored by the Anthropology Department.

In Aztec Mexico before the Spanish conquest a single sign form, the image, supported by the line and the field, bore the documentary responsibility of scripts elsewhere. Images carried semantic meanings by symbolizing or representing (in an abstractly conventional mimesis) that which they indexed, and a spatial syntax organized these images into specific messages. The goal of Mexican pictography was to record meaning rather than sound and language. Only in appellatives (personal, ethnic, and place names) did the images occasionally refer specifically to the sounds of spoken words when identification could not otherwise be achieved.

Despite its relative independence from spoken language, however, pictography was still able to signify “speech” as a nominal act and to accommodate the contents of speech acts. But doing so pushed the edge of the pictographic canon. Although most examples date from the early colonial period when pictography came under the influence of alphabetic writing and opened up more fully to the possibility of word writing, the few examples from before the conquest are suggestive of pictography’s greater abilities. This presentation will first explore the function and nature of speech scrolls as adjectival, nominal, and verbal signs. It will then focus on the content of speech acts, and finally on sequential streams of iteration. We will move from the simplest graphic indication of speech to the longest and most complex: from prehispanic Mexican pictography to its transformation in the early colonial period into a script capable of recording Catholic doctrinal orations with subtlety and nuance.

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