Patrick Johansson French Nahuatlato

Text by Mar Gámiz

To let a language die is to attempt against the dignity of the beings that speak it. It is to destroy the mental structure of a human collective and, consequently, to discard a socio-existential option, a way of being in the world. 

-Patrick Johansson, Introduction to In oc ticchíah in Godot [Waiting for Godot].


While we’ve grown up with the knowledge that in Mexico many indigenous languages are spoken, none have been part of the official education, which is rather monolingual. However tough this message is for indigenous Mexican, some languages, especially maya, zapotec, mixtec, otomí and náhuatl, have more than a hundred thousand speakers and in the recent years, some success has been achieved in the search for the preservation of these languages.

Without a doubt, náhuatl has been one of the most tended to languages, because of its pre-Hispanic status of supremacy, because it holds the largest number of contemporary speakers. In the academic realm, a line of researchers whose love for náhuatl language can be traced and has been essential: Ángel María Garibay, polyglot priest and pioneer in the systematic study of ancient náhuatl literature; Miguel León Portilla, Mexican philosopher and historian who revealed náhuatl thought in Spanish based on original sources; and Patrick Johansson, French semiologist, historian and contemporary nahuatlato.

Patrick Johansson is also a researcher at the Institute of Historical Research and is a professor of pre-Hispanic literature at the Department of Philosophy and Literature of the UNAM. Throughout his trajectory, Patrick went from studying the sources of náhuatl literature profoundly, to reflecting and tracing the state of said language to the present.

One of his main motivations is to revalue náhuatl, for which he has executed certain actions, among them, the translation of Samuel Beckett’s piece Waiting for Godot, and a proposal of standardizing náhuatl (which does not imply the loss of dialectal variations), as well as his insatiable work in the classrooms, where he has achieved to transmit the interest for learning náhuatl to many students.

Patrick Johansson French Nahuatlato from Limulus on Vimeo.

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