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Researchers from UNAM introduce translation of “sermones” nahuas to Spanish

Updated: May 19, 2023

Thanks to the liaision work of UNAM Chicago, the Institute of Historical Research (IIH) and the Newberry Library, Berenice Alcántara Rojas and Mario Alberto Sánchez Aguilera, researcher at the IIH, and professor at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, respectively, published and presented the book Siguense unos sermones de dominicas y de sanctos de lengua mexicana at this library and at Northwestern University, both located in the city of Chicago.

The 600-page book contains the Spanish translation of the original sermons that Fray Bernardino de Sahagún wrote as part of the process of evangelization of the Nahuas in the 16th century.

The original manuscripts are preserved in the Newberry Library, and are the first invaluable testimonies of the process of evangelization by the Franciscans .

This text contains part of the encounter between the two cultures that gave rise to what we Mexicans are today, said Berenice Alcántara.

Fray Bernardino de Sahagún's evangelization project was very ambitious because it involved research on the history of the indigenous peoples, as well as the writing of these sermons whose objective was, basically, that other friars could make them known to the indigenous people through the language spoken at Sunday masses, but in the case of this manuscript, the objective went beyond that, the researchers point out.

This manuscript is very particular because it is believed that it was made so that the ecclesiastical authorities would give their approval. The writing of this sermon took 23 years. It reflects changes of form and substance and it is written in a hybrid language that includes Latin, Spanish, Nahuatl and neologisms that seek to bring the indigenous people closer to the deep meaning of the messages with the purpose of converting them to a new conception of the world, explains the researcher.

The original is written on indigenous paper with a calligraphy that is difficult to understand, full of crossings out and additions that were studied for more than 3 years to achieve an interpretation as close as possible to the original. The aim of the translation is to provide today's readers not only with the literal meaning of the text, but also to recover the rhetorical figures, examples, idiomatic expressions and new words that the writers created to achieve the objective of introducing not only a new religion but also a new culture.

The book consists of 600 pages in a fine edition financed jointly by UNAM CHICAGO, the Coordination of Humanities, the Institute of Historical Research , and the Newberry Library, which provided all the facilities for the realization of this work.

A large group of specialists and general public attended the conferences of this work where they also presented the web page produced at the IIH, which contains not only the translation of the sermons but also the explanation of the process and the digital version of the original document. The link is

“The research presented is fascinating. From paliography, transcription to translation and the way they designed the website is extraordinary. The user has the choice to view it the way they want to and experience it however they want to”, stated Daniel Green, President of the Newberry Library.

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