Gordon Whittaker: Blending Iconography and Writing: The Aztec Hieroglyphic System

Mittwoch, 7. September 2016 - 16.00 Uhr


The 16th-century Nahuatl writing system employed by the Aztec Empire and neighbouring states is one of the least understood today, one that has never received proper attention by students of writing and iconography. The system has long been regarded as a mere forerunner of writing, more comparable with the so-called picture-writing of North American Plains societies than with the masterly script of the Classic Maya lowlands. One of the striking features that has tended to hinder progress in the analysis of Nahuatl writing has been the manner in which iconography has been integrated into writing and writing into iconography. Scholars tend to fall into two groups: those that see Aztec writing as a system of symbols and pictorial representations with rudimentary phonetic elements, and those that regard it as a system of signs with a fully developed syllabary along the lines of the Maya script. Both groups have failed to recognize the nuanced interweft of iconography and writing that makes the Aztec system unique in Mesoamerica. While writing was unusually limited in its application, being restricted almost entirely to names and titles, its phonetic subsystem was far more flexible and advanced than its Maya counterpart. Furthermore, the role of iconicity in Aztec writing was far greater than in Maya writing. In many respects, e.g. in the semantic role of colour and dimensionality, the Aztec writing system stands apart from all other systems the world has seen.

Referierende: Gordon Whittaker