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Standardized Transcriptions

Colonial Nahua orthography was never standardized; it varied considerably from author to author, over time and space, and even within the same text. Writers used abbreviations, and sometimes omitted a character or two by accident. They often adapted Spanish and Latin words to Nahuatl phonology (e.g., substituting l for r, p for b), or introduced hypercorrections, such as writing an r where the foreign word actually does have an l. They rarely indicated glottal stops (saltillos), which have phonemic value in Nahuatl.

To provide a more accessible version of the Nahuatl plays, we are posting adaptations of the manuscripts into the ACK (Andrews-Campbell-Lockhart) enriched traditional orthography. This system is used and promoted by Justyna Olko, John Sullivan, Nahua authors associated with the Instituto de Docencia e Investigación Etnográfica de Zacatecas (IDIEZ), and other researchers and writers. On this orthography and its use in language revitalization, see Justyna Olko and John Sullivan’s 2014 article “Toward a Comprehensive Model for Nahuatl Language Research and Revitalization.” 

ACK orthography, built on the linguistic research of J. Richard Andrews, R. Joe Campbell, and Frances Karttunen, is consistent with colonial orthography but regularizes it, and can be employed to transcribe the different varieties of contemporary spoken Nahuatl. Its use is intended to facilitate communication among contemporary speakers and to help them gain access to the vast corpus of writing bequeathed by their colonial ancestors. By providing ACK transcriptions of the Passion plays, we hope to contribute to that recovery process. These transcriptions also render the texts more accessible to students of Nahuatl not accustomed to reading colonial manuscripts.

  For more information on Nahuatl language revitalization, see the IDIEZ and Revitalizing Endangered Languages websites.


Olko, Justyna, and John Sullivan. 2014. Toward a Comprehensive Model for Nahuatl Language Research and Revitalization. Proceedings of the Fortieth Annual Meeting  of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 369-397.

Louise Burkhart 5/21/21