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Reviewed by:
  • Purépecha de Jarácuaro, Michoacán
  • William Bright
Purépecha de Jarácuaro, Michoacán. By Claudine Chamoreau. (Archivo de len-guas indígenas de México 25.) Mexico City: Center for Literary and Linguistic Studies, College of Mexico, 2003. Pp. 162. ISBN 9681211006.

‘Purépecha’ is the name now increasingly applied to the language otherwise called Tarascan, spoken in the Mexican state of Michoacán; other spellings such as ‘Phorhepecha’ are also used, [End Page 406] representing the native name /phuɽépeča/. The Tarascan state was a major power in pre-Columbian times, competing with that of the Aztecs, and important grammars and dictionaries of the language were written during colonial times. The genetic relationships of Tarascan, however, have remained obscure. Descriptive studies of the language in the twentieth century were relatively few, compared to some other languages of Mexico; but that situation has improved in recent years, not least by the publication of the present volume.

The ‘Archivo de lenguas indígenas de México’ series, in which this book is found, was begun by Gloria de Bravo Ahuja and the late Jorge Suárez in the 1970s; recent volumes have been edited by Yolanda Lastra. As described in the ‘Introducción’ by Suárez, which has been reprinted in all of the volumes, one aim of the series is to reflect the diversity of Mexican native languages; so those chosen have ranged from Seri in Sonora (in the northwest of Mexico) to Acateco (Mayan) on the Guatemalan border. The other central principle of the series has been to present data elicited in response to two questionnaires. One is syntactic, consisting of 594 Spanish sentences, translated into each language with interlinear morpheme-by-morpheme glosses; an ‘autonomous’ phonemic transcription is recommended, avoiding morphophonemic depth. The uniform application of this questionnaire to all of the languages in the series is intended to facilitate typological research. The second questionnaire is lexical, with 532 words chosen with special consideration for native Mesoamerican culture.

Chamoreau’s book, describing a dialect spoken near the city of Pátzcuaro, is an outstanding exemplar of the series. Her presentation begins with a short phonological sketch (25–36); this is followed by two texts (a narrative and a dialogue), with both free translation and morphemic glossing (37–54). The heart of the book, ‘Sintáxis’, contains a short sketch of some major syntactic patterns (55–59) followed by the results of the series’s syntactic questionnaire, again with a close morphemic analysis (59–143). Readers can glean a considerable amount of information about Tarascan morphology from these data, but for deeper study they are referred to C’s 680-page grammar of the language (Chamoreau 2000).

The next section of the book, ‘Léxico’, reveals that Tarascan shares many lexical items with other Mesoamerican languages, borrowed in colonial times from Nahuatl and/or Spanish, reflecting the sixteenth-century phonology of those languages. Examples are /wákaš/ ‘cattle’, from Span. vacas ‘cows’; /tumína/ ‘money’, from Span. tomín ‘one-eighth of a peso’; and /mitsítu/ ‘cat’, from Nah. mizton ‘little mountain-lion, cat’. In one conspicuous case, a Tarascan word was borrowed into Spanish and even into English: /kwaɽáči/ ‘sandal, huarache’.

The volume ends with a useful bibliography. Additional works that might be cited are Friedrich 1975 and Velásquez Gallardo 1978. In sum, C has given us here an attractive taste of the Purépecha or Tarascan language—one that makes the reader want to turn to her published grammar for a fuller meal.

William Bright
University of Colorado


Chamoreau, Claudine. 2000. Grammaire du purépecha parlé sur les îles du Lac de Patzcuaro. Munich: LINCOM Europa.
Friedrich, Paul. 1975. A phonology of Tarascan. Chicago: Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago.
Velásquez Gallardo, Pablo. 1978. Diccionario de la lengua phorhépecha. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica.


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