Coatepec Totonac

[IJAL Texts Online, vol. 3, number 1, September 2020]
Norman A. McQuown’s Coatepec Totonac Texts¹
Paulette Levy
National Autonomous University of Mexico

The texts offered here are numbers two, three, and four of the McQuown Coatepec Totonac (CTot) collections (McQuown 1971; McQuown and Oropeza Castro 2013) which consists of 36 texts, preserved as number 100 of the Microfilm Collection of Manuscripts on Cultural Anthropology of the Joseph Regenstein Library of the University of Chicago. These texts are being prepared as a part of a bigger project to recover McQuown’s work and recast it in modern terms.

Norman A. McQuown came to Mexico in 1938 to work on the Totonac language of Coatepec, Puebla, for his 1940 PhD dissertation at Yale, started under Sapir and concluded under Bloomfield. His is the first modern description of any of the languages of the Totonac-Tepehua family. The published version of his work is his 1990 Gramática de la lengua totonaca. Coatepec, Sierra Norte de Puebla (UNAM), henceforth McQuown (1990), which consists of his own Spanish translation of his 1940 Yale dissertation, done during a stay at UNAM in 1982–1983, plus 440 pages of appendices which McQuown added to the original text of the dissertation for the published volume.

Following the methods of Sapir, McQuown taught his main consultant, Manuel Oropeza Castro, to write in his mother tongue. Oropeza Castro wrote the 36 texts in this collection between 1939 and 1942. He translated them into Spanish from 1949–1950, and in 1949 he recorded texts 1–24, a little bit more than 40% of the corpus (2hs, 33min, 27secs), most probably in the Laboratorio de Sonido del Museo Nacional, which had acquired “new recording machines” in 1949, and was in the charge of María Teresa Fernández de Miranda (Swanton 2008: 368–369 and p.c.). The texts appear each as an individual entry in the catalogue of recordings of the sound lab of Mexico’s Museum of Anthropology (Stanford 1968), registered as 12 inch vinyl 33rpm recordings. The digitized version of these recordings that I worked with was made at the Language Laboratories and Archives of the University of Chicago from the original metal master, in .wav format. The recordings offered here have a duration of 13min, 09secs.

From 1967–1968 McQuown undertook the digitalization of the written texts in database form, on an IBM 360 computer, with a table of consistent changes linking the phonemic symbols and the symbols available on a regular IBM keyboard of the era. The base-line of the texts presented here is from this version, cross-checked against the output of the database with McQuown’s hand-written annotations.

  1. The task of preparing the texts for publication would have been much more arduous were it not for Prof. John Lucy, the director of the Archives of Indigenous Materials of the Joseph Regenstein Library and the Center of Latin American Studies of the University of Chicago, who gave me access to a modern computer file of the original digitized IBM files. Prof. Lucy was a gracious host during a sabbatical stay at the University of Chicago to consult the papers of the McQuown legacy (partially funded by DGAPA-UNAM) from August 2013 to March 2014, during which he also helped me secure a digital copy of the recordings, digitized by Joe Toth, McQuown’s last assistant at the Language Laboratories and Archives of the University of Chicago. Heartfelt thanks. I want to thank David Beck for discussions and input over the years, Néstor Hernández-Green with whom I’ve collaborated extensively in the study of the prosody of CTot, Francisco Arellanes for endless input on phonological issues, Ryan Bennet for useful input, and Michel Swanton for his feedback. And, especially, I want to acknowledge the many useful suggestions of an anonymous reader. Needless to say, none of them is responsible for anything said here.