Word by word, Mr. Amith is creating an extensive archive of Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs at the time of the 16th century Spanish conquest and now the first language of 1.5 million Mexican Indians. He records fables and personal histories, collects plants and insects, and keeps up a nonstop patter with locals, searching for information to add to a Web site he is building that is part dictionary, part encyclopedia and part storybook.
His goal is both daring and quixotic: to preserve Nahuatl so that native speakers don’t discard their language as they turn to Spanish, which they need to compete in contemporary Mexico…
"[Jonathan Amith] harkens back to the 19th century tradition of the
adventurer-scholar who says, "I’ll go out and do something and the
world be damned," says Tyler Cowen, a George Mason University economist
who studies Nahuatl-speakng villages.
For more, see the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal,
center column. By the way, tomato, coyote, avocado, and chocolate are all English words which came from Nahuatl. Nahuatl is the most beautiful language I have heard. Here is Jonathan’s web page. I think of Jonathan as an obsessive collector of words, in the best sense of that term. He is one of the most remarkable men I have met and his knowledge of the social sciences is phenomenal. Here are some MP3 files
of Jonathan’s linguistic work. Here is my book on the village, which also
profiles Jonathan. Comments are open, especially if you have a link to the article ("Scholar’s Dictionary of Aztec Language May Take a Lifetime," by Bob Davis); it should appear on-line at some point.