Mexico: por Francisco de Rivera Calderon, 1723.
Quarto: 19.2 x 15 cm.  ff., 248 pp. par4, 2par2, $4, W4, A-Z4, Aa-Hh4. Complete.
Bound in original limp vellum, re-cased, endpapers renewed. A nice copy with light scattered stains. Provenance: small collector’s stamp “G” on title. Rare. 7 copies in the U.S. (Penn, William & Mary, A&M, SUNY Albany, Hopkins, Princeton, BYU).
Sole edition of this important translation of the Catholic catechism into Nahuatl, which marks a significant development in translation theory and practice. Father Pérez was one of Mexico's leading Aztec scholars of the 18th century, the period of a major rebirth of scholarship in Nahuatl studies. He learned Nahuatl in Chiautla de la Sal (today De Tapia, in the state of Puebla) before becoming professor of Nahuatl at the Real Universidad de México in 1701, a position he would occupy until 1725. Pérez prepared this work for use among the Indians of Central Mexico, as well as other areas of North America into which Nahuatl had been introduced.
Pérez’ Nahuatl catechism is extremely important for the development of translation strategies and theory in the colonial period. In addition to the Nahuatl text of the Catechism, Pérez has written two other Nahuatl texts to discuss his translation practices, a “Plática breve” and a final “Protesta”. It is in the latter, according to Zwartjes and Farfán, that “for the first time, a specific Nahuatl ‘meta-language’ is developed.” The book also holds the distinction of being the first published Spanish translation of the Roman Catechism.
Developments in the theory and practice of translation:
Pérez’ work is of great importance not only with regard to the translation of Nahuatl but also to the broader field of translation and linguistics. As he tells us in his “Protesta”, by the time he translated the Catechism, he had already been speaking and studying Nahuatl for 26 years, having learned it in the “Tierra Caliente”, Chiautla de la Sal (today De Tapia, in the state of Puebla). It is significant that in his discussion of the problems of translation, Pérez does not present Nahuatl as a language subordinate to or inferior to Latin or Spanish. And to the same degree that he works to produce a “faithful” translation of the Catechism, Pérez takes great pains to produce an authentic Nahuatl text.
Pérez meets his greatest translation challenge when he grapples with the problem of “zero-equivalence”, whether this be with respect to individual Latin or Spanish words for which Nahuatl has no equivalent (ex. “baptism”), or when he must communicate a foreign concept without changing or diluting its meaning. Rather than rely heavily on loan words from Latin or Spanish to communicate Christian concepts, Pérez uses descriptive circumlocutions, creates neologisms, and converts or expands the meanings of existing Nahuatl words for new uses, for example the devil (tlacatecolo), heaven (in ilhuicatl), and hell (in oncan mictlan).
“In his [Nahuatl translation], Pérez often demonstrates that some words are difficult to translate, or even that there is no equivalent at hand at all. Translating the Spanish words for ‘the angels, mankind, the heavens, and the elements’, he breaks off to explain that ‘there is no word for elements.’ In reflection on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, he notes in the middle of his Nahuatl text that ‘the Spanish equivalent of the Latin verb ‘impello’ should not be translated into Nahuatl where the original is used, since they may think that he died involuntarily.
“As this example demonstrates, Pérez attempts to avoid any possible ambiguous interpretation and he makes an important step, seen from the point of translation studies in general. He does not concentrate here on the ‘Eurocentric perspective’ of the original word in Latin but he shifts from his own perspective to that of the recipient who may interpret the word erroneously.”(Zwartjes, Missionary Linguistics V, Translation theories and practices, p. 34)
For an in-depth discussion of Pérez’ method and philosophy of translation, see Zwartjes and Farfán, La “Protesta” (1723) del agustino Manuel Pérez, el primer tratado de teoría de la traducción en náhuatl, in Estodios de cultura Náhuatl, 55 (January-June): p. 173-224.
The First Spanish translation of the Roman Catechism:
In addition to its importance in the history of Aztec studies and linguistics, Manuel Pérez’ double-translation holds the distinction of being the first published Spanish translation of the Roman Catechism.
The Roman Catechism of 1567 was a product of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and is thereby known also as the Tridentine Catechism. Because it relied heavily on the catechism of the Navarrese heretic Bartolomé de Caranza (who had been arrested by the Inquisition in 1559 and was finally sentenced in 1576), the new Catechism was heavily criticized in Spain, some passages being considered dangerous and open to misinterpretation. Nevertheless, the Tridentine Catechism was put into circulation and there were immediate efforts to translate it into Spanish. However, despite the pope’s insistence that a Spanish translation be made, the Inquisition pronounced that any and all translations would be prohibited. As a result, no Spanish translation was published in Spain until that of Augustín Zorita in 1782, almost sixty years after Pérez’ Mexican edition.
In the interesting author’s note on the final leaf, Pérez explains that although there are many “libros Mexicanos” (i.e. books in Nahuatl), only a few explain the Sacraments, and those are written in “Mexicano antiguo”. And even though the substance of that language and “that of today” are the same, modern Nahuatl “tiene muchas fraces, y modos nuevos, y por mas modern, mas claridad.”.
Viñaza 280; García Icazbalceta, Lenguas, 56; Sabin 60912; Medina, Mexico, 2719 (“tan interesante como raro”; Pilling, Proof-sheets, 2957; H. de León-Portilla, Tepuztlahcuilolli, 2135; Palau y Dulcet (2. ed.); 50164; Ramirez; 4461; Beristáin de Souza, J.M. Bibl. hispano americana,; II, 421; Leclerc (1878) 2333