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A Little Bit of History: The First Latin-American Interpreter

October 10, 2008 2 Comments »

She is known by many names: Malinalli, Malintzin( transliterations of her original name– the tzin suffix was added to indicate hierarchy and nobility), “Doña Marina,” or most commonly, La . Malineli Tenepatl (c.1502 – c.1529), a girl born into the upper class, was presented to chiefs in Tabasco following a war between the Mayans and Aztecs. As a result of this situation she fluidly spoke both her native language, Nahuatl, and the language of her new owners, .

The chiefs gave the young slave to Hernán Cortés after he defeated the Tabascans at the Battle of Centla. christened her “Marina” and gave her to one of his captains. Upon learning that she spoke Nahuatl, he began to use her as a Nahuatl-Mayan , with Jerónimo de Aguilar (a Spanish survivor of a shipwreck who was freed from captivity by Cortés) completing the circle by translating Mayan into Spanish. All of the exchanges between the Spanish and Aztecs were carried out in this manner, using three languages and two interpreters, until Malintzin learned Spanish: it is most likely that this did not take very long, based on the fact the indigenous records usually leave out Jerónimo de Aguilar and reference Malintzin as having been the sole .

Apart from serving as interpreter, Malintzin advised the Spanish on the local customs and military tactics, possibly performing what would today be called “intel” and “diplomacy.”

There are many legends and conjectures about Malinche, but the facts are harder to come by. The Spanish word “Malinchismo” is derived from her name, a term meaning a preference for something foreign over local, to want to appear foreign over Mexican, and opportunistic and willing to betray one’s own country to aid foreigners. The reality however is that as an orphan passed between tribes and countries, Malintzin did not have a country to sell.

A few people also consider Malinche to be the “First Mother of ,” initiating the birth of a country and in a more general sense, motherhood itself.


2 Responses to “A Little Bit of History: The First Latin-American Interpreter”

  • Commented on October 15, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Hi!
    I was very pleased to find this post about La Malinche.
    Some people consider La Malinche a ‘traitor’ because she gave away information to the spaniards.
    Marina ; )

  • Commented on October 15, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Hi!
    I was very pleased to find this post about La Malinche.
    Some people consider La Malinche a ‘traitor’ because she gave away information to the spaniards.
    Marina ; )