Magnus Pharao Hansen

anthropologist – linguist

Postdoc at the University of Copenhagen

From July 1st 2016 I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen in the Department of Crosscultural and Regional Studies. I will be working on a two-year research project called: Race, Nation, Language and Cultural Heritage in the Aztlán Borderlands, which is sponsored by a grant from the Danish Council for Independent Research. The project tries to understand the many ways in which Chicanos and other Mexican-Americans use the Nahuatl language to connect with their indigenous cultural heritage and ancestry.

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Irataba in American Anthropologist

My article is soon coming out in the september issue of American Anthropologist. It tells the story of how the article about the Mojave chief Irataba (1814-1874) was written on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. On Wikipedia articles about Native people’s history are written mostly by non-experts who are also not members of the native groups they write about. This makes for some challenges in representing history fairly, and accurately.

Meanwhile  the Wikipedia article can be read  here.

writing irataba

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Article out in JLA

My article “The Difference Language Makes: The Life-History of Nahuatl in Two mexican Families” is out in Journal of Linguistic Anthropology this month.

The article describes how speaking or not speaking an indigenous languages is both the result of the specific life trajectories of individuals, and what roles the language takes in the individual lifeprojects.

Magnus Pharao Hansen. 2016. The Difference Language Makes: The Life-History of Nahuatl in Two Mexican Families. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology Volume 26, Issue 1, Pages 81–97

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Book Out! Amapoualistle published in Mexico

Amapoualistle: Lecturas en Náhuatl de Hueyapan Morelos, a collection of texts in Nahuatl from Hueyapan, Morelos, and a short grammatical sketch and a vocabulary, was published by the State Government of Morelos in March, 2017. I collected and edited the texts, and wrote the grammar sketch and vocabulary, and compiled them for publication on the request of the Nahuatl revitalization project of Hueyapan – the Chimalnahuatlajtole Language Academy. Here are two of the members of the academy, Alex Maya and Yesenia Castellanos, at the book presentation in Mexico City on March 4th. The texts were told to me by Doña Modesta Lavana, Don Hilarin Montiel Benitez, Doña Petra Ariza Jimenez, Don Andrés Barranco Navarro and Claudia Zavala Amaro – and another couple were originally published by Miguel Barrios Espinosa in 1947. The book is not for sale but should be distributed soon, free of charge – primarily in the community.

book presentation


Article in CLAR: Nahuatl in Colonial Guatemala

The article “Teotamachilizti: an analysis of the language in a Nahua sermon from colonial Guatemala“, which I co-authored with Julia Madajczak of the University of Warszaw is now out in Colonial Latin American Review. In the article we analyze the language of the document Teotamachilizti (link to the document here), which is written in an interesting variety of Nahuatl which mixes traits from central Mexican Nahuatl with traits from Eastern Nahuan dialects. The document has previously been claimed to have been written in Pipil (a name usually used for the Nahua variety spoken in El Salvador), but we show that it is in fact not, even though it does share some salient trait with that variety. Instead it seems that the document was written by an acclesiastic who had been trained in nahuatl in Central Mexico, but who was struggling to adapt his usage to a local audience that spoke an Eastern variety of Nahuatl that was somewhat similar to the variety of El Salvador.

Cited in Copenhagen Post

The Copenhagen Post cited an opinion piece of mine, in which I argue that even the smallest languages, such as Mexican indigenous languages, may turn out to be relevant

Nerdy’s needed too
“For a small country like Denmark, our main resource is our ability to navigate the world and interact with other people, and this requires knowledge of other cultures and other languages,” she said.

The issue came into sharp focus recently when it came to light that Vestas risked losing a huge order in Mexico because of opposition to a wind park project from the indigenous Ikoots people who fish in the Pacific-coast state of Oaxaca where the park had been planned.

Their language, Mero Ikoots, is spoken in just four fishing villages and is not related to any other language family in the world. In an opinion piece in Politiken, Magnus Pharao Hansen, a PhD student in anthropology, argued that while some hold that teaching Danes this language is a waste of resources, there were people in Vestas who would be wishing they could speak it.

“This is a perfect example of how apparently small and nerdy subjects can all of a sudden prove themselves essential for getting things done out in the real world,” Søgaard contests.”

Blogpost on Aztec Writing

On the Nawatl Scholar blog, I published an analysis of the two main interpretations of the Aztec writing system. Aztec writing combined logograms (word signs that can be read in any language) with phonetic signs (that spell a specific language), but scholars are discussing whether the phonetic signs were strictly syllabic or whether they could be more complex. I weigh in with my own evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the two interpretations.


Page 99 challenge

My dissertation’s page 99 was featured at the Camp Anthropology Blog of Indiana University’s anthropology department. Here is a quote from page 99 of my 2016 dissertation “NAHUATL NATION: LANGUAGE REVITALIZATION AND INDIGENOUS RESURGENCE IN 21ST CENTURY MEXICO”.

“Expropriation of indigenous resources has been, and continues to be, a basic element policy of Mexican national development (Coria and Encinas 2015). Expropriation is a process of conquest that masquerades as liberal business, and which superficially carries the trappings of a quid pro quo, positive-sum, win-win arrangement. However, on further inspection, at least when taking on the viewpoint of those from whom resources are expropriated, it invariably turns out to be a predatory process in which the state exploits is citizens, and justifies the exploitation by reference to a greater good. Today, as national culture increasingly values indigenous cultural production, the expropriationary process has turned to exploiting the semiotic resources of indigenous peoples. What has changed is not the nature of the process, which continues to be expropriationary, but that the resources that are subject to expropriation are no longer only material, but also symbolic. This is not entirely new, after all the national period saw the large scale nationalization of the indigenous past through the institutionalization of archeology and history, but what is new is that the current phase of expropriation also aims to incorporate the living fields of indigenous cultural production into the national economy. Where previous phases of symbolic expropriation separated indigenous communities from their pasts in order to enshrine it as National History, the current phase sees the indigenous communities itself as a deposit of resources to be exploited. Another difference is that where expropriated resources in the nationalist period stayed in the national field of cultural production for local consumption, in this period it is specifically marketed to a public of international consumers, where the symbolic resources are used as a part of Mexico’s brand.”

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