Frances Karttunen

Frances Esther Karttunen (born 1942),[1] also known as Frances Ruley Karttunen,[2] is an American academic linguist, historian and author. She received her BA in 1964 from Harvard and her PhD in 1970 from Indiana University.[3] In her linguistics career Karttunen has specialised in the study of Mesoamerican languages such as Mayan but in particular Nahuatl, on which topic she has authored seven books and numerous academic papers. She has also written about endangered languages, linguistic diversity and language translation. Early in her career Karttunen also produced several studies of Finnish phonology and syntax.

As a historian Karttunen has published research in areas such as historical Mesoamerican literature, colonial-era Aztec and Nahua history, and the social organizations, socio-political concerns and literacy rates of indigenous peoples of Mexico. Karttunen has also written and lectured about the local history of Nantucket.

Her 1976 publication Nahuatl in the Middle Years: Language Contact Phenomena in Texts of the Colonial Period, with James Lockhart,[4] is a foundational text for the New Philology. She followed this by an insightful article on Nahua literacy, showing how the Mesoamerican tradition of pictorial writing then transitioned to alphabetic writing in Latin letters by local-level notaries in a self-perpetuating tradition.[5] Her 1997 article, "Rethinking Malinche", on La Malinche, known in the colonial era as Doña Marina, is a significant revisionist take on the choices that Cortés' cultural translator and consort faced and took.[6]

She also published An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl[7] and several iterations of a Foundation Course in Nahuatl Grammar, culminating in the 1994 edition (with linguist R. Joe Campbell).[8]

Most of her academic career was spent in association with the University of Texas at Austin,[9] where she held researcher and lecturer positions for over 30 years, until her retirement in 2000 as senior university research scientist at the Linguistics Research Center.


  1. ^ Date information sourced from Library of Congress Authorities data, via corresponding WorldCat Identities linked authority file (LAF).
  2. ^ In her academic works on linguistics and Mesoamerican studies she publishes as Frances E. Karttunen; her historical research on Nantucket is published incorporating her mother's maiden name, as Frances Ruley Karttunen.
  3. ^ "The Other Islanders".
  4. ^ Karttunen, Frances; Lockhart, James (1976). Nahuatl in the Middle Years: Language Contact Phenomena in Texts of the Colonial Period. Berkeley: University of California Press. OCLC 702445900.
  5. ^ Frances Karttunen, "Nahua Literacy", in The Inca and Aztec States 1400-1800: Anthropology and History pp. 395-417, George Collier et al. eds., New York: Academic Press ISBN 978-0-1218-1180-8
  6. ^ Frances Karttunen (1997) "Rethinking Malinche," in Indian Women of Early Mexico, Susan Schroeder et al. eds., University of Oklahoma Press ISBN 978-0-8061-2970-9
  7. ^ Frances Karttunen (1989) An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl 2nd edition, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press; revised from the first edition published by University of Texas Press (1983) ISBN 978-0-2927-0365-0
  8. ^ Frances Karttunen and R. Joe Campbell (1994) Foundation Course in Nahuatl Grammar, 2 volumes. Austin: University of Texas, Institute of Latin American Studies OCLC 21883759
  9. ^ Curriculum Vitae Archived 2008-05-16 at the Wayback Machine

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