Moziño’s Noticias de Nutka: An Analysis of Spanish Documentation of Nuu-chah-nulth Vocabulary

Margaret Joy Doughty


This paper compares Spanish documentation of words in the Mowachaht variety of the Nuu-chahnulth language of Vancouver Island, made during the 1792 Expedition of the Limits, to entries in a dictionary compiled by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council in 1991. The purpose of the paper is to investigate the transcription of Nuu-chah-nulth words by Spanish scientist José Mariano Moziño and shed additional light on an occurrence of early contact between the Spanish and the Indigenous peoples of Vancouver Island. A number of Mowachaht words and their sounds are analyzed and possible explanations for differences between the two documents are given. This paper shows that Moziño was able to, in many cases, accurately
document words in this unfamiliar language. Instances in which his documentation was inaccurate could, at times, be attributed to key differences in the Nuu-chah-nulth and Spanish languages. Moziño’s choice of orthography when presented with an unfamiliar sound was influenced by the widespread Mexican Indigenous language, Nahuatl. Issues of language documentation are discussed, including perception, transcription, and orthography. Background on the 1792 Expedition of the Limits, Moziño, the Nuu-chah-nulth language, and the Mowachaht people is provided.


Nuu-chah-nulth; Vancouver Island; Spanish explorations; language documentation; first contact; Spanish Enlightenment


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