conditioning of Uto-Aztecan *p in Nahuatl

John Hewson jhewson at
Fri Nov 30 13:48:12 UTC 2012

This is an interesting question which should indeed be discussed.

There is, in the tradition, the observed phenomenon of paradigmatic 
resistance to sound change which affects only paradigms. And there is 
change of paradigmatic elements such as the 3rd sing verb inflection -th 
of Old and Middle English becoming -s in Early Modern, a change still 
not complete in Shakespeare's day:

 	It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

(from Portia's court speech in the Merchant of Venice).

There may be a justification for this change, but if there is, it must be 
a very subtle one!

John Hewson

On Fri, 30 Nov 2012, Nathan Hill wrote:

> Dear Historical Linguists,
> In a paper about Tibetan I am criticizing someone for proposing that
> the same segment became one thing in nouns and another thing in verbs.
> My neogrammarian heart tells me that sound changes are aware of
> phonetic environments only and not part of speech categories. Such a
> thing is thus only possible if verbs are phonetically different than
> nouns in a systematic way (which is of course possible).
> Anyhow, a reviewer tells me that proto-Uto-Aztecan initial *p becomes
> zero in Nahuatl nouns but is preserved in verbs and cites the pair
> (.-tl "water" vs "to wash"). The reviewer does not cite a
> discussion of this and I am totally at sea in the Uto-Aztecan
> literature. But, if this is an uncontroversial part of Uto-Aztecan
> historical phonology surely it has given rise to the same
> methodological concerns that I raise (sound change should apply
> blindly).
> I would be very grateful for any discussion of this or advice on
> treatments of this question in literature.
> with gratitude,
> Nathan
> _______________________________________________
> Histling-l mailing list
> Histling-l at

John Hewson, FRSC                               tel: (709)753-8434
Henrietta Harvey Professor Emeritus             fax: (709)737-4000
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John's NF, CANADA A1B 3X9

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