Nahuatl dialects

r. joe campbell campbel at
Tue Jan 21 06:18:25 UTC 2003

   In the light of the recent interest shown in variation in Nahuatl
dialects, I wanted to contribute a small sample which shows how words
which are basically similar can differ because of certain pronunciation
"habits" (which linguists call "rules" -- descriptions of regularities).

   The villages are:

    Ameyaltepec, Guerrero
    San Miguel Canoa, Puebla
    Hueyapan, Morelos

   The spelling is "standard", except where the pronunciation necessitates
a change.  'cc' is pronounced like a single 'c', namely [k].
I'll intersperse some comments with the numbered examples.

                     Ameyaltepec     Canoa           Hueyapan

   I leave it        niccahua        niccahua        niccava
   I left it        oniccauh        oniccah         oniccan

   Verbs like '-ca:hua' lose their final vowel in the preterit.  Note that
Ameyaltepec keeps the /w/ as [w] (spelled 'hu' before vowels and spelled
'uh' elsewhere -- the spelling inversion does NOT indicate a difference in
pronunciation; it is related to readability).  Canoa converts
syllable-final /w/ (including, of course, word-final ones) to [h].
Hueyapan converts intervocalic /w/ to [v] (pronounced as in English, not
to be confused the Spanish letter 'v'); in word-final position it is
pronounced as [n].

   we leave it       ticcahuah       ticcahuah       ticcavah
   we left it       oticcauhqueh    oticcahqueh     oticcahqueh

   The only difference in #2 is that in Hueyapan, '-ca:hua' shows up in a
*third* phonetic form: '-cah-'.  Therefore children learning the language
in Hueyapan (and, naturally, as users of it throughout their lives) need
to recognize three forms of the stem:

   word-internal, before a vowel:     cava
   word-internal, before a consonant: cah
   word-final:                        can

   I fall            nihuetzi        nihuetzi        nivetzi
   he falls          huetzi          huetzi          huetzi

   These examples establish the fact that in Hueyapan, speakers actually
have a pronunciation "rule" that converts /w/ into [v]; if it were not for
examples like this, we might simply believe that Hueyapan had undergone a
basic change and no longer had a /w/ at all.

   I fell           onihuetz        onihuetz        onivetz
   he fell          ohuetz          ohuetz          oetz

   "oetz" shows that in Hueyapan speakers delete a /w/ that they recognize
as part of the word (cf. huetzi, nivetzi) when it is preceded by 'o'.

   I shell it                                        nigoa
   I shelled it                                     onigon

   I don't recall the Ameyaltepec and Canoa forms, but I thought that the
Hueyapan examples would tickle your imagination.  And the explanation is
too big for this space....

   you buy it                        ticcoa          ticcoa
   you bought it    oticcouh        oticcoh         oticcon

   I return it       niccuepa        niccuepa        niccopa
   I return you      nimitzcuepa     nimitzcuepa     nimitzcopa
   I return (myself) nimocuepa       nimocuepa       nogopa

   These examples are the only ones in the whole set that indicate that
any of the three dialect has changed a vocabulary item: Hueyapan has
'copa' rather than 'cuepa'.  But, again, Hueyapan has an extra
pronunciation "rule": /k/ becomes [g] intervocalically.  Note, however,
that the sound of /k/ is maintained when it is preceded by a consonant.
Linguists will jump with joy when they notice that 'nogopa' (which is
really, in the speaker's mind {nocopa} is pronounced as [nogopa] and
'niccopa' "waits" until all the intervocalic /k/s have been converted to
[g] and then reduces its 'cc' to a single [k] sound between vowels.
If 'niccopa' got in a hurry and didn't wait, and converted its 'cc' into a
single 'c', then it would momentarily become 'nicopa', which would then be
changed into *[nigopa] by the /k/ to [g] "rule".

Incidentally, although Hueyapan has no "double consonants" (pronounced
*long*) except for /ll/ (as in 'calli'), Tepoztlan does have them, but
that's another story.....

   Maybe someone else has some other dialect comparisons?

Best regards,


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