-h for saltillo

Frances Karttunen karttu at nantucket.net
Sun Jan 17 13:53:36 UTC 2010

There is precedent for using orthographic -h for saltillo from the  
16th-century, although it was not used systematically.  The  
convention was adopted by J. Richard Andrews, who does use it  
systematically, and I carried it on in An Analytical Dictionary of  

My preference for -h was/is two-fold.  First, I wanted to avoid  
proliferation of conventions and for the dictionary to be compatible  
with the Andrews grammar.

Second, what we call "saltillo" functions as a consonant in Nahuatl,  
no matter whether its phonetic realization is a glottal stop (in some  
central dialects) or as an aspiration that would be represented as  
phonetic [h] (not to be confused with Spanish orthographic -h, which-- 
thanks to historical sound change--has no phonetic realization at all).

When an accent mark over a vowel is used to indicate that that vowel  
is followed by saltillo, it implies that saltillo is a quality of the  
vowel rather than a consonant following the vowel.  It is true that  
the saltillo does affect the quality of the preceding vowel, but from  
the point of view of the systematic phonology of Nahuatl, it is  
crucial to understand that syllables that end in saltillo function  
like syllables that end in the other consonants of Nahuatl and not  
like open syllables.

Understanding and accepting the phonological contrast of open and  
closed syllables (and hence, stems that end in vowels versus stems  
that end in consonants) makes sense of Nahuatl morphology, which  
otherwise has the appearance of being dauntingly arbitrary.

Frances Karttunen
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