-h for saltillo

Michael McCafferty mmccaffe at indiana.edu
Sun Jan 17 15:41:40 UTC 2010

Thank you, Dr. Karttunen, for this very nice elucidation.

Best regards,


Quoting Frances Karttunen <karttu at nantucket.net>:

> 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
> Nahuatl.
> 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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