When there is a Y and when there isn't

Frances Karttunen karttu at comcast.net
Thu Feb 7 19:51:22 UTC 2013

In spoken Nahuatl, the difference between the vowel-vowel sequence ia  
and the sequence with an intervening glide iya is generally  
inaudible. There are, however, morphological distinctions.  For  
instance, the intervocalic y of chiya and piya reveals its presence  
when it becomes word-final or is followed by a consonant. Then the y  
changes its quality: the preterite stem of chiya is chix, and the x  
also shows up in nouns  derived from the preterite stem like  
teo:pixqui 'priest' from piya.

There is no obvious reason to choose miyac/miyec over miac/miec  
'much, many' since the context never puts the y (if there is one)  
into a context in which it could change to x.

What is more, there is no way to tell whether a verb written as  
ending in ia will be an invariant Class 1 verb like ihya:ya 'to  
stink' that just adds a preterite -c/-queh; a class 2 verb that has a  
preterite stem that drops the final vowel and changes y to x like  
piya and chiya and some others; or a Class 3 verb that doesn't have a  
y in there at all and forms its preterite stem by dropping the final  
a and adding a glottal stop: aquia 'to adjust something' where the  
preterite stem is aquih.  (In An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl,  
for strictly morphological reasons, I give the canonical form of this  
class of verbs as ending in i followed by a long vowel a:.)

It is precisely because there is no way of telling from the  
traditional spelling(s) or even from hearing a form in isolation,  
whether one is dealing with iya or ia  that Molina uses the  
convention of including the preterite form with every verb entry in  
his dictionary.

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