Fwd: Nahuatl word classes

Jonathan Amith jdanahuatl at gmail.com
Thu Jan 3 06:16:34 UTC 2013

Hi listeros,

I am on a computer in a cybercafe with a bad keyboard, so this might be
shorter than otherwise. In my experience there are many nominal ¨forms¨
that do not function as prototypical nouns (arguments) but rather are
limited to a predicate position. Think of "ablaze" in English and the
limits to its syntactic function.

For Launey, if I understand his omnipredicativity argument, everything
(except a few things like vocatives, eg.) are predicates so I am not sure
how he would distinguish kwalli, tlapa:ktli, etc. from other nouns. But my
experience is that these are only predicates and hence the difference. Many
speakers consider tlapa:ktli as an adjective if asked, but this is because
of its syntactic limitations. However, one wants to resolve the problem
there are differences in the syntactic functions of different nouns and one
solution might be to divide them on a type of squish in Ross´s terminology,
again if I remember correctly.

Similar problems exist with "adjectives" and "adverbs" and one solution is
to look at predicate modifiers as a class. Cf. yo:li:k, chika:wak, etc. for
which I am not quite sure what the best part of speech solution would be,
but whatever one chooses it should be noted that the modification can often
be of nouns or verbs, etc.

best, jonathan

On Wed, Jan 2, 2013 at 10:38 AM, Galen Brokaw <brokaw at buffalo.edu> wrote:

> Hi Magnus,
> I have a question about "cualli" too. Like John, I thought your original
> point was that grammatical categories should be based on form and formal
> behavior rather than semantic function. And I wholeheartedly agreed with
> that. I had the same concern, and we have had discussions on the list about
> this issue before. Now that I've gone back and reread your original
> response, I see that you do refer to syntactical function, but you then
> immediately explain, and advocate for, the classification of words in
> Nahuatl based on morphological form. So I guess I thought you were defining
> syntactical function in formal terms. So I'm not sure exactly how
> syntactical function differs from form and whether or not you can divorce
> it from form or from semantics either, and that seems to cause problems. I
> agreed with what I understood you to be saying, that grammatical categories
> should be based on their formal properties and behavior rather than their
> semantic function. I think this is so in part because "semantic function"
> always has formal implications that are not necessarily universal. For
> example, if a particular language uses verbs exclusively to describe nouns,
> then it is difficult for us to talk about the semantics of this phenomenon
> without recourse to the grammatical category "adjective." But this does not
> mean that such verbs have an adjectival function. In the hypothetical
> language to which I am referring, such expressions are verbal, so they have
> a verbal function. They only have an adjectival function in relation to
> languages that have adjectives.
> This is only indirectly related to my question about "cualli." I think the
> issue here is a little different. So to get back to the case of "cualli,"
> and at the risk of revealing my profound ignorance, can I ask how the usage
> of "kwalli" is different from other nouns? Maybe I don't understand your
> examples, but don't other nouns work the same way? You can say "tehwah
> titlakati" too, right? But this doesn't mean that "tlakati" works as a
> verb. If that were the case, then wouldn't all predicate nominatives and
> direct objects function like verbs when the verb is omitted? It sounds like
> you are saying something similar to the idea that because a verb is not
> necessary, therefore nouns work like verbs in Nahuatl. But just because the
> verb can be omitted doesn't mean that the noun takes on a verbal function.
> It seems to me that this confuses pragmatics with formal categories and
> structures of syntax. Maybe I am misunderstanding, but it sounds like you
> are hesitant to classify it as a regular noun, not because it behaves
> irregularly from a morphological or formal perspective, but rather merely
> because it is commonly used without a verb. But it seems to me that such
> usage has more to do with pragmatic function than it does syntactic
> function: the fact that Nahuatl doesn't need an actual verb in a complete
> and acceptable utterance (which could be expressed as a complete
> grammatical sentence with a verb). Of course, I think this is true of all
> languages.
> Galen
> On 1/1/2013 10:49 PM, Magnus Pharao Hansen wrote:
>> Dear John and listeros
>> Thanks for the explanations.
>> some responses:
>> 2. Ok, so the -x is the remnant of the /yi/ ending (this means that in La
>> Huasteca the phonological forms are underlyingly /tokayitl/ and
>> /ma:yitl/).
>> This would not be recognized by speakers of central dialects.
>> 4. I am not giving an account of how these words are formed, they are
>> clearly fromed from verbs and nouns. But they function like property words
>> that form stative predicates.
>> 5. kwalli works as a verb in that its primary syntactic function is to
>> form
>> predicates "kwalli inon" 'tehwah tikwalli" etc. And it is not very nouny
>> ()although obviously it originated as a noun because it neither accepts
>> plural or possessive morphology, and hardly ever occurs as the argument of
>> a verb as nouns prototypically do.
>> best,
>> M
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