fredag den 28. juli 2017

Reviewing Kaufman’s evidence for Mixe-Zoque, Wastekan and Totonakan borrowings in proto-Nahuan

In a 2001 paper, distributed on the internet through the website of the Project for theDocumentation of Languages of Mesoamerica (PDLMA) the eminent linguist and expert in Mesoamerican languages Terrence Kaufman analyzed the prehistory of Nahuan languages. He focused specifically on showing how influence from the languages of the Mesoamerican Language Area participated in shaping the Southern Uto-Aztecan dialect proto-Nahuan into the Mesoamerican language Nahuatl. The data used for the paper is very impressive, his conclusions well argued, and Kaufman’s writing style is as always very authoritative, and so the paper has been cited quite a few times (30 citations in google scholar).

In this post, I will take issue with some of the conclusions in Kaufman’s paper, specifically I will show that Kaufman significantly overstates his evidence for substantial lexical influence from Mesoamerican languages on proto-Nahuan, because he does not adequately take into account alternative, potential or probable etymologies from Uto-Aztcan sources. I show that most of his proposed borrowings into proto-Nahuan are in fact equally (or more) likely to have Uto-Aztecan etymologies, either from proto-Uto-Aztecan, from proto-Corachol-Nahuan or can be plausibly analyzed as originating as combinations of Nahuan roots.

My conclusion is that there are much fewer borrowings from Mixe-Zoquean, Wastekan and Totonakan in proto-Nahuan than often thought, and that we therefore cannot use this contact as evidence that proto-Nahuatl was spoken in the area of north-eastern Mesoamerica where Kaufman locates the speech community. Rather we should locate the proto-Nahuan speech community on the north-western periphery of Mesoamerica in close contact with Corachol and with Oto-Pamean languages. 

Proposed loans from Mixe-Zoque in all Nahuan

Kaufman’s source
Potential UA etymology
PUA *kawa “shell”
PZ *kɨ’ak
PCN *kakai
PMZ *kopak “head”
*PUA *kupa “top of head/hear”
PMi *pus
Huichol *purusi “stub, cut short”<PCN *puyusi “stub”
PZo *pata’
PCN *pɨta
Old man
PMZ *na’w
PCN *nawari “thief”  
*nawa “steal”
PMZ *(hah)-¢uku
PMZ *tu’nuk
Corachol *tutuvi “large parrot”, Nahua toto “bird”
PMZ *sam “heat”
PCN *sia “sand/clay” + mi “collective plural”
PMZ calque of *tɨ’k-ɨy “house enter”

Kaufman proposes 9 borrowings and a lexical calque from proto-Mixe-Zoque, proto-Zoque or proto-Mixe into proto-Nahuan. Of these borrowings, 7 have equally probable Uto-Aztecan etymologies, and 5 have definite cognates in Corachol, suggesting that if they are borrowings and not inherited then the borrowing would have been between proto-Mixe and proto-Corachol-Nahuan. The calque seems likely, and the word for ant seems possible. Also, I actually think the word for cacao is a likely borrowing from Mixe-Zoque, since the alternative “shell” etymology proposed by Dakin and Wichmann is somewhat weak, and given the fact that it is extremely unlikely that proto-Nahua was spoken by people who lived in a cacao-producing region whereas proto-Mixe-Zoque almost certainly was.  Nevertheless, the claim of Mixe-Zoque contact with proto-Nahuan seems to lack real support once the alternative etymologies are examined.  This is particularly significant because the words proposed as borrowings are highly culturally significant suggesting that Mixe-Zoque speakers had a profound culturalizing influence on proto-Nahua speakers, teaching them to use foot-wear, live in adobe houses with cultivated liverstock such as turkeys, and to use the culturally salient luxury good cacao, and that through them the Nahuas adopted the pan-Mesoamerican belief in shapeshifting sorcerers. With these borrowings, the role of Mixe-Zoque in this regard seems much less significant. Kaufman has been a major proponent of seeing Mixe-Zoque speaking Olmecs as the drivers of the development of the Mesoamerican cultural area, and they probably were – but it does not seem to me that there was any significant contact between Mixe-Zoque speakers and the proto-Nahuan speech community. This probably means that the Nahuas entered Mesoamerica after the decline of Olmec civilization in the centuries before the beginning of the first millennium.

Proposed loans from Wastekan in all Nahuan

Kaufman’s proposal
Potential UA etymology
Sp. of Parrot
Nahua oši-ƛ “sticky dirt”
Nahua ne:-te:č “reciprocal-together”

Kaufman proposes 5 loans from Wastek Maya into proto-Nahuan. Of these only pulque, and deer-foot seem likely loans. Kochotl is not a general Nahuan word, and there is no reason to reconstruct it for proto-Nahuan – likely be an exclusive eastern or Huasteca Nahua loan. Netech is morphologically analyzable as ne-te:ch. Ohoxihtli seems a likely reduplicated form of oxitl “dirt that comes of when you was”. Nahuas in fact associated the origin of pulque with the Huastecs, so it seems likely that this is indeed a likely loan. In conclusion, there may have been contact between proto-Nahuan and Wastekan, but if there was it was quite limited – the only likely loan is the word for pulque, and in fact not all Nahuan varieties have this root, as many use the inherited word for “honey” nekwƛi instead.

Proposed loans from Totonac in all Nahuan

Kaufman’s Totonac source
Alternative source
PUA (Stubbs, 2011, #557)
-¢in diminutive
Otomi-Mazahua či-
Corachol ¢i-/-ši (š is a regular cognate of Nahuan ¢ in Corachol)

Corachol *siuri “tadpole” regularly becomes Nahuan *šoli-.
Nahua: kwaw-kal-ƛi “wooden house”.
Corachol ¢ɨ¢ɨ
Sp. Of fish
waapa “tilapia”
Brother in law
Older sister
-pi “sister” (not younger)
SUA *saka “grass”, Hopi tïïsaqa ”grass”, NUA *saka “willow” (Stubbs 2011 #1055)
Plate/flat bowl
Wild avocado
Avocado is yewka in Coracholan suggesting an origin as proto-Cora-Nahuan *pewaka
Proto-Corachol-Nahuan *siwi “sour/bitter”. *iw becomes Nahua o, but the question is where the -ko element then comes from.
Totonac *ƛ

Kaufman’s 14 proposed loans from Totonac fare a little better when checked for plausible alternative etymologies. The forms šolotl, wahkalli, chichi, pihtli, pawatl have viable UA etymologies. Šolotl and chichi are shared with Corachol. The diminutive -tzin could be borrowed from Totonac, but Otomi-Mazahua has a diminutive/honorific prefix či- and Coracholan has a diminutive prefix ¢i- and a honorific suffix -ši.  The Totonac form does match the Nahua form better than either of those sources. In any case there is basis for considering the -¢i diminutive morpheme to be an areal trait since it is shared between Mesoamerican languages of three different linguistic families (Totonakan, Oto-Pamean and Uto-Aztecan).
The words pochotl and xonotl, describe species with restricted distribution that likely arose as local borrowings in the Nahuatl varieties spoken where these species are found and only subsequently spread through inter-Nahua contact – I would not reconstruct these words to proto-Nahuan. Wapotl and čone are not found in all (or most?) Nahuan dialects, but are local (recent) borrowings.
That leaves the words for plate, brother in-law, tilapia and xonote, as well as the phoneme ƛ, as likely borrowings from Totonacan into proto-Nahuan. 


Out of 29 proposed borrowings, only 9 seem more likely to have been borrowed, than to have been inherited. So, having reviewed the evidence of borrowings from Mixe-Zoquean, Totonac and Wastekan, I must conclude that the extent of lexical borrowings from Mesoamerican languages into proto-Nahuan is greatly overstated by Kaufman.

Kaufman also shows a long list of borrowings from Wasteko into Huastecan Nahuatl – the Nahuatl variety that we know has been spoken in close contact with Wastekan Maya for centuries. Here, most of the proposed borrowings seem completely plausible, but a couple to me suggest the direction of borrowing to be the opposite of what is assumed by Kaufman.

For example the Wastekan word kw’itš’a “grind in mortar” which Kaufman proposes as the source of Huastecan Nahua tekwicha “pestle” seems likely to be related to the Nahuan word for grinding kwečoa “to grind” from PN kwe¢iwa, and related to Huichol rakwi¢i “nixtamal”, Cora kwei¢i “dough” – suggesting a loan from Nahuan into Wasteko.

The Wastek word molik “elbow” is suggestive, but it is not restricted to Huastecan Nahuatl as Kaufman implies, it is found also in western Nahua branch (and as molic in Molina’s dictionary). This suggests either borrowing into Wastek from Nahuan or an additional example of Wastek contact with PN. Given the otherwise unconvincing evidence for Wastek/proto-Nahuan contact, it is probably best to see the default hypothesis as a loan from Nahuan into Wastek. The proposed borrowing of Wastek či’im “maguey juice” as čiimiƛ “mothers milk” in Wastek Nahuan is unlikely, since Cora has ¢i’imé “mothers milk” suggesting again borrowing in the opposite direction.

 In the paper itself, Kaufman states that Mesoamerican languages are seemingly reluctant to borrow and that therefor any situation in which a language is permeated by borrowings shows very intense contact. I think the review of the paper suggests that proto-Nahuan was not permeated with borrowings from Wastekan, Totonakan and Mixe-Zoquean.

References Cited: 

*Dakin, K., & Wichmann, S. (2000). Cacao and chocolate. Ancient Mesoamerica11(1), 55-75.

*Kaufman, T. (2001). The history of the Nawa language group from the earliest times to the sixteenth century: Some initial results. Paper posted online at http://www. albany. edu/anthro/maldp/Nawa. pdf. University of Pittsburgh.

torsdag den 6. juli 2017

The relation between Nahuatl, Cora and Huichol: initial thoughts

Lately I have been studying the two languages Cora (Náayeri) and Huichol (Wixarika) spoken in the Mexican state of Nayarit which like Nahuatl belongs to the Uto-Aztecan language family. 

Everyone agrees that Cora and Huichol are closely related to eachother, and the languages are grouped together under the name Coracholan, but it is an open question whether Nahuatl is more closely related to Coracholan than to the other Uto-Aztecan languages of Mexico. 

There are some significant similarities between the three languages, but some scholars such as Karen Dakin (2017) and Terrence Kaufman (2001) argue that these similarities are most likely due to borrowing between the languages. In 1978,  Lyle Campbell and Ronald Langacker proposed that Nahuan and Coracholan had undergone a shared sound change in which they all changed the previous proto-Uto-Aztecan (PUA) *u to /ɨ/. This would suggest that the languages all began as dialects of a single ancestor language (proto-Corachol-Nahuan) which was itself a daughter language of proto-Southern Uto-Aztecan (PSUA). Karen Dakin in turn has argued that Nahuatl never underwent this change but that Nahua instead changed PUA *u directly into /i/ with some instances changing to /e/ instead.

It is an interesting question whether Coracholan and Nahuan form a single group; a question, which, if we could answer it in the positive would bring us much closer to understanding the origins of Nahuatl, both in terms of geography (it would then have originated in Western Mexico, and not as Kaufman (2001) suggests in North-Eastern Mexico), but also in terms of the linguistic development the language has passed through.

As I have studied Huichol and Cora from the sparse materials about the languages (and from a short field stay in Nayarit, which is still on-going as I write), I have compiled a list of cognates (related words) between the three languages - and I believe that they are indeed closely related and that a single ancestor language can be reconstructed. I have not fully analyzed the patterns of similarity, but there are some that look particularly promising. Below I describe five particularly interesting etymologies:

Three women figures standing in front of hanging hearts
  (detail from a Huichol yarn painting, found at wikicommons).

1. "To live/heart" 

In Nahuatl the root yo:l-  has to do with living, and being alive, and with the heart. From this root we get the intransitive verb yo:li "to live", yo:llo:tl "heart" (</yo:lyo:tl/) and yo:lkatl "animal/living thing", and the spiritual term te:yolia "that which causes people to live" or "life force".  The noun yo:llo:tl or yo:llohtli "heart" is composed of the root yol:- and the suffix -yotl/-yoh that derives an abstract noun or an inalienably possessed noun suggesting a meaning of something like "life-essence" or "aliveness" as the original meaning of the Nahuatl word for heart.

In Huichol the word for "heart" or "soul" is 'iyáari, and as in Nahuatl it is central to the way that Huichol people conceive of life and life force. When one dreams the 'iyáari travels to other worlds, and when one dies the 'iyari of a person begans a journey through the otherworld towards the land of the dead. Similar beings have similar 'iyáari because the 'iyáari travels through kinship bonds, which also means that the Huichol have a different 'iyáari from other beings.

In Cora, life is expressed with the verb rúhuri or rúuri"he lives" and the noun life with the word rúh. And the word for "soul" or "living thing" is rúuri-kame (=yol-katl).

At first glance the three words look quite different, but I consider them cognate. The correspondence between Nahuatl /l/ and Corachol /r/ is easy to explain - it is a very common change in the worlds languages, and in fact Huichol /r/ is often pronounced as /l/. Here we may propose that Nahuan changed Corachol-Nahuan *r to /l/ .  And Huichol and Nahuatl both have /y/ as the first consonant. This leaves us to explain why Cora has begins with /r/ and why the three languages each have completely different vowels Nahuatl /o:/, Huichol /aa/ and Cora /u(h)u/.

Cora has the reflex /r/ corresponding to Nahuan /y/ in several words: Cor. šaihruh "fly": Nah. sayo:lin "fly",  Cor. rú-viveh "tremble": Nah. wewe-yo-ka "tremble" (notice that Cora constructs the compound with the roots reversed relative to Nahuatl), Cor. ɨra’a "wife", Hui. 'iya "wife", Nah. ye "mother", (found in the Isthmus varieties),  and in the locative suffix describing a place full of x, e.g. Nah. okoyoh , Hui. hukuyá and Cor. úkúuré all meaning "place full of pinetrees". So Cora /r/ is in fact a regular reflex of Nahuatl and Huichol /y/ and it is particularly common before Cora /u/ corresponding to Nahuatl /o/. We may posit as a sound law that Cora changes a proto-Coracholan *y to /r/ before back vowels (and maybe some other vowels).

As for the differential vowels, there are also patterns that explain this: the first pattern is that Nahuan long /o:/ often corresponds to diphthongs /ew/ or /eu/ and /aw/ or /au/ in Coracholan for example:  Cor. sau'uh, Hui. xiauri, Nah. so:lin "quail"; Hui. teukíya, Cor. tye'ukwa, Nah. to:ka "bury", Cor. taya'u ("god"), Hui. tayew "name of the sungod", Nah. teo:tl; "deity/sacred"; Cor. tyauhsa Nah. to:san "mole" and Hui. tau "sun" and Nah. to:na "heat (of the sun)". Indeed one Cora dialect, that of Santa Teresa also has the change to a long /o:/ in its reflexes of those particular words- and the change is well known also from European languages, it is for example the same change that turned Latin aurum into French or and Spanish oro. Hence we can propose one more sound change: Nahuatl turns proto-Corachol-Nahuan *au into /o:/. But in this word Huichol and Cora does not have /au/ but instead Huichol has /aa/ and Cora has /u(h)u/. What went wrong? There is also a correspondence between Nahuatl o and Corachol u - and in those case we can be fairly sure that /o/ was the original (e.g. the words for fly, tremble, pine, and the "full of x" suffix). So the Cora form *uu could from a previous *oo - in that case Nahuatl and Cora would have both changed the *au to /o:/ and Cora would then have changed /o:/ to /u:/. This would be a sound change shared by Cora and Huichol, which would considerably strengthen the claim that the languages are closely related. It could however also be the case that the word was borrowed into Cora from Nahuan, since Nahuan /o/ is always borrowed as Cora /u/. But the fact that there is a Huichol cognate suggests that it is not borrowed, and the fact that Huichol has the vowel /aa/ suggests that perhaps this word simply saw a previous corachol-Nahuan *au change to /o:/ in Nahuan, to /aa/ Huichol and to /uu/ in Cora- with Cora and Huichol each leveling the previous diphthong, but one language choosing to level to the a and the other to the u.

This would suggest that all three words derive through fairly regular changes (at least changes of which there are other examples between the languages) from a proto-form close to *yauri or *yahuri .

This seems like a likely explanation which just requires us explain why Cora and Huichol leveled the diphthong in this word but not in the many other words with a sequence of /au/. I will keep looking for an explanation of this exception.

2. "Breath/to breathe"

The Nahuatl word for breath is ihiyo:tl, and it is also a culturally salient word because like yo:li and te:yo:lia it refers to one of the lifeforces that characterize human beings (Nahuas recognized at least three life forces, the te:yo:lia (tied to the heart), the ihiyo:tl (tied to the breath) and the to:nalli (tied to the sun and the day)).

The Cora word for breath is yéh, and the form that means "to breath heavily" is í'iyeh with the prefixed í'i-.

The Huichol word for "lungs" or "breath" is 'iiyáte. 

While the words seem quite similar to the word for to live (I would say they are probably derived from the same root at an earlier point in the languages' development), here we see two major differences: Cora does not have /r/ but /y/, and Cora does not have /u/ but /e/. The reflexes for Nahuatl and Huichol are the same as for the previous etymology y:y and o:/a. So why is Cora different? First we may posit that Cora retains y from *y when occuring infront of the vowel e (i.e. front vowels). This makes good sense since /y/ is a palatal consonant and palatals like front vowels - so we may propose a modification of the previous rule (Cora *y>r) to say that Cora depalatalizes *y to *r except before front vowels.

But then we need to understand why the front vowel is even there to begin with! Here we may propose the same development as before - we have a rising diphthong beginning with /a/  and while Huicho levels to the first vowel Cora levels the diphthong to the second vowel. So that would suggest a diphthong of /ae/. But why would Nahuan turn /ae/ into /o:/?  I don't think it would, but it might turn the diphthong *aɨ into /o/ - at least that seems to happen in the words for "waste/trash" which is Cora saɨri and Nahuatl sol-. And in Corachol PUA *ɨ regularly becomes /e/. So that lets us reconstruct PCN *aɨ which becomes PC *ae and Huichol /a/ and Cora /e/ (I don't know why there doesn't seem to be a long vowel in any of these except for Nahuatl, this could be a secondary shortening). And the previous rule allows us to show that the depalatalization of *y to /r/ in Cora happened after the leveling of the diphthong.

In this way, using basically the same sound changes proposed for the first etymology, leads to a final reconstruction of a proto-Corachol-Nahuan root *iyaɨ "breath/to breathe". Note also how the Huichol nominal ending -te seems to match the Nahuatl absolutive suffix -tli, suggesting that this suffix comes from a previous *(Karen Dakin and Alexis Manaster-Ramer have already suggested this). 

3. "To degrain corn/corn kernels"

In Nahuatl there are several words for maize: in general maize is sentli or sintli, though in some varieties this refers specificlly to the dried corncob as opposed to the fresh corn cob which is called yelo:tl ot elo:tl. But another word is for the dried corn kernels after they have been taken off the cob, these are the ones that are boiled with lime to make the nixtamal porridge that is in turn ground into dough. These dried kernels are called tlao:lli (or in some varieties tleo:lli, tlao:yalli, or tau:lli and other variants) this is a patientive noun derived from the verb oya "to degrain corn". The root of this verb is o: and -ya is one of the different verbal stem formant suffixes.

I would usually posit that the old common-Nahuan term was /tlao:yalli/ which ponemically is /ƛa-o:ya-ƛi/, where the /y/ is assimilated to the /ƛ/ to become a double ll. But the most common form of the word in Nahuan is /tlao:lli/ where the thematic vowel -a of the transitive verb seems to be deleted (as sometimes happens to penultimate vowels in Nahuan).  But it is also possible that the common-Nahuan form was tlao:lli with the phonemic form /ƛao:l-ƛi/. Based on the Nahuan form alone we would reconstruct a pre-Nahuan (that is, the stage before proto-Nahuatl where the language had still not undergone the changes that would turn it into Nahuan) /*ta- o:-ri-tɨ/ or /*ta- oya-ri-tɨ/ where the -ri- is the passive morpheme that becomes -l- in Nahuan.

Now, in Huichol the corresponding forms I have found in a dictionary is 'urika "to degrain corn" and reuyusáata "corn grain", ("corn" in general is 'ikú). the root here is 'u-.   In Cora the forms are yuu "degrain corn", yuuri “corn grain (and in general)” and yuhuri  the verbal form for “it has been degrained”, the root clearly being yuu-. 

Where Nahuan has the stem formant -ya, Huichol has the transitive verbal stem formants  -rika, but in the noun we see the form uyu suggesting that the long o in Nahuatl is a simplification of an original oyo sequence (making the full Huicho root uyu). We could then hypothesize that the Huichol re- prefix is cognate with the Nahuan tla- prefix, and that the -sáa suffix is a patientive like the Nahuan -l- and the -ta suffix is cognate with the Nahuan absolutive suffix.

In Cora the -ri suffix corresponds to the patientive suffix in Nahuatl, and the  root yuu seems to correspond with the Nahua root o: and the Huichol root 'u(yu). We know from the Cora vocabulario published by Father de Ortega in 1732 that Cora in the 18th century still had traces of an original set of absolutive prefixes, one of which was -t (Vázquez Soto 2000), and if we look up the word maiz (yes, the 1732 cora vocabulary is available online!) we find the form yuurit showing the final absolutive suffix. Now the three languages match entirely phoneme for phoneme and morpheme for morpheme.

This gives us the following correspondence between the forms in the three languages:

Proto Nahuatl:
/*ta- o:   -ri  -tɨ
/re-  uyu -sáa -ta/
/Ø- yuu  -ri -t/

 OBJ- degrain -PASS -ABS

This comparison gives us some valuable information about the grammatical development of the languages as well: Nahuan includes the verbal formant when it derives verbs (unless we argue that the form tlao:lli, is in fact the one found in common Nahuatl and that it didn't drop the -ya verbalized but simply never included it, which I think is likely). It also shows us that if this comparison of morphemes holds, then Huichol and Nahuatl are similar in both having the prefix tla- which would then be expected to be an object marker referring to an inanimate object "something", but that Cora does not need such an object marker on a patientive noun derived from a transitive verb.  This suggests that Huichol and Cora have both developed a grammatical requirement of transitive nouns to mark their objects arguments explicitly, while Cora has not. On the other hand Nahuatl groups with Cora in having the patientive suffix -ri,  suggesting that we need to reconstruct it for proto-Corachol-Nahuan and consider the Huichol -sáa an innovation. But finally, it is interesting that while the word in each language is composed of cognate morphemes and following the same grammatical model, they result in different words, suggesting that while the proto-Corachol-Nahuan language had a verb for "degraining corn", each daughter language derived the noun from this verb in a separate process.

So we can reconstruct *oyo or *oo as the proto-Corachol-Nahuan verb for  "to degrain corn"; and while we could reconstruct the patientive noun as something like *ooritɨ or *oyoritɨ, we should probably not do that, since it seems each language derived the noun on its own.

4. "To bury/plant" (and "spiders" and "names")

Apart from grinding corn kernels into dough another thing you can do with them is to plant them, that is use them as seeds. In Nahuatl the word for planting is /to:ka/, and it also means "to bury" (persons or things) and the word for seed is /ač-ƛi/.  Interestingly the word for name and naming is a homophone /t:oka/ "to name" and /to:ka-yi-(ƛ)/ "a name", and there is another set of near homophones namely /toka/ "follow" and /tokaƛ/ "spider", with a short /o/ instead of a long one.  Such homophones and near homophones make for interesting cases in reconstructing a relatoinship because they test our understanding of the phonology of the proto-language.

In Huichol "to plant" is tuárika, but "to bury" is a separate verb tewkíya. "Seed" is hasí,  "name" is tewa and spider is tuuká. A word that seems related to "name" is tewkari which refers to that grandfather of a child who gives it its name in a naming ceremony. The word for "follow" is the seemingly unrelated veiyarika, which seems to be a transitive form of the verb for "to go".

In Cora "to plant" is the seemingly unrelated wíité, but "to bury" is  tye’ukwa or in Cora of Sta. Teresa tyo’kwa. "Seed" is haȼí, "name" is tyáwa and spider is tu'uká (1732 tùcati). The word for to go is given as tabahara in the dictionary of the McMahons. 

This gives us a set of comparisons like this:


"to name" 
to:ka-yi-(ƛ) “name”
"to name someone"
tewá “name”
tewkari “name-giver”
"to name"
"to name someone"
tyawarit (1732)
tùca-ti (1732)

The two that are straight forward are "seed" and "spider": 
The differing vowel in tu'uka/toka points towards an original *o, and we can see that apparently the double vowel in Huichol and the glottalized vowel in Cora do not correspond with a long vowel in Nahuan. We might suggest that the first syllable ended in a glottal stop, *to'  and that in in Corachol it became glottalization with rearticulation, and in Huichol the stop disappeared between two identical vowels which then coalesced into a long vowel, whereas in Nahuatl it simply disappeared. Cora and Nahuatl show reflexes of the absolutive suffix -tɨ, whereas Huichol does not. This gives us a proto-Corachol-Nahuan reconstruction of *to’ka-tɨ.

In the word for "seed" Nahuatl lost the initial *h (probably from an earlier PUA **p), palatalized *ȼ to č before the front vowel i and added the absolutive suffix (the word is not recorded in the 1732 Cora vocabulary, but it probably did have the suffix in Cora). Huichol systematically changes Corachol *ȼ to /s/. This gives us a proto-Corachol-Nahuan reconstruction of *haȼí-tɨ.

For "bury", "plant", and "name" it looks like we may have two or three different etyma which have become homophonous in Nahuatl. In the etymology for "life/heart" we saw that PCN *au/aw diphthongs became Nahuan /o:/. Here it looks like the same happened for the difthong eu/ew. All the forms in all thre languages can be derived from a root of the shape /*tewa/: In Nahuatl the root becomes /to:/ which then combines with the verbalizing stem -ka, but in Corachol the development seem to depend on the accent, which in Huichol seems to cause an apocope of unstressed syllables.

In Huichol we see four different developments (acute accent shows primary accent with high pitch, and grave accent a secondary rhythmic accent with low pitch, unmarked syllables are unstressed and low pitch):




We can see that when the root /tewa/ combines with a bisyllabic suffix which has the accent on the first syllable then the unstressed syllable in the root is lost. The accent doesn't seem to be lexical though because the "name" root has stress on the second syllable when occurring alone and on the first syllable when occurring as part of the word for "name giver". Probably rather accent shifts were used for grammatical effects, as they still are in Huichol where plural forms of some word are made by shifting the accent from one syllable to the other, or as in Cora where some noun/verb pairs have alternating accent patterns. Incidentally, it is interesting to consider whether the Huichol word for "bury" can be analyzed as "dust-enter/house-Verbalizer". In Nahuatl "dust" is tew-, enter is -aki and -ya is an inchoative verbalizing formant. In Huichol is "house", "enter" is haayá, but  I have not found a root corresponding to Nahuan tew-. 

In Cora we see two different developments in the word for "bury" and "name":  In both words the *t is palatalized to /ty/, which again tells us that the first /a/ in the Cora word for name is a secondary development since this palatalization usually happens only before front vowels. This suggests a process of regressive vowel harmony having affected the word and turning the original /e/ into an /a/ in anticipation of the vowel in the second syllable - this process is found both internally in Cora and in Nahuan.

In the 1732 vocabulary the word has two additional suffixes not found today: tyawa-ri-t. The first suffix -ri could be one we have seen before as the patientive suffix, and the -t is the remnant of the absolutive suffix *-tɨ. But in fact rather than being a patientive suffix I think the -ri- suffix in Cora is cognate to the Nahuan suffix -yi- which signals abstractivation or inalienable possession. This would make the Cora morpheme sequence -ri-t cognate to Nahuatl the Nahuatl sequence -yo:-tl.   

In the word for "bury" the Cora forms show a glottalization between the /e'u/ in the form from Jesús Maria and after the /o'/ in the form from Sta. Teresa. The Sta. Teresa form is a secondary development of the eu sequence, and in fact we see Sta Teresa changing both the sequences /eu/ and /au/ to /o/ - just as in Nahuatl! The final change to be explained is why Cora has /kwa/ instead of /ka/ - here there are two possible explanations: One is that it is simply a different verbalizing stem that is used, the other is that Cora has labialized the /k/ which is not unlikely since Cora frequentlky labializes both /t/, /k/ and /m/ before /a/. 

The word for plant in Cora is wíité which seems unrelated to the *tewa forms - unless the root for planting is -and the -wa is and added stem formant. In which case we might be able to analyze plant as a trimorphemic root *te-wa-ka, "bury" as bimorphemic *tew-aka (dust-enter) and name as bimorphemic *tewa-ka. 

Finally the Nahuatl and Cora forms for "follow" look like they might be cognate, but from a stem tawa- instead of tewa-, but I am not going to explore that possibility now.  

Additionally we should mention that Brian Stubbs reconstructs the PUA word for name with the vowel **ɨ and with a nasal as **tɨnwa. PUA ɨ regularly becomes e in Coracholan and Nahuan, and the Cora form for "to name someone" seems to show a reflex of the nasal.

Notice how interesting and suprisingly beautiful it is that the word should become a homophones that describe both the first and the last ritual in the human life cycle, and the act of planting a lifeless seed into the ground to see it return as a life-sustaining plant.

5. Sun, heat, deities and sacred energy

Having covered now terms of religious and spiritual significance to the life and the soul and to nourishment and the life cycle it enables we turn now to the last set of words, which are no less significant: The words for the sun, its heat, its status as primary deity, and the sacred energy that is associated with it. 

A depiction of a ruler called "tlacateotl" in the Codex Xolotl,
his name written simply with the glyph for teo:tl, a sun.
The Nahuatl word for "sun", "day" and the solar energy that provides humans with their individual fates is called /to:nalli/, and is another patientive noun derived from the verb /to:na/ "to be warm" (about the sun and weather), the adjective "hot" in Nahuatl is /to-to:n-ki/ a reduplicated form of the verb with an perfect suffix (so basically "heated"). The word for "deity" (today mostly the Christian god) and for "sacred" is teo:tl. There is no obvious relation between those two words - except that in the Aztec glyphic script the word teo:tl was written logographically with a symbol depicting a sun. Nevertheless, in the following I shall show a relation between the two, though it is not a direct etymological relation.

In Huichol the word for sun is tau, plain and simple. But the word tau can also be used to describe the solar deity who also has the personal name /tayéu/. There is also a prefix tu- used to describe sacred things tukí "traditional temple building" (tu+house), tutú means "the ancient tradition (i.e. Huichol religion)", tutúma "deity" (any deity in the large Huichol pantheon), and túukah means "midday". 

A Huichol  sikɨri  sun-symbol placed in the landscape.
In Cora the word for "sun" and "day" and "heat" is sɨkah, which seems unrelated to the Nahua and Huichol words for sun, but the word for "God" (the christian, and other deities) is taya'u. The word for sun seems to be related to the Huichol word for a sacred sun related symbol called "the eye of god" in Spanish, but sikɨri in Huichol. If we look under "sol" in the 1732 Cora vocabulary we find out why the Cora shifted to calling the sun sɨkah because it says "Sol - xeucat. Decirle tayoappa es idolatrar porque le decián que era su padre" [Sun - sɨkah. Saying tayoappa is committing idolatry because they said that was their father ]. It seems that the Cora also originally had a name for the sun and solar deity which was probably something like /tayau-pa/ where the -pa is a likely locative suffix, but that missionaries in the 18th century forbade them to use that word.  

The picture is complicated however by the fact that both Cora and Huichol has borrowed a lot of words from Nahuatl, many in the ecclesiastical realm as Nahuatl was the langage used as a lingua franca by missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. For example the word for "church" is teyeupáni in Huichol, and teyuhpwa in Cora both borrowed from Nahuatl teo:pan (Knab 1976). Luckily it seems that we can count on the borrowed form of teo:tl to be identified by having /e/ as the first vowel. 

This gives us the following breakdown of probable relations: 


to:- (na)

 At this point we can see that Nahuatl /to:/ is the regular reflex of proto-Corachol-Nahuan *tau, the -na is a verbalizing stem formant deriving the verb "to sunheat" from the noun root.  

The word for deity/sacred energy/name of the Solar deity/God has two syllables: we can assume that *e was the original and that it either god blended with the word for sun, or that the /e/ assimilated to the following vowel if that was /a/. The long Nahua /o:/ could be from either /ew/ or /aw/, so that doesn't provide a definitive clue. We should probably reconstruct the proto-Nahuan form with a /y/ glide between the two syllables as *teyo:-, this glide simple disappears phonologically when found in between a front and a back vowel (the same reason the glide in the Nahuatl verb /piya/ "to have" can only be distinguished when the final /a/ drops in the past tense and the /y/ devoices to [š]).  

This leaves the Huichol shortform tu to be explained: Here I would again invoke the accent phenomenon that causes apocope of unstressed vowels: tú < *taú, in the same way that tuá- "to plant" comes from tewá.    

Stubbs reconstructs a PUA root **tɨyo "deity" which he only finds in the Aztecan branch, I have hereby demonstrated that the root is shared with Coracholan and should be reconstructed as *tɨyaw or *tɨyew. 

6. Conclusions: 

In this post I have basically attempted to solve the relations between life and death, sustenance, birth and the sacred in Nahuatl and Corachol - at least the etymological relations. And I believe that I have shown that the three languages are indeed very closely related, sharing not only a set of linguistic forms derived from the same root, but also a system of cultural conceptualizations of the relatoins between life, death, food and religion. I cannot say that I have demonstrated that Corachol and Nahuatl are more closely related than either group is to other Southern Uto-Aztecan languages (to do that I would need to include those groups in the comparison), but I think that it is fairly improbable that the same degree of phonologica, semantic, lexical and morphological similarity can be found with any of the other UA languages of Mexico. 


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