¡Tlatz-tla-kual-tzin!
thunder-unspecified-good-ie
Function becomes
meaning: The prefix
tlain Nawatl
David Tuggy
CILTA - URP
SIL
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
There’s an important theoretical and cultural
difference between two general linguistic
frameworks of considerable influence. They
may be called
The Formalist framework
The Functionalist framework
What is the difference?
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
Scott Delancey (a functionalist) says that
Formalists are not much interested in the
question “Why?”
For functionalists, that is the most
interesting question.
(Some formalists would probably disagree.)
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
Formalists and functionalists do seem to differ on
where they look for explanations.
Formalists look for explanations from within the
linguistic system, and not from outside it.
Some (e.g. Chomskyans) believe that the linguistic
system is quite separate from everything else that
goes on in our heads: it is a mysterious “black box”
It can only be understood by looking at linguistic
data in search of the best self-contained
explanation (one based only on what is within the
system).
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
Given this way of looking at language, it is
sufficient and desirable to achieve an explanation
based on the hypothetical nature (otherwise
unknown) of the human linguistic faculty.
One looks for evidence within languages which will
let us understand more about the nature of the
black box of the linguistic faculty.
Whatever isn’t explained by the nature of this black
box is of lesser interest to these theorists.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
For another branch of formalist linguistics,
there is no such thing as explanation other
than description:
“If the facts have been fully stated, it is
perverse or childish to demand an
‘explanation’ into the bargain.”
—Joos 1957,
representing Bloomfield’s point of view.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
Functionalists seek explanations in other
areas.
Delancey emphasizes two favorite
explanatory engines of the functionalists:
Function (motivation based on the use
of language to communicate, on
cognition, etc.)
Diachrony
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
The two explanatory engines of functionalism:
Function
Diachrony
Paraphrasing: Why do we talk the way we
do?
Because it’s useful
Because we’ve done it that way
before
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
Obviously and importantly, it is useful
to talk the way we are used to talking
So, Diachrony is also Functionally
motivated
We started talking that way because it
was useful, and it generally keeps on
being useful.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
In other words, Functional motivation and
Diachrony are not opposed or contradictory;
rather they fit very well with each other.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
Functional motivation and Diachrony often
go in cycles:
Functionally motivated changes are made.
These changes are consolidated and
become established habits of speech.
These then form the background for new
changes.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
It’s useful to think of a language as a box of
tools which we can use to communicate
with.
For a given communicative purpose you can
always build a new tool, but
It is likely to be expensive, difficult, and
not all that helpful
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
You get better results (generally it is more
Functional) taking an existing tool (one
already developed Diachronically), even
though it was made for a slightly different
purpose, and use it for what you want to do.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
You want to open a paint can:
You could invent a paint-canopener from scratch,
But you’re better off just
grabbing a screwdriver and
opening your paint can.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
The screwdriver was not made for opening
paint cans.
But it works,
And very quickly you can get
used to using it that way.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
You want to
unscrew a Torx
screw
So you go after it
with your Philips
screwdriver
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
The great thing about
linguistic tools is that they
automatically adapt
themselves to their tasks.
When you use your Philips
screwdriver on Torx screws …
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
It turns into a Torx
screwdriver …
…without losing its ability to
work on Philips screws.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
Many linguistic forms come pre-adapted
for several related functions.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
And sometimes for rather different functions.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
Some supermorphemes are Swiss Army
knives.
They have
been used for
so many things
that they are
impressively
polysemic.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
The phonological form is the handle of
the tool.
Every functional
capability that it
acquires is a new
(polysemic)
meaning.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
This stands the “performance –
competence” distinction on its head.
Chomsky and others talk as if performance is best ignored except as it
fitfully reflects the pristine platonic
Competence, residing in the black box.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
Here we are claiming that usage affects, to
the point of determining, linguistic
competence.
Usage affects, in fact
it determines, the
shape of the lexical
and grammatical tools
in the linguistic
toolbox.
Introduction:
Functional linguistics
Of course the
shape of the tools
very strongly
affects how we
use them.
But we can and
do stretch
meanings by new
usages
TlaThe prefix tla- in Nawatl (Nahuatl) is a
Swiss Army super-morpheme.
Its basic function is
to let you avoid
mentioning the
object of a
transitive verb.
Transitive verbs
A transitive verb is like a light socket.
It is obviously
incomplete.
Something is
missing.
Objectless transitive verbs
Leaving a transitive verb without its
object is like leaving
the light socket
without its
lightbulb
Objectless transitive verbs
A verb like eat is an empty object socket.
When you hear it
you want to know
what got eaten.
But what if you as
speaker would rather
not say what got
eaten?
Objectless transitive verbs
Different languages have evolved
different ways of
responding to this
functional need.
In English you can
simply not mention
the object.
Objectless transitive verbs
Instead of saying: “Adam ate the apple,”
You can just say
“Adam ate”
and leave it at
that.
Objectless transitive verbs
If you do this often enough, the verb eat
will change.
It will stop being
so important to
specify the object.
In Nawatl this tactic
is not permitted.
You have to name
an object.
Objectless transitive verbs
Another tactic is to look for a different
verb which doesn’t require an object.
You can say:
“Adam dined (at
10 o’clock)”
People will no
longer expect to
hear what he ate.
Objectless transitive verbs
Other languages have an “antipassive”
construction.
Just as a passive
lets you use a verb
without mentioning
its subject, an antipassive lets you use
it without mentioning its object.
Objectless transitive verbs
Not all languages have an antipassive.
English doesn’t,
nor does Nawatl.
(Nawatl doesn’t
have a passive
either.)
Objectless transitive verbs
Yet another tactic is to use a “cognate
object”.
The cognate object
doesn’t tell you any
more than you
already knew.
You can say:
“Adam ate food.”
Objectless transitive verbs
You can also use an object whose
meaning consists in not saying what it is.
You can say:
“Adam ate
something.”
This would be an
“unspecified
object.”
TlaThis last strategy is the normal one by
which Nawatl responds to this situation.
Instead of a separate
word “something”,
Nawatl uses the
prefix tla-.
Tla- means (more or
less) “something”
s.t. = “something”.
TlaNawatl has a series of prefixes which mark
verbal objects. Tla- is a member of that series.
(1a)
ni-k- kuā
‘I eat it’
I- it eat
(b)
ø- mo- kuā
‘it eats itself/is eaten’
3ps- refl- eat
(c)
(d)
ti- tla-
kuā
-h
‘we eat (food/s.t.)’
1pp- unspec- eat
-pl
tē-
-ni ‘wild animal’
-er
(lit. people-eater)
kuā
unspec.human eat
Why would you use tla-?
Why would you choose not to specify the
object?
There could be a
number of
functional reasons.
Those reasons
become part of the
meaning(s) of tla-.
Why would you use tla-?
Why would you refrain from specifying
the object? Maybe:
You don’t know what was eaten.
• Maybe the object was too small
• Or you couldn’t see it from where you were
• Etc.
It doesn’t matter to you what was eaten,
and you don’t think it will matter to your
hearer either.
Why would you use tla-?
Why would you refrain from specifying
the object? Maybe:
You and your hearer already know what it
was.
Your hearer could guess what it was.
You want to hold back that information till
a different part of the discourse, where it
will have a bigger impact.
You don’t want your hearer to know what it
was.
Why would you use tla-?
Why would you refrain from specifying
the object? Maybe:
The object is too scary to mention.
The object is too gross to mention.
The object is too holy to mention.
It could be any of these reasons, or any
combination of them.
Why would you use tla-?
All these reasons affect why Nawatlspeakers use tlaAnd so tla- has adapted to such usages.
Prototypical tlaSometimes you can’t specify any one
reason as opposed to the others.
(2)
ō-
ni- tla-
kowa -to
past- yo- unspec- buy
-went.to
‘I went to buy s.t./
I went shopping’
With this form a hearer doesn’t know why the
speaker chose not to specify the object. It
could be for any of the reasons we have
mentioned.
Prototypical tlaUnspecified object of a
transitive verb
Object of transitive verb
unspecified because
unknown to speaker
Object of a transitive verb
unspecified because obvious to
speaker and hearer
Semantic
Space
Object of a transitive verb
unspecified because it is
unimportant
Phonological
Space
tla
Object of a transitive verb
unspecified because it is too
gross/holy to mention
Activating any of these meanings will also
activate the schema that includes them all.
(verb
stem)
Tla- ‘unspecified object’
These are the most common uses of tlaWe unfortunately don’t have time to
discuss them all.
But notice the following paradox.
Sometimes tla- indicates an object which is
obvious in context, a highly topical object.
Sometimes it marks an insignificant object,
low in topicality.
Tla- ‘normal object’
Often tla- marks an object that doesn’t need
specifying because it is the normal object.
1(c)
ti- tla-
kuā
1pp- unspec- eat
-h
‘we eat (food/s.t.)’
-pl
What is eaten could not be, for instance, a
rock.
Tla- ‘normal object’
Other examples:
(3)
ni- tlaI-
(4)
(5)
(7)
‘I make the bed’
sowa
soh- sowa
normal.obj- rdp-
ni- tla - tlaI -
‘I open (up) the house/store/corral,
I open the windows/doors’
normal.obj- extend
ni- tlaI-
tlapowa
normal.obj- open
ni- tlaI-
(6)
normal.obj- close
ni- tlaI -
‘I close (up) the house/store/corral,
I close the windows/doors’
tzakua
extend
witeki
rdp- normal.obj- strike
‘I spread out the laundry
(on bushes, etc., to dry)’
‘I knock at the door’
Tla- ‘normal object’
What is normal? It depends on the culture:
(8)
I -
(9)
(11)
(12)
‘I grind corn coarsely’
kow
tla-
‘I buy him/her (godchild) wedding/
-applic
baptismal clothes’
-ia
tolo
-ltia
‘I administer Mass to him/her’
3ps- normal.obj- swallow -caus
ni- tlaI -
tla-
3ps- normal.obj- buy
ni- k I -
payana
normal.obj- grind.coarsely
ni- k I-
‘I reheat tortillas, [in RD] I dry flower
bulbs, [in Oztotitla,] I dry coffee’
normal.obj- heat
ni- tlaI-
(10)
totōnia
ni- tla-
kīx
-tia
normal.obj- emerge -caus
‘I dig up flower bulbs (with a shovel)’
Tla- ‘normal object’
Diagramming:
Unspecified object of a
transitive verb
Normal object of a
transitive verb
Object of a transitive verb
unspecified because obvious
to speaker and hearer
(etc.)
Object of a transitive verb
unspecified because
unimportant
tla-tzakua*
Corn (derivative)
as object of a
transitive verb
tla-kuā
Object of a transitive verb
unspecified because too
holy to mention lightly
*tla-tzakua should be taken as “the meaning of tla- as used in
tzakua”; and similarly for the other cases.
tla-totōnia
tla-payana
tla-tololtia
tla-kowia
tla-
Flower (bulb)s
as object of a
transitive verb
tortillas as object
of totōnia
coffee as object of
totōnia
(en Oztotitla, etc.)
tla-kīxtia
flower bulbs as object
of totōnia
(en Rafael Delgado)
The black arrows indicate full schematicity; the blue ones partial
schematicity (or semantic extension).
Tla- ‘normal activity’
Very close to the idea of a normal object is the idea of
normal or canonical activity.
This notion shows up plainly when human objects are
understood, but tla- is used anyway.
(13a) ni- kI-
(b)
(c)
3ps- warn
ni- tēI-
avisarowa
hum.unspec - warn
ni- tlaI-
avisarowa
avisarowa
normal.act- warn
‘I warn him/her,
announce to him/her’
‘I warn (people/someone)
announce to (people/someone)’
‘I am the (town) announcer’
Tla- ‘normal activity’
Other examples:
(14a) ni- kI -
(b)
(c)
3ps- die
mik
I -
die -caus
hum.unspec-
ni- tla-
I -
-tia
mik -tia
normal.act- die
(15a) ni- k-
(c)
-caus
ni- tē-
I -
(b)
‘I kill him/her/it’
mik -tia
3ps- respond.to
ni- tē-
nankilia
I -
respond.to
ni- tlaI -
‘I am a murderer’
-caus
nankilia
hum.unspec-
‘I kill s.o./people’
nankilia
normal.act- respond.to
‘I respond to/contradict
him/her’
‘I respond to/contradict
s.o./people’
‘I reply (in a conversation)’
Tla- ‘professional activity’
You often get the idea of doing the action as a
duty or profession.
(16a) ni- kI -
(b)
(c)
‘I treat (medically)/heal him/her’
-tia
3ps- medicine -verbalizer
ni- tē-
pah
I -
medicine -verbalizer
hum.unspec-
ni- tlaI -
(d)
pah
tla-
pah
‘I treat/heal s.o./people’
-tia
‘I am a doctor’
-tia
normal.act- medicine -verbalizer
pah
-ti
-h
‘healer, doctor’
normal.act- medicine -verbalizer -nominalizer
Tla- ‘normal activity’
In these usages tla- is no longer marking the
object.
But normally it intransitivizes its verb anyway.
Still, it sometimes leaves the verb transitive.
(17)
n- ā
- tla-
kui
I - water - normal.act- take.up
‘I get water (from river/
tank, in a bucket)’
Tla- ‘all over’
(meteorological)
Tla- is often used in cases where it indicates
that the verb’s effect is general.
Many examples have to do with the weather.
Two verbs we’ve already seen can take this
interpretation.
(18)
ø- tla-
kuā
‘the freeze destroys the harvest’
3ps- general.act- eat
(19)
ø- tla-
totōnia
3ps- general.act- heat
‘it is hot’
Tla- ‘all over’
(meteorological)
In this usage tla- also appears on
intransitive verbs
(20a) ni- kI -
(b)
(21)
3ps- leave
‘I calm down, remain (quietly)’
ni- mo- kawa
I -
(c)
‘I let go of/abandon it/him/her’
kawa
refl- leave
ø- tla-
mo- kawa
3ps- gen.occur-
refl leave
ø- tla-
nēsi
3ps- gen.occur-
appear
‘it (the weather) calms down’
‘it dawns’
Tla- ‘all over’
(meteorological)
Other cases of tla- with intransitive verbs:
(22)
(23)
(24)
(25)
ø- tla-
tikuīni
3ps- gen.occur-
resound
‘it thunders’
‘it is/gets cold’
ø- tla-
se- se -ya
3ps- gen.occur-
rdp- cold -inchoative
‘the sky turns blue,
-inchoative
/ the earth turns green’
ø- tla-
xoxowi -ya
3ps- gen.occur-
grue
ø- tla-
tlasoh
-ti
3ps- gen.occur-
dear
-inchoative
‘there is dearth, prices go up’
Tla- ‘unspecified subject’
Many of these cases of general
occurrence could be taken as also being
cases of ‘general /unspecified subject’.
For example
“it dawns” = “things appear”.
“it gets green” = “things turn green”
etc.
Tla- ‘unspecified subject’
In other cases this notion is even clearer.
(26)
(ø-) tlaaki
(3ps-) unspec.sbj- fit
‘(lots of/all the) stuff fits in’
(27)
(ø-) tlakalaki
(3ps-) unspec.sbj- enter
‘(lots of/all the) stuff goes in’
(28a) ni- kI -
(b)
‘I see it’
3ps- see
ni- mo- tta
I-
(c)
itta
refl- see
(ø-) tlamo- tta
(3ps-) unspec.sbj- refl see
‘I look (ill/well), I am seen’
(or ‘I see myself’)
‘it gets light, things start to be
visible’
Relationships among
the usages of tlaDiagramming:
Unspecified object of a
transitive verb
(etc.)
Normal object of a
transitive verb
Normal/
professional
activity
Normal
occurrence
Object of a transitive verb
unspecified because obvious to
speaker and hearer
Unspecified
subject of an
intransitive verb
Weather
occurrence
tla-kalaki
Object of a transitive verb
unspecified because
unimportant
Object of a transitive verb
unspecified because
general / diffuse
specific
cases
tla-tlasoh-ti
tla-totōnia
"it’s hot"
tla-pah-tia
tla-nēsi
Tla- on non-verbal stems
Tla- can appear on postpositions.
Normally you expect possessive prefixes there.
(29a) no
‘inside of me’
ihti -k
my/me- belly -loc
(b)
tla-
‘inside, on the inside’
ihti -k
unspec- belly -loc
(30a) no
kuitla -pah
my/me- dung
(b) tlaunspec-
(31)
tē-
‘(at) my back, behind me’
-at/on
kuitla -pah
dung
-on/at
kuitla -pah
hum.unspec- dung
‘back(wards), behind, at the back’
-on/at
‘behind the people/s.o.’
Tla- on non-verbal stems
Tla- exceptionally appears on nouns, in the position
where you would expect a possessive prefix.
(32)
tla-
ten
unspec.possr- lip -
-tli
absolutive
‘the lip/edge (of s.t.)’
Tla- on non-verbal stems
Somewhat more frequently, tla- shows up on
adjectives, with the ‘general subject’ meaning.
(33)
(34)
unspec.subj- good -diminutive
‘it’s pretty/beautiful here’
(cf. Spanish bon-ito ‘pretty’)
tla-
‘it’s (all) delicious’
tla-
kual -tzin
weli
-k
unspec.subj- delicious -adj
The usages of tlaRelating all this to what we had seen before:
Unspecified object of a
transitive verb
Unspecified object of a
postposition
tla-kuitla-pah
tla-ten-tli
Unspecified
subject of an
adjective
Object of a transitive verb
uspecified because obvious to
speaker and hearer
specific
cases
Unspecified possessor
of a noun
General action/
occurrence
Unspecified
subject of an
intransitive verb
Object of a transitive verb
uspecified because
unimportant
(etc.)
specific
cases
specific
cases
specific
cases
tla-kual-tzin
The usages of tlaUnspecified object of a
transitive verb
Unspecified object of a
postposition
tla-kuitla-pah
tla-ten-tli
Unspecified
subject of an
adjective
Object of a transitive verb
uspecified because obvious to
speaker and hearer
specific
cases
Unspecified possessor
of a noun
General action/
occurrence
Unspecified
subject of an
intransitive verb
Object of a transitive verb
uspecified because
unimportant
(etc.)
The supermorpheme
Tla- has many
established usages,
which are rather
different from each
other.
specific
cases
specific
cases
specific
cases
tla-kual-tzin
The usages of tlaUnspecified object of a
transitive verb
Unspecified object of a
postposition
tla-kuitla-pah
tla-ten-tli
Unspecified
subject of an
adjective
Object of a transitive verb
uspecified because obvious to
speaker and hearer
specific
cases
Unspecified possessor
of a noun
General action/
occurrence
Unspecified
subject of an
intransitive verb
Object of a transitive verb
uspecified because
unimportant
(etc.)
Functionally
motivated changes
were established
Diachronically.
specific
cases
specific
cases
specific
cases
tla-kual-tzin
The usages of tlaObjeto no especificado de
verbo transitivo
Objeto no especificado
de posposición
tla-kuitla-pah
tla-ten-tli
Sujeto no
especificado de
adjetivo
Objeto de verbo transitivo no
especificado por ser obvio al
hablante y oyente
casos
específicos
Posesor no
especificado de un
sustantivo
Acción ocurrencia general
Sujeto no
especificado de
verbo intransitivo
Objeto de verbo transitivo
no especificado por no
ser importante
(etc.)
The result is the
beautiful do-it-all
morpheme that we
find today.
casos
específicos
casos
específicos
casos
específicos
tla-kual-tzin
Yi ōtlanki
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Tla- - SIL International