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The internal reconstruction of the Nahuatl noun stems, and nominative and genitive morphemes, and a morpheme meaning “place of” are observed. This manuscript hypothesizes that Nahuatl speakers insert an /i/ word initially (prothesis) and finally (paragore) to keep a consonant cluster from being anything other than word medial, as this would violate Nahuatl syllabic structure. The original nominative morpheme is hypothesized as *tl, the original genitive morpheme is hypothesized as *no, and the “place of” morpheme is hypothesized as *tlān. A neutralization of word final /m/ also occurs after an apocope of /i/ in noun stems.




In data from Campbell (2004: 246), the nominative and genitive case morphemes along with a suffix morpheme meaning “place of” are observed. This manuscript hypothesizes the original forms of each morpheme as well as the original stem of the nouns given. It then describes the phonetic changes that occur in some word stems and morphemes. Though Campbell (2004) was not clear on whether the first morpheme, original form /tl/, was nominative, dative, or accusative, this manuscript assumes that it is nominative. Note: /tl/ = tˡ

Nowhere in the data are there consonant clusters in initial or final word position. When speakers have a consonant cluster that begins a noun stem, and no prefix morpheme is added, speakers insert an /i/ to the beginning of the word.  Also, when there is a noun stem that ends in a consonant and a suffix morpheme that is only a consonant sound is added, Nahuatl speakers add an /i/ to the end of the word so that it will not end in a consonant cluster. These two epenthesis processes can be established as prothesis and paragoge. The rule for the former is in (1), and the rule for the latter is in (2).

(1) ⍉ –> i/ #__CC

(2) ⍉ –> i/ CC__#

Data for the phonological rule in (1) is in (3) which is the nominative case of each noun on the left and genitive on the right. The /i/ prothesis only applies when the nominative morpheme is attached. We could expect noun stems that are consonant cluster initial would take /i/ prothesis with the “place of” morpheme since it is also a suffix, but this morpheme never attaches to a consonant cluster initial stem in the data.

(3) ikʃi-tl “foot”                        no-kʃi “my foot

ikni-tl “fellow”                        no-kni “my fellow”

isti-tl “fingernail”                        no-sti “my fingernail”

itʃka -tl “cotton”                        no-tʃka “my cotton”

The data for the phonological rule in (2) is in (4). The /i/ paragoge only applies when the nominative morpheme is attached, since attaching it causes a consonant cluster at the end of the word.

(4) tepos-tli “axe”            no-tepos “my axe”            tepos-tlān “place of axes”

mīl-li “cornfield”            no-mīl “my cornfield”            mīl-tlān “place of cornfields”

1.1 The Morphemes

The original form of the nominative morpheme is *tl, and it attaches as a suffix. When the noun stem has a word final /l/, Nahuatl speakers assimilate the suffix-initial tl in the nominative morpheme. Because this /t/ is lateralized, speakers keep the lateralization, making the attachable morpheme /l/. This is a total assimilation process, demonstrated by the data in (5).

(5) kal-li “house”            tʃīmal-li “tortilla griddle”

This rule is generated in (6).

(6) tl –> l/ l+__

For the /i/ paragoge rule in (2) to remain true, we must assume that /ll/ counts as a word final consonant cluster. So, speakers add a word final /i/.

The original form of the morpheme meaning “place of” is *tlān. It attaches to the word stem as a suffix. It is [tlān] following all vowels and all consonants except /l/. When the morpheme attaches to a stem that has a final /l/, much like the nominative morpheme, it undergoes assimilation by deleting the /t/, making the attachable suffix [lān]. This assimilation process is indicated by the data in (7). The same basic assimilation rule in (6) also applies to these data.

(7) mis-tlān “place of cougars”                        mīl-lān “place of cornfields

āma-tlān “place of paper, fig trees”            tʃimal-lān “place of tortilla griddles”

The original form of the genitive morpheme was more difficult to uncover. This manuscript hypothesizes that the original form is *no. Therefore the morpheme is phonetically irregular when it precedes a noun stem that has an initial vowel. Data where the regular genitive prefix attaches to noun stems that are consonant initial are in (9), and data where the genitive morpheme is irregular attaching to vowels is in (8).

(8) n-ol “my rubber”

n-e “my bean”

n-īʃte “my eye”

(9) no-kni “my fellow”

no-tʃka “my cotton”

no-kal “my house”

The data in (8) undergo the phonological rule in (10).

(10) o –> ⍉/ n__+V

2.1 The Noun Stems

Most of the noun stems in the data stay rather phonetically sound, however six stems apocopate word final /i/ which triggers a neutralization process that changes /m/ –> /n/ in three words. The six data that apocopate word final /i/ are in (11) and (12). The data in (12) are the words that undergo neutralization after this apocope occurs.

(11) kaʃi-tl “bowl”                        no-kaʃ “my bowl”

kʷawi-tl “tree, wood”            no-kʷaw “my tree, wood”

māyi-tl “hand”                        no-māy “my hand”

(12) ʃāmi-tl “brick”                        no-ʃān “my brick”

pāmi-tl “flag”                        no-pān “my flag”

kōmi-tl “jug”                        no-kōn “my jug”

The apocope of /i/ occurs when the genitive morpheme attaches to a noun stem ending in /i/ followed by a single consonant sound. If we look through the data, the only time an /i/ is word final is when it is preceded by a consonant cluster. Therefore, this manuscript hypothesizes that /i/ can only occur word finally after a consonant cluster. Hence, the genitive case data in (11) and (12) undergo the phonological rule in (13).

(13) i –> ⍉/ VC__#

The neutralization process occurs because no other words in the data end with an /m/, so to universalize the sounds allowed at the end of a word, Nahuatl speakers neutralize final /m/ to /n/. The rule for this process is in (14).

(14) m –> n/ __#

As for rule ordering of all the phonological rules in this manuscript, the rule in (1) must occur after the rule in (6), since the rule in (6) is about the attachment of the nominative morpheme, to which speakers will always add a word final /i/ so not to have a word final consonant cluster. Also the rule in (13) must come before the rule in (14), since (13) deletes the word final /i/ to allow the neutralization of /m/ to /n/ word finally.


Campbell, Lyle.  2004.  Historical Linguistics:  An Introduction. 2nd ed.  Cambridge: MIT Press..


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