amerindia n°21, 1996


Long vowels and morpheme boundaries in Nahuatl and Uto-Aztecan:
Comments on historical developments


Seminario de Lenguas Indígenas, Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas / UNAM, México.


In this paper, the question of vowel length in Uto-Aztecan with special emphasis on the relation of length found in Nahuatl to the proto-language is explored. It is necessary first , however, to describe certain hypothesis about the structure of proto-Uto-Aztecan (PUA) morphemes.

1. Morpheme structure in Proto-Uto-Aztecan

Reconstructions by Sapir (1913, 1915) and Whorf (1935, 1937) and later by Voegelin, Voegelin and Hale (1962) hypothesized morpheme structures for PUA that reflect the final features found in Numic. Later reconstructions, such as those of Miller (1967) and Campbell and Langacker (1978), paid less attention to these features. In a more recent article, I. Miller (1982) reconstructs final features for proto-Numic, but derives them from PUA *CVCV roots, rather than reconstruct them as features of the proto-language. Both Kaufman (1981) and Manaster-Ramer (1993) have shown that there are reflexes of these features in other Uto-Aztecan branches, suggesting that the features should be reconstructed for the proto-language, much in the way that Sapir and the Voegelins and Hale had done. My own view goes even farther to suggest that the CV-final features syllables are probably mostly, if not all, morphemes, and that combinations of these morphemes have lexicalized to form the CV-final featureCV-final feature shapes more commonly accepted as morphemes of the proto-language. The arguments for this position are given elsewhere (cf. Dakin 1993a, 1993b), and deal more with semantics, while the arguments proposed here are phonological. The following forms are reconstructed because of the relation between vowel length in various other languages and evidence from Numic. In addition to the reconstruction of syllables with features that are spirantizing indicated simply as *CV-; geminating, marked CV"; and nasalizing, indicated by CVn, all included by one or another of the earlier analyses cited, in this paper syllables with glottalized vowels are also reconstructed. These have been mentioned in different contexts. For instance, Ianucci gives */ as a possible morpheme or word-final consonant for proto-Numic. As will be seen below, evidence for *CVV, or original vowel length, is not completely convincing:

Reconstructed basic PUA syllable types:





(*CVV ?)

Combinations of the syllables produce additionally the following possible CVCV forms:

*CVnCVn                          *CV"CVn                         *CV/(V)CVn                         *CVCV"

*CVnCV"          *CV"CV"         *CV/(V)CV"         *CVCVn

*CVnCV/(V)    *CV"CV/(V)    *CV/(V)CV/(V)    *CVCV/(V)

*CVnCV           *CV"CV           *CV/(V)CV           *CVCV

2. Long vowels in proto-uto-aztecan

Voegelin, Voegelin and Hale (1962:34) hypothesize the existence of five short vowels, *a, *o, *i, *i and *u, but make the following note about vowel length:

Series generating components which are specified for the daughter languages, as LENGTH and one of three kinds of STRESS—, predictable stress, word stress, alternating stress—remain to be reconstructed for proto Uto-Aztecan.

Some more recent reconstructions of PUA  include a series of five long vowels parallel to that of short vowels. For instance, Langacker (1977:22) reconstructs distinctive length mainly on the basis of typology, but notes: "The P-UA vowel system has been retained virtually without modification in Numic, Tubatulabal, and Pimic." However, he does not mention long vowels specifically, but seems to be referring rather to the existence of the five vowels, and that *i  should be reconstructed rather than *e.

Nevertheless, in the list of PUA terms and cognates that is part of "Proto-Aztecan vowels", (1978)  Campbell and Langacker  include forms with the following long vowels for PUA: *uu, *oo, *ii, and *aa, but give no examples for an *ii.

Kaufman (1981:3) argues that "Vowel length can be directly reconstructed from at least Tubatulabal, Serrano, Luiseño, Hopi, Pima-Papago, Yaqui-Mayo and Nahuatl (but not from Numic, Cahuilla-Cupeño)" Regarding Numic, he notes  that "Original UA vowel length ... was lost in preNumic before the loss of certain intervocalic consonants."

Reconstructions of the various branches of Uto-Aztecan (proto-Numic, proto-Cupan and proto-Takic, proto-Tepiman) have included long vowels, but do not try to reconstruct the contrast to proto-Uto-Aztecan; in addition, in descriptions it is noted often that there are certain processes through which length would have developed in the intermediate parent languages.

2.1. Proto-Numic

Ianucci (1973:65) makes the following statement about Numic vowels:

We can reconstruct both short and long vowel phonemes in Proto-Numic. All of the Numic languages have distinctive vowel length, but the long vowels are far outnumbered by short; this makes the evidence for reconstructing specific long vowels somewhat scanty at times ...

2.2. Proto-Tepiman

Bascom (1965:7) does not reconstruct vowel length for proto-Tepiman. Kaufman (1981) suggests that in many cases, Tepiman reverses original proto-Uto-Aztecan, that is short vowels became long, and long short.

2.3. Proto-Takic

Hill and Hill in 1968 argue that proto-Takic must have had length because of the evidence from Serrano (p. 240), and Munro, in her 1990 reconstruction of stress and vowel length in Cupan absolute nouns, states:

Despite the considerable variation in stress patterns among the modern Cupan languages, Proto-Cupan can be shown to have derived immediately from a language with a long/short vowel contrast and a regular stress rule, with the modern daughter languages' basic stress patterns developing gradually out of this reconstructed system. (p.217).

Munro notes at various points that the Luiseño forms are those that preserve length from a parent language; she does not hypothesize further by suggesting that proto-Uto-Aztecan had long vowels, and it seems more reasonable that she is referring to proto-Takic.

2.4. A view from Nahuatl

As is noted above, the existence of long vowels in Nahuatl is one of the principal kinds of evidence that linguists have used for the reconstruction of vowel length in proto-Uto-Aztecan. However, an examination of long vowels in Nahuatl both internally and in comparison with other Uto-Aztecan languages reveals certain patterns that may reconstruct at least in part to an intermediate proto-language. Long vowels in Nahuatl, as in a number of other Uto-Aztecan languages especially in the southern area, have developed from some of the V/V and CVfinal featureCV sequences that developed to CVCglideV sequences. Although these processes have been noted before for the various branches, with the exception of Kaufman's initial work they have not been described for Nahuatl. Such an evolution in Nahuatl as well has implications for the reconstruction of proto-Uto-Aztecan.

Patterns of fusion appear to have been shared by a number of southern Uto-Aztecan languages and possibly Hopi and Takic, but not by Numic and Kern. For that reason, it will be argued that their development was an innovation not shared by the latter two branches. Although Munro's work details the development of vowel length in proto-Cupan, the situation in Takic in relation both to proto-Uto-Aztecan and to Nahuatl is still problematic.

3. Derived vowel length in Uto-Aztecan subbranches

In this section, descriptions drawn from different branches of Uto-Aztecan are cited that have noted the development of vowel length from sequences of VCV, where C is a resonant.

3.1. Vowel length from loss of *h and */ in proto-Cupan

Munro, in her reconstruction of stress and length for proto-Cupan, discusses vowel length in Cahuilla and its implications for proto-Cupan:

Such words illustrate a well-known Cahuilla which certain intervocalic h's are deleted. Thus we assume that 'basket' is underlyingly /néha-t/ with a syncopated plural whose preconsonantal h is preserved. We may extend the same line of argument to propose underlying forms /méhV-t/ and /múhV-t/ for 'gopher' and 'owl'... the fact that Cahuilla preserves vowel clusters in words like néat suggests that we should regard the long vowels of mé:-t and mú:-t as derived from clusters of like short vowels: thus h-deletion causes /héhe-t/, for instance, to become mée-t, with a medial vowel cluster, which is later simplified to mé:-t...(p. 230 ).

Finally, (p. 248) in a discussion of the term 141. YUCCA SP, Munro notes:

The alternate forms Cu paná:-l (HN) and Ca pánu/u-l (SH) apparently reflect another, complex set—cf. also Lu paná:/a-l 'stalk of Spanish bayonet'—which suggests that Cu long vowels may sometimes derive from the deletion of intervocalic / as well as h..."

However, Munro also notes other sources of vowel length. For instance, she divides the development of stress patterns in Cupan into seven stages, but notes of the second stage: "Proto-Cupan probably had a productive pattern of affective length alternations in verb roots (CVCV-/CV:CV-) like those seen in the Luiseño pairs ..

chúŋi- 'to kiss' /chú:ŋi-/ 'to suck'

máha- 'to stop hurting' /má:ha-/ 'to make up a quarrel'

qás.a- 'to make a clashing noise' /qá:s.a-/ 'to talk loudly' (p. 226)

3.2. Numic final features and vowel length

The term consonant gradation in Uto-Aztecan is another way of referring to final features. Although Langacker makes several comments about consonant gradation, he concludes "Outside of Numic only remnants of such a system survive..."(1977:23). However, the remnants are important for historical analysis, as noted in Manaster-Ramer (1993), and by Kaufman (1981:1-79 ). Of interest here are the contrasts that involve PUA *p.

For proto-Numic, Ianucci contrasts geminates he derives from /*hC/ and /*NC-/ clusters with forms with a single consonant /*-C-/: "Proto-Numic medial /*-C-/ can probably be regarded—as in the modern languages—as a spirantized (intervocalic lenition) variant of the plain initial consonant. ... (1973:83-4). The intervocalic lenition of *p has produced /w/ in a number of other languages.  

In his reconstruction, Ianucci also states that "...some of the long vowels, as well as virtually all of the vowel clusters (i.e. of different vowels), that we find in the various languages are either the result of the deletion of an earlier intervocalic consonant—especially /*y *w *h *// ...—or they occur across morpheme boundaries."

Kaufman, while he argues that "Numic languages should not be taken as the most archaic of the family."(1981: 3), later on comments: "Common Numic has (double) vowels and vowel clusters which result from the loss of intervocalic consonants" (1981:16).

3.3. Hopi

Although Hopi shows CVCV stems in contrast with CV:CV ones, vowel lengthening in open syllables seems to be an innovative, productive process in the language, complemented by the addition of second, probably derivational syllables, to the stems with long vowels.


3.4. Tepiman

For Southern Tepehuan, María Ambriz (1994) has suggested that long vowels have evolved in many cases from a metathesis of CVCV forms to CVVC, in which the dipthongs that arose from the VV sequences, then became long vowels. It may be that this analysis applies to the rest of Tepiman as well, and relates to Kaufman's perception that vowel length has often been reversed in those languages.

3.5. Corachol

Corachol, on the basis of materials available and the analysis of Vázquez (in press) seems to have shared with Nahuatl in the development of length from Uto-Aztecan dipthongs, since contrasts in the stress system relate to the same length contrasts found in Nahuatl; however, Corachol has innovated in other ways, especially as exemplified in Cora through a laryngealization of vowels that rarely corresponds to the laryngealization in the other languages, while on the other hand, losing the mentioned short/long contrasts that had developed as in Nahuatl, and lengthening vowels under other conditions.

4. Nahuatl

4.1. Short vowels

The evolution of Nahuatl vowels was discussed at length by Campbell and Langacker in 1978. Although their basic points about the fate of PUA *u in Nahuatl were disputed in Dakin 1983, Canger and Dakin 1985, and Manaster Ramer and Dakin (ms), they noted several important variants in the reflexes of short vowels, including the frequent loss of short vowels in the first syllable of CVCV forms, and the introduction of an epenthetic /i/ to avoid word-initial CC clusters and word-internal CCC ones following such loss. As noted earlier, it is also necessary to take into account the final features that can be reconstructed for PUA, since Nahuatl short vowels reflect them systematically.

4.2. PUA sources for short vowels in Nahuatl

It now appears that PUA *CV-, *CVn-, and *CV"- are the sources of short vowels in Nahuatl. They show consistent patterns especially if one considers the reflexes in Numic and Taracahitan languages. The reconstruction and correspondence patterns for representative languages are given below. In the Appendix, additional reconstructions and sets of cognates support each rule.

4.2.1. PUA *CV"(geminating following consonant) > proto-Nah CV

PNum             PCupan  Hopi     Guarijío       Mayo   Tubar    O'odham   Nah

CV"               CV         CV       CVh             CV"     CV        CV:           CV

Pn pitti(tin)   piti         pehtiáme                 bette                 we:č          eti:-k

                  <  PUA *pi"-ti  'heavy'

4.2.2. PUA *CVn (nasalizing following consonant)  > proto-Nah CV

PNum         PCupan     Hopi    Guarijío     Mayo      Tubar    O'odham    Nah

CVn                    CV                        CVn            CVh                      CV"                 CV                CV:                       CV

Pn tim-                                         tim          tehté                tétta       te-         če:-            te-tl

                  PUA *tin-pi 'stone, rock' > proto-Nah  te-tl  'rock'

4.2.3. PUA *CV (spirantizing following consonant) > proto-Nah CV

PNum        PCupan  Hopi  Guarijío   Mayo      Tubar    O'odham   Nah

CV-           CV-        CV                    CV"        CV                         CV

Kw kovo-                                          kabba     kva-                    ka-kawa-tl

 'pod'                                                'egg'        'egg'                  'cacao' (little egg)

                   PUA  *kapa-  'pod, shell'  > proto-Nah  ka-kawa-tl 'cacao'

4.3. Nahuatl short-vowel reflexes of proto-Uto-Aztecan vowels:

4.3.1. PUA *a > proto-Nah *a, *e, and ø

In most environments PUA **a > *a in Nahuatl. However, PUA *a in CaCV stems became *e after the bilabials *m and *p, as in PUA *ma"-ta > Nah metla-tl 'grinding stone' and PUA*pa"ta(?) > Nah petla-tl 'straw mat' and was lost in some other environments. Suffix final *a was lost word final, or became *e before a following *-t plural suffix.

Also PUA *ahi generally became short *e, as in PUA *tahi > Nah tle-tl 'fire' and PUA *ma(h)i[1] > Nah me-tl 'agave', from which Nah me-ka-tl  'twine' is derived (Dakin, 1996).

4.3.2. PUA *o > proto-Nah *o

Apparently PUA *o became Nah *o in all environments.

4.3.3. PUA *i (mid-vowel) > proto-Nah *e, *o 

The unrounded mid-vowel *i[2] , became *e in most environments, but usually *o after *s and in some other environments:

PUA *siki 'acid'                        >       Nah šoko-k 'acid'

PUA *si-li-wa 'divide'               >       Nah šolowa 'to wrinkle'

PSUA *mi- 'reflexive prefix'      >       Nah mo-

For instance, the Nahuatl reflexive prefix mo- apparently is cognate of the Tepecano prefix mi-, which would reflect a PUA *mi-. It is easier to understand the morphophonemic variation between mo- with the back vowel before most CC- initial stems and mi- with the front vowel before a -hC- stem in Nahuatl, if the original vowel were a central one.

4.3.4. PUA *i > proto-Nah *i

PUA **i became *i in all environments; it was lost when unstressed in many positions. 

4.3.5. PUA *u > proto-Nah *i (*i  > i, e)

PUA **u, as argued by Canger and Dakin 1985, became *i in pre-Nahuatl, a change probably shared with Corachol; it then split, so that *i must have been retained after *s and *t and before another central consonant, later becoming i in Eastern Nahuatl and e in the Western Nahuatl. In other environments, pre-Nahuatl *i merged with the reflex of PUA *i as Nah *i. Words showing the change are given below:

*tusu  'to grind'                     >    Nah tesi/tisi

*sun-  'nit'                             >    Nah ah-selin, ah-silin[3]

*sutu-y  'nail, claw; finger'      >    Nah iste, isti

*su"ŋV-  'corn'                     >    Nah sen-tli, sin-tli

*tun-  'hill, rise'                       >    Nah tlatel-li, tlatil-li

*muku 'to die'                       >    Nah  miki

4.4. Morphophonemic long vowels in Nahuatl

Sapir (1913:424) proposed the existence of processes of assimilation in Nahuatl, particularly that of a short vowel to /o/ before /wa/. This change was described in much more detail by Canger in 1980, who also noted that the long /o:/'s that appeared morphophonemically in some verb forms must derive historically from /owa/, which in turn would have come from /Vwa/.

 4.4.1. Long o: < /owa/

|tla-poli-wa-li-li|       >    tla- polo:-l-li  'something lost'

|-poli-wa-ti-we|       >    -polo:-tiw  'went to lose'

|čolowa-s-ka|          >    čolo:s   'will flee'

4.4.2. Long i: < /iya/ and /ili/

It is also evident that /iya/ and /ili/ become /i:/ morphophonemically, as in the following constructions:

mo-tla:li-ya-s               > mo-tla:li:s  'will sit down'

koči+li-wa                  > koči:wa 'one sleeps (impersonal subject)'

e:wa+(li)-wa               > e:o:-wa 'one flies up (impersonal subject)'

koči+li+ti-ya               > koči:tiya  'makes sleep'

piya+li-ya                   > pi:-li-ya  'holds for'

ši-mo-tla:li-ya-ka:-m > ši-mo-tla:li:-ka:n 'sit down (pl. subject)'

In Nahuatl y > š/V__+C, # when V is the root vowel; however, a located another mora removed form the root vowel  y > h

4.4.3. Long a: < /a-ha/

kwa-ha-li-ya      >     kwa:-li-ya  'eat for'

4.5. Historical sources of  Nahuatl long vowels

The comparison of Nahuatl long vowels with other Uto-Aztecan languages and the reconstruction of PUA shows them to have two principal sources. First, some Nahuatl long vowels correspond to specific types of single syllables  in PUA. Secondly, other long vowels in Nahuatl are derived from bisyllabic sequences in words that are minimally trisyllabic.

 4.5.1. Long vowels with PUA syllable to proto-Nah syllable correspondences PUA *CV/V > proto-Nah CV:, CVh

Laryngealized vowels in PUA become Vh or V: in Nahuatl. They show the following correspondences with other Uto-Aztecan languages:

PNum      PCupan    Hopi    Guarijío  Mayo         Tubar    O'odham  Nah

CV/V     CV:          CV:     CV         CV/V, CV:    CV-   CVh-       CVhV

*ki/i       *qe/e       ki:ki    ki/-        ke/e          ke-        ki/i       keh-coma

PUA *ki/i 'to bite, use teeth' > Nah  keh-coma 'to bite'

PUA *si/i 'guts, to urinate' > Nah  ši:ša 'to urinate' PUA *pV > proto-Nah V:

In Dakin (1991), it was initially suggested that some initial long vowels in Nahuatl derive from PUA *pV sequences, since word-initial *p > *h, and the *h probably voiced to become a long vowel. Apparently, the syllable closing feature could be important as well, but the details are not yet clear. Examples of *pV > *V: follow.

PUA  *pu-si  > Nah i:š-tli 'face'

PUA  *pa-ka  > Nah a:-ka-tl 'reed'

4.5.2. PUA two-syllable sequences > proto-Nah CV: in three-syllable words Kaufman's hypothesis

Kaufman in 1981 noted that many long vowels in Nahuatl, particularly those in none-root-initial syllables, are derived from sequences with either *w or spirantized *p. These included many cases of /o:/, as seen below:

Long o: < /owa/ (Kaufman)

a:yo:-tl 'turtle' < */ahya-/-wih-ta (+ augm) (p.225)

tekoloo-tl 'owl' < **tukuri-wih-ta (+ augm)

Synchronic descriptions of most Numic languages describe a lenis or fricative allophone for intervocalic /p/, so that it seems probable that through lenition, a [B] allophone of *p merged with the intervocalic allophone of *w. Kaufman maintains that the first vowel was long, and that the *w was simply lost. The alternative suggestion made here is that the length is from coalescence of the sequence. The coalescence does not happen in bisyllabic words where a mono-syllabic stem would result because these are avoided in general in the language. Sequences in three-syllable words with *V_pV and *V_wV >V:

PUA lenis **p > *w in pre-Nahua, and in most cases, the VwV sequence became a long vowel in three-syllable words. PUA *CV(n)pV, *CV(n)wV(one vowel is *a) > proto-Nah Co:

                                                  (the other is not i or a)

PUA *ta-pu(-ci)  'rabbit'  > Nah  to:-či-n  'rabbit'

PUA *tin-wa-(ka) (or *tin-pa-ka/) 'name' >Nah to:-ka-yi-tl 'name' PUA *CV(n)pV,*CV(n)wV(both vowels are *a) >proto-Nah Ca:

PUA *tan-wa(-ka) 'man, person'   >Nah tla:-ka-tl 'man'

The reason for a form such as *sin-wan giving /a:/ may be that the accent fell on the *a, or that the *r blocked rounding.

PUA *sin-wan(-ri)  'sand'   > Nah  ša:-l-li 'sand' PUA *CV(n)pV, *CV(n)wV(both vowels *i or *u)>proto-Nah Ci:

PUA *ci-pu  ' bitter'   >Nah  či-či:-k 'bitter'(reduplication) PUA *CV(n)pV, *CV(n)wV(both vowels are *i )>proto-Nah Ce:

PUA *tin-pii  'mouth, lip'   >Nah  te:-n-tli 'mouth'

PUA *si-pi 'cold'   >Nah se-se:-k 'cold' (reduplication)

When the syllable is a geminating one or has a glottalized vowel, the coalescence does not occur: PUA *CV"pV, *CV/VpV > proto-Nah CVpV

In contrast to the forms derived from *CVpV sequences discussed in section,  the following examples contrast because *p does not soften after the glottalized vowel, or before a geminate consonant, since these block  lenition.

PUA *si/i-pi- 'to peel'   > Nah  ši:-pe:-wa 'to skin, peel'

PUA *ta"-pa- 'to break'   > Nah  tla-pa:-ni 'to break' PUA *VnV > SUA *VrV *CV1nnV1(V1 is *u or *i)> proto-Nah i:

PUA *CVCi-ni+wa   > Nah  CVCi:-wa 'impersonal'

'verb+nominalizer *ni + non-specified agent

PUA *koci-ni-wa   > Nah koči:-wa[4] 'one sleeps' PUA *V(n)yV > proto-Nah *V:

PUA *miya(-ca)[5] 'moon'    > Nah  me:-c-tli 'moon' PUA *aha > proto-Nah a:

PUA *taha"/teha" 'put away' > Nah tla:-li-ya 'to put', Nah tla:-ti-ya

'to hide', Nah tla:-sa 'to throw' PUA *ayi > proto-Nah a:

PUA *payi  > Nah pa:-ki 'to be happy' PUA *VN- > Nah V; VNya > Nah V:    

PUA *min-si 'cloud'  > Nah miš-tli/meš-tlĭ 'cloud'

*min-ya-(ca) 'moon, month'  > Nah me:-c-tli 'moon, month' PUA *ahi > proto-Nah e 

Although these are not original three syllable formations, through coalescence of ahi, one would expect Nah e: here, but it shortens to e. Given that Corachol forms show a metathesis of the second CV, from *tahi > taih, and *manyi > *mahi > maih, and that Southern Tepehuan also had such metatheses, it seems possible that Nahuatl shared in the development in this case, and that the resulting *e: shortened before the glottal.

PUA *tahi 'fire'   > Nah tle-tl 'fire'

4.5.3. PUA *CV-CV > proto-Nah *CVCV or *iCCV

It is important to note again that two-syllable sequences did not coalesce because  monosyllables are avoided. 

PUA *san-wa  'leaf'   > Nah iswa-tl  'leaf'

PUA *ta-pi 'sun, day'   > Nah ilwi-tl[6] 'day'

but: PUA *ta-pi-na- 'to be hot (the sun to go along)' > Nah to:-na 'to be hot'

5. Conclusions

While the case for most  if not all of Nahuatl long vowels being derived from different types of sequences seems quite strong, the question of long vowels in proto-Uto-Aztecan having a similar derivation has only been tentatively explored.A word of caution is necessary, because in general in languages long vowels tend to develop from such secondary sequences only when a short/long vowel contrast already exists, since drastic typological changes tend to be avoided[7]. However, the Nahuatl evidence is presented here in the hope that such a situation can be explored for the different branches and the proto-language in greater detail. It would be interesting to find that to the contrary of the general rule, no original long vowels can be reconstructed for PUA, which is precisely what Nahuatl evidence would suggest.


Ambriz, María

1994  "Vocales en tepehuán del sur". Paper presented in the "Seminario sobre Lingüística Natural", Centro de Investigación de Lenguas Indígenas, Universidad de Guadalajara, 23 de febrero.

Barreras Aguilar, Isabel J.

1991  Esbozo gramatical del guarijío de Mesa Colorada. Tesis de licenciatura en lingüística, Universidad de Sonora, Hermosillo.

Bascom, Jr., Burton William

1965  Proto-Tepiman (Tepehuan--Piman). University of Washington, Seattle, Ph.D. dissertation,

Bright, William

1968  A Luiseño  Dictionary.  University of California Publications in Linguistics 51. Berkeley and Los Angeles. University of California Press.

Campbell, Lyle y Ronald W. Langacker

1978  "Proto-Aztecan Vowels", International Journal of American Linguistics 44. Pt. I: 85-102; II: 197-210; III: 262-279.

Canger, Una and Karen Dakin

1985  "An inconspicuous basic split in Nahuatl", International  Journal  of  American  Linguistics 54: 258-261.

Canger, Una

1980  Five Studies inspired by Nahuatl Verbs in -oa. Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Copenhague, V/19. Copenhagen.

Carochi, Horacio

1645  Arte de la lengua  mexicana  con  la  declaración  de  los  adverbios  della [Reprinted México, 1759. Facsimil edition of that published by Juan Ruyz in México, 1645, with an introductory study by Miguel León-Portilla, México, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1983.] México.

Collard, Howard and Elisabeth Scott Collard compilers

1974  Castellano-mayo  mayo-castellano, Series de Vocabularios Indígenas Mariano Silva y Aceves, Núm. 6.

Dakin, Karen

1983  "Proto-Aztecan vowels and Pochutec: An alternative analysis", International Journal of American Linguistics, 49: 196-203.

1989  "Los orígenes  yutoazteca de -ilC en el náhuatl", Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl XIX :347-360

1990  "'Ablaut' en el yutoazteca sureo: orígenes fonológicos y extensión en el náhuatl", Congreso de la Asociación de Lingüística y Filología de América Latina, Universidade de Campinas, Campinas

1991  "Raíces en ih- y ah-  en el náhuatl y la **p protoyutoazteca", Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl  XX: 261-280.

1993  "Perspectives on Uto-Aztecan compounds", Memorias, International Congress of Linguists, Université Laval, Quebéc, Canadá, August 9-15, 1992.

1993b"Composición yutoazteca en el náhuatl: algunas etimologías", Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl 23. Entregado en septiembre de 1992.

1996  "Uto-aztecan and Mesoamerican Technology". Paper presented at the SSILA Conference, Annual Meeting, American Anthropological Association, November 21, San Francisco.

Dayley, Jon P. 

1989  Tümpisa (Panamint) Shoshone Dictionary.University of California Publications in Linguistics 116. Berkeley: University of California Press. xiv + 522 pp.

de Chene, Brent E.

1979   The historical phonology of vowel length. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles. Grimes E., José con Pedro de la Cruz Avila, José Carrillo Vicente, Filiberto Díaz, Román Díaz, Antonio de la Rosa and Toribio Rentería. 1981. El Huichol,  Apuntes  sobre el léxico. Ithaca: Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics, Cornell University.

Heath, Jeffrey

1977  "Uto-Aztecan Morphophonemics", International Journal of American Linguistics  43/1: 27-36.

Hill, Jane H. and Kenneth C. Hill

1968  "Stress in the Cupan (Uto-Aztecan) Languages", International Journal of American Linguistics: 34/4: 233-241.

Iannucci, David Edmund

1973  Numic Historical Phonology. Doctoral Dissertation, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

Kaufman, Terrence with the assistence of Lyle Campbell XX.

1981  Comparative Uto-Aztecan  Phonology. Ms.

Langacker, Ronald W. 

1976  "A note on Uto-Aztecan consonant gradation", International Journal of American Linguistics, 42/4: 374-379.

1977  An  Overview of Uto-Aztecan  Grammar. Studies in Uto-Aztecan Grammar, 1. Arlington: The Summer Institute of Linguistics and The University of Texas at Arlington, Dallas.

Launey, Michel

1986  Categories et operations dans la grammaire nahuatl. Thèse présentée à l'Université de Paris-IV pour l'obtention du Doctorat d'Etat (spécialité: Linguistique). París.

Lionnet, Andrés

1986  El eudeve, un idioma  extinto  de  Sonora. México: Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

1978aElementos  de  la  lengua  cahita  (yaqui-mayo). México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

1978bEl idioma tubar y los tubares. Según documentos inéditos de C. S. Lumholtz y C. V. Hartman. México: Universidad Iberoamericana.

Manaster-Ramer, Alexis

1984  "Kern laws", International Journal of American Linguistics, 50/3: 325-334.

1991  "PROTO-GEMINATES in the Uto-Aztecan languages of California", Languages of the World 2/2 : 34-35. 

1992  "A Northern Uto-Aztecan sound law: *-c- > *-y-", International Journal of American Linguistics  58/3: 251-268.

1993  "On lenition in some Northern Uto-Aztecan languages", International Journal of American Linguistics  59/3: 334-341. 

Manaster-Ramer, Alexis and Karen Dakin

1994  "PUA *u in Pochutec". Ms.

Miller, Irving W.

1982  "Southern Paiute and Numic final features", International Journal of American Linguistics 48/4: 444-449.

En prensa. La lengua guarijío: gramática, vocabulario y textos. México: Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

1967  Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets. Los Angeles: University of California Publications in Linguistics  48. v + 83 p.

Miller, Wick R. et al.

1987  Computerized data base for Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets. Salt Lake City: Department of Linguistics, University of Utah.

Molina,  Alonso de

1571  Vocabulario  en  lengua  castellana y mexicana [Reprinted in Leipzig, 1880; Puebla, 1910; edición facsímile, Madrid, Ediciones Cultura Hispánica, 1944; facsimile edition, México, Porrúa, S.A., 1970.4ª edición, 1970.]  México.

Munro, Pamela

1973  "Proto-Uto-Aztecan *w-. One source for Luiseño N", International Journal of American Linguistics  39/3: 135-136.

1990  "Stress and vowel length in Cupan absolute nouns", International Journal of American Linguistics 56/2: 217-250.

Sapir, Edward

1913  "Southern Paiute and Nahuatl, A Study in Uto-Aztecan", Part I Journal  de  la  Societé des  Americanistes  de  Paris  10: 379-425.

1915  "Southern Paiute and Nahuatl, A Study in Uto-Aztecan, Part II", American Anthropologist  17: 98-120, 306-328. Also published 1914-19, Journal de la Société des Americanistes de Paris, n.s. 11: 443-488.

Saxton d., SAxton L. & enos s.

1983  Dictionary Papago/Pima-English, O'othham-Mil-gahn, English-Papago/Pima, Mil-gahn-O'othham, Ed. R.L. Cherry

Shaul, David

L.s.f."A Working Hopi-English Etymological Stem List". Ms.

Vázquez Soto, Guadalupe Verónica

In press. Temas fonológicos del cora.  México: Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Voegelin Carl F., Florence M. Voegelin, and Kenneth L. Hale

1962  Typological and Comparative Grammar of Uto-Aztecan I (Phonology). Indiana University Publications in Anthropology and Linguistics, Memoir 17 of the International Journal of American Linguistics.

Whorf, Benjamin L. 

1935  "The comparative linguistics of Uto-Aztecan", American Anthropologist , 37: 600-608.

1937  "The origin of Aztec tl", American Anthropologist, 39: 265-274.

Zigmond, Maurice L., Curtis G. Booth, and Pamela Munro

1991  Kawaiisu: A Grammar and Dictionary with Texts. University of California Publications in Linguistics, no. 119.

Appendix : Sample cognate sets

(Numbering follows sections in paper)


Ca       Cahuilla (Munro; Hill & Hill)

Cu       Cupeño (Munro; Hill & Hill)

Eud      Eudeve (Lionnet)

Gu       Eastern Guarijio (Miller)

GuO    Western Guarijio (Barreras)

Hp       Hopi (Shaul)

Hui       Huichol (Grimes et al)

Kw      Kawaiisu (Zigmond, Booth and Munro)

Ls        Luiseño (Munro; Hill & Hill; Bright)

My       Mayo (Lionnet, Collard and Collard)

Nah     Nahuatl

O'o      O'othham (Saxton et al.)

PCu     Proto-Cupan (Munro)

Pn        Panamint (Dayley)

Se        Serrano (Munro; Hill & Hill)

SP       Southern Paiute, Sapir

Tbr      Tubar (Lionnet)

4.2.1. PUA *V"-, *V- > Nah V (and         Nah Ø)

*ka"-ni-      house, shelter

SP     qanni-s   house

(n geminates in SP, but goes to hn in

 Pn and some other Numic languages)

Pn      kahni

Tu      hani:-l

Hp     qeni        place, room

My    ka:ri

(r does not geminate, but lengthens preceding vowel in Mayo)

Eud    kal/i-,-kal

Nah   kalli        house

*ku"-na-/*kun-na       sack  (M ku-11)

SP     qunna-s   sack

PCu   *kú:ni-la

Nah   ki- (čiki-witl, šikipilli) basket, bag

*sa"-na-      gum, to stick

SP      sanna-g  gum

Tu      sa:na-t    pitch

Hp     sa:na       gum

Nah    salo-wa  to stick

*kwasi"       to ripen, cook

Pn      kwasi"-   to ripen

(s does not geminate in Numic)

My    bwasse   to ripen  

Tbr    kvase-, kvasi-   to ripen

Nah   [i]kwsi    to ripen, cook

*kwi"-ta      excrement

Mn    kwitta-ppi     excrement

Gu     wihtá (s.)     excrement 


My    bwitta          excrement    

Tbr    kvitá-t          excrement

Nah   kwitla-tl       excrement

*kwi"-ca-    excrement

SP      qwitca-       to defecate

*pi"-ti          heavy       

Pn      pitti(tin)        heavy

Tu      pili:/it           heavy

O'o    we:č 

GuO   pehtiáme      heavy

My     bette            to be heavy

Nah    eti:-k           heavy

*su"-tu        nail, finger (this set is problematic,             especially in comparison with that         of *pe"-ti 'heavy') (M su-01)

Pn      -situn            nail

SP      šiču-ppi        nail

(č se interpreta como -tt- ante u)

Tu      sulun-t

SP      sit-su-          finger-nail, claw

GuO   suhtú-ra        finger

My     súttu             nail

Nah    iste-/isti-       nail

4.2.2. PUA *VN > Gua Vh = My V"        = Nah V

*tin-pi"       stone, rock

SP     tim-pi-"   rock, iron

O'o    če:-         rock

GuO  tehté       rock

My    tétta        rock

Nah   te-tl         rock

*tan-mi       tooth        

Pn      taman

SP      taŋwa-N    tooth

Tu      tamant       teeth

Hp     tama

GuO   tamé-ra     tooth

My     támmi        tooth

Nah    tlan-tli        tooth

*tin-ma/tin-wa         to steam (to use stones?)

SP     ti/ma-   to roast under ashes; to bury

Hp     tima      griddle

Gu     teméi (s.)   tortilla (PUA *VN >


Nah   tema         to steam

Nah   tama-l-li    tamale

*winca        thorn

Pn      winnu(pi)     thorn  (PUA winca >

 PNUA winyV > winnu-)

GuO  wehcha-ra   thorn

Nah   wic-tli          thorn

*woŋko      pine         

SP      g-          fir        

Pn      wonkopin

Tu      wo:nhal     

PCu   *wəxé-     pine

GuO   ohkó         pine

Nah    oko-tl       pine

PSUA *pahc-           first       

GuO   pahčá     first

Nah    ač-to      first

PSUA *tah-ku              palm

Gu     tahkú (s.)    'palmilla, tipo de planta'

GuO tahkú (s.),    palmilla

Eud    tákut   (J)takát, (J)takít      palm

Nah   tlako-tl        palm

PSUA *yah-ka           nose    

GuO  yahká-ra   nose

My    yékka       nose

Nah   yaka-tl      nose

4.2.3. PUA *V-pV> Nah VwV

*ka-pa        pod; pot, shell      

Kw    kovonigwi= pod

My    kabba          to lay an egg

Tbr    kva-          egg

Nah   kakawa-tl    cacao

*yi-paN-na"    autumn

Pn      yipani          autumn

SP     -yivan:a-g    autumn

Nah   yowa-l-li      night, dark *V/V > Nah Vh

*ci/i           to spit

Kw   čičii/i-,

Nah   čihča      to spit

*ki/i           to use teeth

SP     qi/i           to bite

My    /e-        to bite

Tbr    kéra-k

Eud    ké, ket      bite, mouthful

Nah   ke/-coma to bite

*su/u          grandmother

Hp     so/o       grandmother

Nah   sih-tli      grandmother

*su/i           jackrabbit

Hp     sowi       jackrabbit

PCu   *su/     jackrabbit

Nah   sih-tli      jackrabbit

PUA *V/V > Nah V:

*ko/o         to hurt

My    /ko     illness

Tbr    k-, k-k`

Nah   koko-ya, koko-wa   to get sick

*kwa/a       skirt

My    koá'ari      enaguas

Tbr    koayí-t

Eud    kóa           edge; skirt

Nah   kwe:yi-tl    skirt

*kwa/a-we-    eagle

Gu     wa/-wé (s.)   eagle

Nah   kwa:w-tli        eagle

*o/o           bone

SP     -          bone

SP                  round object     

SP     -paq:i-, -vagi-    there is a hole  

SP     -mpa   fist-fight

SP     -y'ai-   to be lean, starved

My    ótta

Eud    ho-wa-t (-ouh-, -owa- reduced    forms)  bone

Nah   o:mi-tl     bone

*po/i          to lie down

SP     pe/tí/pe/ti-pó, suj. pl.  to be lying

down, sg. subj.

Gu     po/í/po/i-má  to be lying down

Tbr    hne-

Eud    bo/ó-n      to lie down

Nah   o:- to be lying down

*si/i     guts, to urinate

Kw    si/i-gwi   to urinate

Kw    si/i-pi      urine

PCu   *s,a:/i-š   guts

SP     si'i-s        to urinate

EU     sísa-n      to urinate

*si/i-ka, si/i-ku           navel

SP     sigu-n        navel

Gu     sikú (s.)     navel

MY   si:ku          navel

EU     siikát         navel

Tbr    sikú-r

Nah   ši:k-tli        navel

*si/i-wa      guts

EU     siwát      stomach, guts

*si/-pi        to scrape, peel

Pn      -sipeh, -saape   to peel

Pn      -sii-wah     to scratch

SP     si-va=        to whittle

Gu     si-ba-ná/-má  to scrape

Gu     si/-pána-ni (si/páca-ni) (v.t.)

to tear, split apart a rag

Tbr    si-pe-, si-pe-da/a-m  to be peeled

(as a snake that has shed its skin)

Nah   ši:-pe:-wa    to peel, skin

PSUA *si:-ta      sprouting corn ear (probably <

PUA *si/-ta)

Gu     sitá, (or) sita-póa      cornsilk 

Hui    sita              sprouting corn ear

Nah   ši:-lo:-tl        sprouting corn ear

          (probably < PUA *si/-ta-pe or *si/-ta-hawi)

*su/u-        star

Hp     soohu            star

PCu   *sú:/u-la

Gu     so/póri (s.)    estrella

Nah   si:-tla-li-n       star (<*si:-la-li-n)

*to/i           cattail

SP     to/i-vi     'cattail'

Nah   to:-li-n    cattail

*-pa/i         to have, possess

Pn     -pa/7i-n             to have

Nah   -wa:-n, -wa/    mediated possession

*wa/i(-ke)  to dry, roast

SP     wai-  to roast in the ashes

Eud    wáke-n   to dry up, get thin

Tbr    mwai-

Eud    wa:wa (guaagua)   to dry; roast

Nah   wa:-ki     to dry (iv)

Nah   wa:-¢a    to dry (tv)

*wa/ai-      fibrous and flat

SP     wa/ai-    grass seed

SP     wa/a-"    cedar PUA *pV> Proto-Nah V:

*payi          three

SP     pai         three

Gu     paiká     three

Nah   e:-yi       three Long vowels from VCV sequences PUA *V-pV > *V:         

*ci-pu         bitter

PCu   *čí:vu-t

Eud    cipu

Nah   či:či:-k    bitter

*haya-pi-    turtle

Tbr    haya-wé-t    turtle

Nah   a:yo:-tl         turtle

*haya-pi-/  (Kaufman)   squash          

Tbr    haya-           squash

Nah   a:yo'-tli        squash

*na-pu        prickly pear; nopal

PCu   *ná:və-t

My    naábo; nabo-taáka-m    prickly pear

Eud    nabúc

Nah   no:-č-tli prickly     pear fruit

Nah   noh-pal-li nopal     prickly pear

*ta-pi          sun, day

Pn      tape(ttsi)m tapai(ttsi)  sun; day;

in the daytime

Nah   [i]lwi-tl        day

Nah   to:-na   'to be warm, to shine (sun)'

Nah   tlap-ko-pa   east

          (Contrast with CCV sequence in *tape > Nah ilwi-tl 'day')

*ta-pu         rabbit

SP     tavu-       cotton-tailed rabbit

Pn      tapu-n, tapu"-ci     cottontail

Kw    tavu-ci    cottontail

My    taábu      rabbit

Eud    tábu

Nah   to:-či-n   rabbit PUA *Vŋ-wa > Gu Vwa =       My V:wa = Nah V:

*siŋ-waN    sand

SP     siŋ-wa-mpU-   sand, gravel

Pn      pa-siŋo-mpin

Gu     se-té


Nah   ša:-l-li       sand

(*siŋ-wa/) > PSUA *siwa  flower

Gu     sewá         flower.

My    seéwa       flower

Nah   šo:-či-tl     flower

*tanwa-ka-   person, man M273a (*tawa)

Nah     tla:-ka-tl    man, person

*tin-pi-        mouth, to name

Pn      timpe-    mouth

SP     timpa-    mouth

My    teé-ni/te-m-         mouth

Nah   te:-n-tli   mouth

Hp     tuŋwa    name it

PCu   *təə:wa-la

Gu     tewá, (o) rewá     name

Nah   to:-ka-yi-tl           name PUA*CV(n)pV,*CV(n)wV(both vowels are *i or *u) >Nah Ci:

PUA *ci-pu               bitter

Ls      cívu-t

Hp     cí:vo

Pg      sív

My    ciibu

Nah    či-či:-k    bitter (reduplication) PUA *CV(n)pV, *CV(n)wV (both vowels are *i ) > Nah Ce:

*te-N-Ha   tell, order

Pn      tiŋa         to tell

Nah   tena        to complain

(perhaps Nah  [i]htowa to speak ?< *pu-tiŋ-wa) PUA *CV"pV > Nah CVpV Notice the contrast with geminated *p:

*ta"-pa        to split

Gu     ta/pá-ni/-ma (v.i.)   to split 

Gu     ta/pána-ni (ta/páca-ni) (v.t.)  to split

Nah   tlapa:ni    to split

*ta"-pV        to tie

SP      tap:it:ca-    to tie

 Hui    tapi-          to tie

Nah    ilpiya         to tie PUA  *aha > Nah a:

*taha/teha   put away

Pn      taha"       put (away), locate,


Nah   tla:tia       to hide

Nah   tla:lia       to put PUA *ayi > Proto-Nah a:

*payi    to be happy

Eud    báde-ce-n   to be happy

Gu     pohá-ni/-ma (v.i.) to be happy

Nah   pa:-ki          to be happy PUA *VN- > Nah V; VNya >      Nah V:

*men-si       cloud

Eud    mosít           cloud

Gu     to-mó-a-ri   cloud

Nah   miš-tli/mes-tlĭ        cloud

*men-ya      moon, month

PCu   *məəyi-la

Eud    me-cá-t       moon, month


Nah   me:-c-tli       moon, month PUA *ahi > Nah e

*mahi, *manyi           agave, maguey

PCu   */amú:-l

Gu     to-to-sá, (o) mahí totosá (s.)                                kind of agave

Eud    méit       agave

Nah   me-tl      maguey

*tahi            fire        

Eud    té, J té'e           fire

Nah   tletl, tat, tlitl      fire

*tah-           to be hot, to burn

Gu     tahtá-ni/tahtaré-ma

          (o) tahtá-wa/tahtaré-ma (v.i)

Nah   tlatla      to burn

*san-wa      leaf

SP     saŋwa-s       sagebrush

Pn      samapi         juniper, cedar

PCu   *s,a:ma-t

GuO  sawá-ra       leaf

My    sawwa (saugua)   grass

Tbr    samoá-r, samwá-t 

Nah   [i]swa-tl       corn leaf


[1] Since Tubar has mañi-t,  it seems probable that the PUA form was *manyi- that then became *mahi.

[2] Reconstructions in the Appendix show *e for the PUA *i mentioned here; some linguists reconstruct it as a more anterior *e; however, it probably really was a *ə, as suggested by Kaufman (19481).

[3] *pa- 'on top' + *sun- 'nit', by lenition of *p > h and metathesis of the *pa > ah-.

[4] PUA *n > pre-Nahuatl -r-/V_V, which is found as Nahuatl -l- when not between two high vowels, as in tla-kwa-lo 'one eats', from *tla-kwa-li-wa (Dakin, 1990).

[5] Manaster Ramer (1992) has identified and strongly argued for an important NUA innovation by which PUA *c > NUA *y. Manaster Ramer includes the terms for 'moon' as examples of the correspondence, and analyzes the NUA *y as cognate with Nah *c. Although I am in agreement with his identification of the innovation, I think that in the case of 'moon', the NUA forms with mIya  are cognate with Nah me:-, and that the Nah -c is a suffix not found in the NUA words.

[6] PUA *t > *tl or *l/_a, *p > w/V_V, then *a is lost before Nahuatl /w/, and an epenthetic i is prefixed before the stem-initial consonant group to give the proper phonological form in Nahuatl ilwi-tl; by a similar process PUA *tappi- 'to tie', with the geminate p > *tlapi- > Nahuatl ilpi-a (Dakin, 1989).

[7] Here I am grateful to comments by Drs. Wolfgang Dressler, Verónica Vázquez, and Ricardo Maldonado, and Heriberto Avelino at a recent presentation of these hypotheses in the CILI of Guadalajara.