Chapter 2:
Basic Sentences

2.0 Existence

`Oy vo`. There is water.
vo`, "water"
`Oy vaj. There are tortillas.
vaj, "tortillas"
`Oy vob. There is music.
vob, "(string) music"
`Oy k'in. There is a party.
k'in, "party"
`Oy chamel. There is sickness; someone is sick.
chamel, "sickness"
`Oy ch'ivit. There is a market.
ch'ivit, "market"

The word `oy expresses the existence of something. It means "there is" or "a thing exists." A simple sentence in Tzotzil has the basic order:

Commentary Topic

In other words, the topic, the thing we are talking about, follows the commentary-what the sentence says about the topic. In sentences that indicate existence, the commentary is `oy-a predicate that indicates the existence of something. Sentences that indicate existence in Tzotzil can express the existence of something concrete or a process, activity, or condition, depending upon the noun that functions as topic.

`Oy vob. There is music.
Mi `oy vaj? Are there tortillas?
Mi `oy vo`? Is there water?

Questions in Tzotzil are formed by inserting the word mi before an indicative (declarative) sentence. (Questions are also followed by an interrogative, or rising, intonation.)

Mi `oy vo`? Is there water?
Mi `oy vaj? Are there tortillas?
`Oy. `Oy vaj. Yes, there are. There are tortillas.

To answer in the affirmative, it is necessary in Tzotzil to repeat, at the very least, the operative words-the commentary or the predicate-of the affirmative sentence. Note that the word vaj can be translated as "tortilla" or as "tortillas," according to context.

Ch'abal vaj. There are no tortillas.
ch'abal, "there is none, there isn't any"
Mu`yuk vaj. There are no tortillas.

The negative form of `oy is mu`yuk. The word ch'abal is also used frequently to express the non-existence of something, and it is equivalent to mu`yuk.

Mi `oy vo`? Is there water?
`Oy. Yes, there is.
Mi `oy vaj. Are there tortillas?
Ch'abal. Ch'abal vaj. No, there aren't. There are no tortillas.
Mi `oy chenek'? Are there beans?
chenek', "beans"
Mu`yuk. Mu`yuk chenek'. No, there are none. There are no beans.
Muk' chenek'. There are no beans.
Muk' bu `oy. There are no beans whatsoever.

Muk' is another negative form of `oy, more or less equivalent to mu`yuk, but it cannot occur in isolation-rather it functions as commentary in a complete sentence. Muk' bu `oy is an emphatic negative form of `oy.

Mi muk vaj? Are there no tortillas?
Ch'abal. None.
Mi `oy bek'et? Is there meat?
bek'et, "meat"
Mu`yuk. No.
Mi `oy vo` mi ch'abal? Is there or is there not water?
Mi `oy chenek' mi `oy bek'et? Are there beans or is there meat?

The word mi is used to form questions, and, by extension, is also equivalent to the word "or," which marks exclusive disjunction.

Mi `oy kajve mi `oy `ul? Is there coffee or is there atole?
kajve, "coffee"
`ul, "atole"
`Oy `ul. There's atole (a drink made from corn flour).
Mi `oy bek'et mi `oy chitom? Is there meat (beef) or is there pork?
Mu`yuk bek'et mu`yuk chitom. There is neither beef nor pork.

Two phrases or sentences can be conjoined in Tzotzil without the word "and."

`Oy vaj `oy k'oxox. There are tortillas and tostadas.
k'oxox, "tostada"

2.1 Specific Time and Place

It is possible to specify time and location in a sentence that indicates existence.

`Oy vo` ta k'ib. There is water in the jug.
k'ib, "water jug"
`Oy chenek' ta p'in. There are beans in the pot.
p'in, "pot"
`Oy vob ta k'in. There is music during the party.
`Oy ch'ivit ta lunex. There is a market on Mondays.
Ch'abal vaj ch'abal vo` ta `olon. There are neither tortillas nor water in the lowlands.
`olon, "low"
'Oy pukuj ta `ak'ubal. There are demons at night.
pukuj, "devil, demon"
`ak'ubal, "night"

Ta is the only preposition in Tzotzil, and it has a very general meaning: as much temporal as spatial (with or without movement). Temporal and spatial constituents with ta take the following form:

ta + noun (either a time or a place)

Examples follow:

Mi `oy chon ta be? Is there a snake on the road?
chon, "animal, snake"
be, "road"
Ch'abal ta be. `Oy ta te`etik. There are none on the road, (but) there are in the forest.
te`etik, "forest"
Mi `oy vaj ta ch'ivit? Are there tortillas at the market?
Mu`yuk. No.

A phrase with ta is always definite: ta ch'ivit means "in the market"; ta be is equivalent to "in the road."

`Oy vo` ta sob. Ch'abal to `ol k'ak'al. There is water in the morning, but none at noon.
sob, "early, morning"
k'ak'al, "day, sun"
`ol k'ak'al, "noon"
`Oy karo ta jun `ora. There is a car (that comes) at one.
karo, "truck, car"
jun, "one"
`ora, "hour"
`Oy `ajan ta `akosto. There will be corn in August.
`ajan, "corn"
`Oy ch'ivit ta Jobel. Ch'abal ta Nabenchauk. There is a market in San Crist˘bal, but not in Nabenchauk.
Jobel, "San Cristobal"

These locative and temporal phrases can be fronted in order to give special emphasis to the time or place specified.
Ta Jobel `oy ch'ivit. In San Crist˘bal, there is a market.
Ta `ak'ubal `oy pukuj. Ta `ol k'ak'al ch'abal.
At night, there are demons. At noon, there are none.

In these examples, the phrases with ta are in the commentary position-that is to say, they go at the beginning. Questions about location can be formed this way.

Mi ta Jobel mi ta Nabenchauk `oy ch'ivit? Is it in San Crist˘bal or Nabenchauk that there is a market?
Mi ta jun `ora mi ta `ol k'ak'al `oy karo? Is it at one or at noon that there's a car?

2.2 Temporal Particles

`Oy to vo` ta k'ib. There is still no water in the jug.
`Oy to chenek'. There are still no beans.

With sentences that indicate existence, the particle to is equivalent to "still." `Oy to means that something existed before, and that it continues to exist up until the time specified. Ch'abal to means that something does not exist and continues to not exist up until the time specified.

Ch'abal ta karo. There is still no car (that is to say, it still hasn't come).
Mu`yuk to vaj. There are still no tortillas (that is to say, they still haven't been prepared).

The sense of to can be represented with the following diagram:


Similarly, the particle xa is more or less equivalent to "already."

`Oy xa vo`. There's already water (whether there was before or not).
`Oy xa ch'ivit. There is already a market; the market has already opened.
Mu`yuk xa vaj. There are already no tortillas (they ran out).
Ch'abal xa karo. There's already no car.
Mi `oy to chenek' mi ch'abal xa? Are there still tortillas, or are there already none?

We can illustrate the sense of the particle xa as follows:


The last example can be represented with a composite diagram:


The sentence Mi `oy chenek' mi ch'abal xa? serves to formulate the question of whether there are (still) beans at the present moment or if there are (already) none. The particles xa and to follow the first word of a sentence's commentary, and can occur in initial position.

Mi `oy karo? Is there a car?
Mu`yuk to. Mu to `oy uk. No, there still is none.
Mi `oy vaj? Are there tortillas?
Ch'abal xa. Mu xa `oy uk. There are none now.
Mi `oy xa ch'ivit? Is there a market already?
Mi to bu `oy? There still is none.
Mi `oy to k'in? Is there still a party?
Mu xa bu `oy. There is none now.

Alternative negative forms, based on the negative root mu, appear here. Mu often occurs with the enclitic uk (which one sees in mu xa `oy uk); thus mu`yuk should be analyzed as a contraction (a shortened form) of mu `oy uk. In the forms with bu-particles that have the literal sense "where"-the enclitic uk does not appear. Thus, mu xa bu `oy means "there is no place where."

To and xa can also modify a phrase placed before ta, as in the following examples:

Ta ch'ivit `oy chenek'. In the market there are beans.
Ta ch'ivit to (ja`) `oy chenek'. As far as the market there are beans (and they can't be found any closer).
Ta ch'ivit xa `oy chenek'. In the market at least there are beans (and there may be some closer, as well).

Here, the particles show a locative sense, obviously related to the temporal sense illustrated above. Consider also:

Mi `oy k'in? Is there a fiesta?
Ch'abal to. Ta lunex to `oy. Not yet. Not until Monday.
Mi `oy to `ajan ta k'in? Will there still be corn-on-the-cob at the fiesta?
Ta k'in ch'abal xa. (K'al) ta k'in xa, ch'abal.
At the fiesta there already weren't any.

The particle `ox is used, alone or in combination with to or xa, to indicate a specific moment in the past or in the future (but not in the present).

Mi `oy `ox manko ta k'in? Will there be (or were there) mangos at the fiesta?
manko, "mango"
`Oy xa `ox. There already will be some. Or: there already were some.
`Oy to `ox. There will be some. Or: There still were.
Mi `oy xa `ox be ta Nabenchauk junabi? Was there already a road in Nabenchauk last year.
junabi, "a year ago"
Ch'abal to `ox. There still wasn't.

Often, `ox is accompanied by an explicit temporal expression:

Mi `oy to `ox k'in `ok'ob? Will there still be a fiesta tomorrow?
Mu`yuk xa `ox `ok'ob? Tomorrow, there won't be.
`ok'ob, "tomorrow"
Mi `oy to `ox `ixim volje? Was there still corn yesterday?
`ixim, "corn"
volje, "yesterday"
`Oy to `ox, pero lavie ch'abal xa. There was still some (yesterday), but today there is already none.
lavie, "now, today"
Mi `oy to si`? Is there still firewood?
si`, "firewood"
`Oy `ox nax. Mu xa `ox bu `oy tana. Earlier today there still was, but in a little bit there won't be.
nax, "earlier today"
tana, "in a minute, in a little while"
Mi `oy `us ta `olon? Are there gnats in the lowlands?
`us, "gnat"
Ch'abal `ox samel. There weren't any last night.
samel, "last night"

`Oy has the shortened form `o (and sometimes `u).

Mi `o vo`? Is there water?


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