Chapter 7:
The Structure of Nouns, Part 2

7.0 Other Expressions with Possessive Prefixes

We already know how to form a sentence such as "I have a house"--by means of'oy, which signals existence, plus a possessed noun with a possessive prefix: jna "my house."

'Oy jna. I have a house.

'Oy jtot. I have a father (in other words, my fathers is still alive).

'Oy skaro stot li Xun e. John's father has a car.

There are also "nominative" sentences whose predicates are possessed nouns. Thus, in the following examples, the predicate is a noun and the subject is a demonstrative word or a name.

Ja' jna li'e. This is my house.

Ja' jbankil li Xun e. John is my father.

We can distinguish between two constructions with ja'. In the first, ja' is an emphatic part of the nominal predicate (or any other type of predicate), which calls attention to the subject and emphasizes what it being predicated. The structure is:

ja' + Predicate + Subject

The previous sentences with ja' are of this form, as are the following:

Predicate Subject

ja' bankilal-on (li vo'on e) I am the older brother.

ja' kitz'in-ot to (li vo'ot e) You are younger.

In these examples, the particle ja' disappears if special emphasis is unnecessary. (Other authors have called the particle ja' a particle of "attention." See Cowan, 1969:31).

Ja' can also function as the entire predicate of a sentence, replacing another predicate (much like a "pro-verb") or just the predicate [huh?], with the meaning "it is this, it is that." For example:

Ja' li Xun e. It is John.

Ja' li jbankil e. It is my older brother.

Vo'on. It's me.

In that case, the following sentence is ambiguous:

Ja' sbankil li Xun e.

According to its basic structure, this sentence can have two meaning. It can either mean "John is his older brother," with the form

Predicate Subject

ja' sbankil li Xun e

Or it can mean "It is John's older brother," with the form

Predicate Subject

ja' sbankil li Xun e

A special relationship between the two structures depends on the "pro-verbal" use of ja', because not only the subject, but also the predicate, can be fronted, leaving ja' as the residual predicate of the sentence.

Ja' jbankil li Xun e. John is my older brother.

'Ali Xun e, ja' jbankil. Speaking of John, he is my older brother.

(In both sentences the particle ja' can disappear.) But when fronting the predicate--in the form of a noun with a definite article--the particle ja' should remain as the "pro-verbal" predicate.

'Ali jbankil e, ja' li Xun e. My older brother, it's John here.

The same possibilities accompany those sentences that have a demonstrative pronoun as their subject.

(Ja') jchob le'e. That is my cornfield.

'A le'e, (ja') jchob. That, it's my cornfield.

'Ali jchob e, ja' le'e. My cornfield, it's that one.

One forms such sentences with first or second person subjects.

Ja' mas bankilalon (li vo'on e). I am older.

Vo'on mas bankilalon. I'm the one who's older.

'Ali vo'on e, mas bankilalon. As for me, I'm older.

'Ali vo'on e, ja' mas bankilalon. Me, I'm older.

'Ali mas bankilal e, (ja') vo'on. The older one, that's me.

The last sentence would be used to correct the impression that someone else is older than I am. The important thing is that the true predicate of this phrase--mas bankilal--does not carry an absolutive affix: in this case it appears in a simple form, with the definite article that identifies it as a nominalized form of the predicate: "the older one."

The same construction that is used for nominal and adjectival predicates is also used for verbs. For example,

Batem ta Jobel li Xun e. John has gone to San Cristóbal.

Ja' batem ta Jobel li Xun e. It is John who has gone to San Cristóbal.

'Ali Xun e, ja' batem ta Jobel. John, he's the one who went to San Cristóbal.

'Ali batem ta Jobel e, ja' li Xun e. The one who went to San Cristóbal, it's John.

Chi'och ta 'abtel li vo'on e. I'm going to work. (Literally: I am going to enter work.)

Ja' chi'och ta 'abtel li vo'on e. I'm going to work.

Vo'on chi'och ta 'abtel. I'm the one who is going to work.

'Ali ch'och ta 'abtel e, (ja' li) vo'one (e).

The one who is going to work, it's me.

In these examples one can see that from the following structure

one can form the following structure by fronting the subject

Alternatively, by fronting the verb or the predicate, one can form the following structure:

A predicate, whether nominal or verbal, does not carry absolutive affixes when fronted. The absolutive affixes combine with ja'.

Ja' jna le'e. This is my house.

Ja' ku'un li na le'e. That house is my house.

'Oy jka'. I have a horse.

Mi 'oy avu'un? Do you have one?

'Ali pixalal li'e, ja' ku'un. This hat is mine.

Yan li'e, much'u yu'un? This other one, whose is it?

Much'u spixol li'e? Whose hat is this?

pixAl-al, "hat"

'u'un-il, "possession of, for the benefit of"

The word pixAl-al is a noun that loses its suffix when possessed (similar to, for example, tot-il "father"). The hypothetical vowel A in the non-possessible (shortened) form comes to sound like o. Thus,

pixalal hat

jpixol my hat

apixol your hat

spixol his hat

These two nouns show the same pattern:

sik'Al-al cigarette

jsik'ol my cigarette

'ixtAl-al toy, ring

kixtol my ring

The special noun 'u'un-il functions as a possessive pronoun: "the possession of...". The hyphen indicates that the root without a suffix combines with possessive prefixes in order to give emphasis to the pronoun:

ku'un my, mine

avu'un your, yours

yu'un his

The possessed form can be the predicate of a sentence whose subject is something possessed:

Ku'un li ka' e. The horse is mine.

Yu'un Xun li 'ek'el e. The axe is John's.

Mi ja' avu'un li si' li'e? Is this firewood yours?

'U'un-il is also used to indicate possession when a noun cannot combine with possessive prefixes.

Mi 'oy 'aktav'us avu'un? Do you have a car?

Mi 'oy atak'in? Mi 'oy tak'in avu'un?

Do you have money?

Much'u 'oy ska'? Who has a horse?

'Oy yu'un li Xun e. John has one.

Or: There is one that is John's.

Much'u 'oy skaro? Who has a car?

Muk' much'u 'oy yu'un. No one has one. (Literally: there is no one who has one.)

The negative forms of 'u'un-il are similar to the negative forms of other nouns.

Mi ja' avu'un li 'ixim li'e? Is this corn yours?

Ma'uk. Mu ku'unuk. No. It isn't mine.

Mi mu yu'unuk Xun li tz'i' li'e? Is this dog here John's?

Mu'yuk. Ja' ku'un. No, it's mine.

7.1 Word Order in Possessive Sentences

Note the word order in a sentence that has a possessed noun as its predicate. The general form is the following:

If the subject is in the first or second person, the absolutive suffix combines directly with the predicate--that is, with the possessed noun--although the explicit pronoun follows.

Ja' yamikoon li Palas e. I am Frank's friend.

Mi skremot mol Xun li vo'ot e. Are you Mr. Johnston's son?

'Ali v'on e, yajvabajomon li martomo 'une.

I am the mayordomo's musician.

Vo'on jvabajomon yu'un nupunel. I am the musician for the wedding.

nupunel, "wedding, marriage"

Mi kamikoot to? Are you still my friend?

Much'u skremot? Whose son are you?

Much'u skrem li k'ox li'e? Whose son is the boy here?

Or: Who is this boy's son?

Mi vo'ot akrem? Is he your son?

In general, it is possible to front the final constituent of a sentence. For this reason, the subject is ordinarily fronted in sentences with a possessed noun as predicate.

Ja' skrem Palas li Chep e. Joe is Frank's son.

'Ali Chep e, ja' skrem li Palas e. As for Joe, he's Frank's son.

If the subject does not appear explicitly (or if it is not in the first or second person), the possessor can still be fronted.

Ja' skrem li mol Xun e. I am Old John's son.

'Ali mol Xun e, ja' skremon. As for old man John, I'm his son.

Thus, the ordinary interpretation of a sentence of the following form:

'Ali Xun e, ja' skrem.

would be: "John is his son." Nevertheless, context can suggest another meaning: "He's John's son"--referring to another person already mentioned in discourse.

The inversion of word order caused by an interrogative word creates even more complex situations. For example:

Much'u skremot? Whose son are you?

Much'u akrem? Who is your son?

However, the following question is ambiguous:

Much'u skrem li Xun e?

This sentence can have two meanings:

(1) Whose is John the son of?

(2) Who is John's son?

according to where the word much'u "who" originates (from the subject or from the possessor).

In some cases, if the possessor is a specific person, the entire possessed phrase--and not only the possessor--is enclosed within the article li and the enclitic -e.

Ja' skrem 'ajente le'e. That's the son of the agente.

Mi ja' 'ip li skrem 'ajente e? Is the agente's son sick?

'A le'e, ja' stz'i' me'el Mal. That--it's Mary's dog.

Note the position of the absolutive suffixes in the following examples with 'u'un-il:

Vo'on preserenteon avu'un. I am your president.

Vo'on avu'unon. I am yours.

The absolutive suffix combines with the predicate's head, that is to say, the principal word of the predicate.

These predicates have negative forms like those of other predicate nominatives.

Mi ja' avu'un li machita li'e? Is this machete here yours?

Mu'yuk. Ma'uk ku'un. Mu ku'unuk.

It's not mine.

Mi ja' akrem li Xun e? Is John your son?

Ma'uk. Mu jkremuk. No. He isn't my son.

And with other persons--

Mi ja' skremot li Xun e? Are you John's son?

Ma'uk. Mu skremikon. No, I'm not his son.

Mi mu vo'onikon avamikoon? I am not your friend?

Mu xa bu kamikoot. You're not my friend now.

Ja' jkrontaot xa. You're my enemy now.

kronta, "enemy"

7.2 Other Uses of 'u'un-il

We have already seen that 'u'un-il serves as a possessive pronoun. Here the root has the meaning "for..., for the benefit of...". Thus, ku'un "mine" means "for me, for my benefit." Tak'in avu'un, then, means "the money that is for your benefit, your money." In reality, there are many uses of 'u'un-il, and all the other uses take advantage of this basic meaning.

Chibat yu'un li k'in e. I am going to the party.

Lijatav yu'un li vo' e. I fled from the rain.

Chi'abtej avu'un 'ok'ob. Tomorrow I am going to work for you.

In these sentences, constituents with -u'un denote the object, the cause, or the beneficiary of some action. The objects (the "grammatical possessors") of -u'un are nouns: "to the party," "for you," etc. The grammatical possessor also can be an entire sentence, in which case yu'un (with a third person possessive prefix, generated by the sentence) means "because" (literally: "because of the fact that...").

Chibat yu'un 'oy k'in. I am going because there is a party.

Ja' 'o ital li vo' e. At the point, the rain came.

Lijatav yu'un ja' 'o ital li vo' e. I fled because the rain came at that point.

Chi'abtej 'ok'ob yu'un mu to xlaj lavabtel e.

I will work tomorrow because your work hasn't finished.

Similarly, the expression k'usi yu'un (or more frequently in the abbreviated form k'u yu'un) means, "for what?" or "why?"

K'u yu'un chabat ta Jobel? Why are you going to San Cristóbal?

Chibat yu'un 'abtel. I am going because of work.

Much'u yu'un li 'abtel e che'e? Who is the work for, then?

'Ali 'abtel e, ja' yu'un balamil. The work is for the land.

K'' yu'un tol chbat ta te'tik li 'antz e?

Why does the woman go to the forest so much?

Chbat yu'un te 'oy si'. She goes because there is firewood there.

(There is an expression,

K'u yu'unot?

which means: "What is it to you?" or "[???]." This expression is used to scold someone who misbehaves or wants to stick their nose into someone else's business.)

Thus, one can see that the use of -u'un goes even farther beyond its function as possessive pronoun. The possessed forms of -u'un can modify or clarify a noun that already has a possessive prefix.

'Oy to yil li Petul e. Peter still has doubts.

'il-il, "debt"

'Oy to yil ku'un li Petul e. Peter still owes me.

Ch'abal xa kil avu'un. I don't owe you money. (Literally: My debt with you no longer exists.)

In these examples there is no ambiguity: one understands that they refer to the person in debt (the grammatical possessor of -il) and the person who loaned the money (the grammatical possessor of -u'un). When the two "possessors" are nouns, both generate the prefix y-, and only word order determines meaning:

'Oy yil yu'un Petul li jbankil e. My older brother owes Peter money.

When the borrower or the lender is in the first or second person the order is the same:

Existence -il Lender Borrower

'Oy y-il ku'un li Petul e.

Pedro owes me money.

'Oy k-il yu'un li Petul e.

I owe Peter money.

In both sentences it is possible to front: vo'on or Petul.

Vo'on 'oy yil ku'un li Petul e. As for me, Peter owes me money.

Vo'on 'oy kil yu'un li Petul e. As for me, I owe Peter money.

'Ali Petul e, 'oy yil ku'un. As for Peter, he owes me money.

'Ali Petul e, 'oy kil yu'un. As for Peter, I owe him money.

When the borrower or the lender is in the third person, only the last constituent--the borrower, the grammatical possessor of the noun -il--can be fronted:

'Oy yil yu'un Petul li jbankil e.

'Ali jbankil e, 'oy yil yu'un (li) Petul (e).

My brother owes Peter money.

Other words appear in a similar construction.

K'usi smul avu'un li krem e? What has the boy done? (Literally: What beef does the boy have with you?)

mul-il, "crime, sin, guilt"

Mi 'o kabtel avu'un? Do you have work for me? (Literally: Does my work for you exist?)

In the examples we have seen, the word -u'un means "belonging to X" or "for X's benefit." In other constructions, with intransitive verbs, -u'un means "through X's efforts," "by means of X," or "on account of X"--that is to say, it indicates an agent or an actor.

Chlok' li ton e. The rock will move.

Chlok' ku'un li ton e. I can move the rock. (That is, the rock moved through my efforts.)

Mu xk'ot li 'ikatzil e. The load isn't going to arrive.

'ikatz-il, "load"

Mu xk'ot avu'un lavikatze. You can't carry the load. (Literally: your load won't arrive because of you.)

'Ali chitom e, mu xcham. The pig won't die.

'Ali chitom e, mu xcham yu'un li Xun e.

John can't manage to kill the pig.

Here, 'u'un represents not only the agent--the one who performs the action--but also adds to the sentence a sense of possibility or ability (or inability).

La'ok ku'un. I managed to make you scream.

Chajatav yu'un li toro e. The bull is going to charge you. (Literally: The bull is going to send you running.)

Mu xi' ku'un li chon e. The snake doesn't fear me; I can't scare the snake.

There is an explicit verb that equates to "be able to, be possible, to be capable of." Its paradigm is defective: it appears only in the basic form (without first and second person absolutive affixes), with various affixes of tense and aspect, quite often with the form -u'un, which indicates the agent. The root of this verb is yu'- (in reality *Hu'-), and its forms are a bit irregular. (Like yul- "to arrive (here)," the initial y- disappears after the x of neutral tense/aspect; consequently, after the ch- of incompletive aspect, the root reduces to -u', giving xu' and chu' "he is able.)

Bu chu' li k'op e? Where can the talk take place?

Mi mu xu' li' toe? It can't happen around here?

Mi xu' avu'un li 'abtel e? Can you do the work? (Literally: Is the work possible for you?)

Mu xu' ku'un. I can't.

Lek to'ox iyu' ku'un. Before I wasn't prosperous. (Literally: Before, everything was possible for me.)

Lavie, mu k'usi 'oy ku'un. Now, I have nothing. (Literally: There is nothing that is mine.)

The verb yu'- also combines with other verbs, often with neutral aspect (in the form of xu' "it is possible, it is possible that...".)

Ilaj xa ku'un li 'abtel e. I managed to finish the work. (Literally: The work finished through his efforts.)

Mi xu' xa xibat? Can I go already?

Xu' xabat mi ilaj lavabtel a'a. Yes, you can indeed if your work is finished.

Mi xu' xi'och jlikeluk ta ana e? Can I enter your house for a moment?

Mu xu'. Ja' 'oy chamel. You can't. There is sickness.

With negative or incompletive aspect yu'- denotes the possibility (or impossibility) of something: in the perfective aspect yu'- denotes the termination of an action, the realization of a possibility:

Iyu' 'onox li na e. The house is finished for good; it is constructed.

The stative forms of yu'- also occur; for example:

Yu'em to li k'op e. The issue lingers on (for example, a sickness, a dispute).

We can finish by reviewing the various uses of -u'un with a few more examples. As examples, consider the following meanings:


Ch'abal jtuk'. Mi 'oy avu'un? I don't have a rifle. Do you?

Ku'un yilel li ka' taj e. That horse is mine, it seems.

Much'u yu'un le'e? Whose is that?


Chi'abtej yu'un kovyerno. I work for the government.

'Oy kil yu'un jme'. I borrowed money from my mother.

Mi lavabaj yu'un nupunel? Did you play music for the wedding?


Likom yu'un chamel. I stayed [home] because of the illness.

Li'ipaj, yu'un li'ay ta k'in. I got sick, because I went to the party.

K'u yu'un cha'ok'? Why are you crying?


Vo'on e, chlaj ku'un li tarya. As for me, I can finish my work.

Yan li vo'ot e, mu xlaj avu'un. You, on the other hand, can't manage it.

Mu xu' 'abtel yu'un li krem e. The boy can't work. (Literally: the work is impossible for him.)

7.3 Other Possessed Nouns

Tzotzil frequently makes use of "possessive" prefixes in situation where a possessive form would not be used in English. There are many relational words (for example, -u'un) or body part terms (jol-ol "head," 'ok-ol "foot) that have possessive prefixes but lack a possessive meaning. For example, the word kwenta, borrowed from the Spanish word "cuenta," functions in a similar manner to 'u'un-il.

Vo'ot avu'un. It's yours. It is for you.

Vo'ot ta akwenta. It's your business.

Ta kwenta yu'un; ta skwenta. It's his responsibility.

Mu ku'unuk. It isn't mine.

Mu jkwentauk. It's none of my business.

K'u jkwenta 'o? What does it matter to me?

Yu'un, as much as skwenta, can be equivalent to "because" or "for," as in the following examples:

'Ali limite, ja' skwenta pox.

'Ali limete, ja' yu'un pox. The bottle is for liquor.

Chi'abtej lavi ta rominko yu'un chibat ta k'in 'ok'ob.

This Sunday I will work because tomorrow I am going to the party.

Chi'abtej lavie skwenta xu' xibat ta k'in 'ok'ob.

I will work today so that tomorrow I can go to the party.

Kwenta suggests a translation such as "for, in order for/to/that." A constituent with kwenta can also be a predicate.

Ja' skwenta Xun li vaj e. The tortillas are for John.

Mu skwentauk Xun taj e. That isn't for John.

Tol chixanav skwenta kabtel. I walk a lot for my work.

Ja' skwenta kabtel ti tol chixanav e. It is for my work that I walk so much.

Here the entire sentence tol chixanav serves as the subject of the predicate with -kwenta. The subject begins with the article ti (which could be considered equivalent to the English complementizer "that"). The subject, a nominalized sentence, ends with the enclitic -e. Also, in other contexts, entire sentence are nominalized by means of the article ti.

(Ja') lek ti cha'abtej e. It is good that you work.

Lek cha'abtej. You work well.

Chopol ko'on. I am sad. (Literally: My heart is bad.)

K'usi chopol 'o avo'on? Why are you sad? (Literally: Why is your heart bad?)

Ja' chopol 'o ko'on ti chabat e. I am sad because you're going.

We will later re-encounter the conjunction ti in other constructions (see Chapter 9).

We can analyze the constituents with -u'un or -kwenta as optional constituents with a "benefactive" meaning. In general, these constituents tell us for what or whose benefit some event or action takes place. (In some cases, these "benefactive" constructions have a more instrumental or agentive meaning: What was it done with? Who did it? It can also have a meaning that concerns objectives: What purpose did it serve? Why was it done? To what end?) The word -koj "blame, fault" functions similarly.

Skoj pox icham. He died from drinking.

Skoj sbolil ti jal i'ipaj e. The fact that he got sick for so long owes to his stupidity.

-bolil, "stupidity"

Mi vo'on ta jkoj? Is it my fault?

Mu me ta jkojuk mi lalaj e. If something happens to you, it isn't my fault. (Literally: It isn't my fault if you hurt yourself.)

Here we can see the different ways of representing the relationship between an event (the death of someone, for example) and what causes it to take place (for example, liquor).

Icham ta pox. He died from drinking.

Icham yu'un. Liquor managed to kill him.

Icham 'o li pox e. He died of overdrinking (a specific amount of liquor).

Ta pox icham. From drinking, he died.

Pox icham 'o. It was the liquor that killed him (that is to say, liquor in general).

Skoj pox icham. [double-check all these translations]

The difference in emphasis can be seen in the negative forms:

Muk' icham ta pox. He didn't die from drinking. (Neutral sense.)

Muk' icham yu'un pox. Liquor didn't kill him.

Muk' icham 'o li poxe. The liquor didn't manage to kill him.

Mu ta poxuk icham. The liquor didn't kill him (although he drank a specific amount).

Ma'uk pox icham 'o. It wasn't from liquor that he died (but rather another thing).

Mu ta skojuk pox mi icham e. If he died, it was because of liquor. (Or: If he dies, it won't be from liquor.)[1]

"Possessed" forms of the words -tuk "alone," and -kotol "all" have unusual characteristics: these words also illustrate Tzotzil's developed usage of possessive prefixes.

Chi'abtej ta jtuk. I work all by myself.

Lakom ta stuk. You stayed alone.

I'ipaj ta skotol e. They all got sick.

Mi latal ta akotolik? Did you all arrive together?

(The suffix -ik from akotolik is a plural suffix which we will discuss in more detail later.) In these examples, the expressions with the preposition ta appear to modify the subject of the sentences, specifying its quantity or extension. The possessive prefixes originate in the subjects of these sentences and reflect them.

Xu' ta jtuk xi'abtej.

It is possible by myself I work.

I can work by myself.

In this sentence, for example, the prefix j- should be derived from the implicit subject of chi'abtej: vo'on "I." It cannot be derived from another independent constituent. One cannot say, for example:

*** Chi'abtej ta stuk.

because the "possessive" prefix of -tuk must correspond to the subject of the verb or predicate.

Also,-tuk and -kotol can occur without ta, often at the beginning of the sentence.

Jtuk li'ech' ta 'abtej. I went through my religious cargo on my own (without anyone's help).

Skotol chbat. Everyone is going.

Chbat skotolik. All of them are going.

These words are also negated as the focus of a sentence:

Mu atukuk li'ot e. Here you aren't alone.

Mu skotoluk chbat. Not everyone is going to go.

The difference between the forms with and without ta is very subtle.

Jtuk to'ox li'ech ta 'abtel. [???]

Ta jtuk to'ox li'ech' ta 'abtel. [???]

Ta skotol chbatik. They're all going together.

Skotol chbatik. Everyone is going (but not necessarily at the same time).

Again, the suffix -ik indicates plurality with a third person verb.

-Kotol also combines directly with a noun; it requires the prefix s-. The resulting compound can function as another complex noun.

Chbat skotol krixchano. The whole world is going.

Chbat skotol li j'ilol e. All the curers are going.

'Oy k'ok' ta skotol na. There's fire in all the houses.

Skotol jpas-'abtel 'oy sna ta Jteklum.

All the religious officials have a house in Zinacantán.

Chixi' 'o skotol li chon e. All snakes scare me.

If the explicit subject of the verb is a possessed form of -kotol in the first or second person, the verb should carry the corresponding absolutive affix.

Mi chabat skotolik? Are all of you going?

On the other hand, -tuk does not appear as an isolated noun, but rather as an "emphatic" related to another noun that plays an independent role in the sentence.

Jtuk li'on e (li vo'on e). I am here all by myself.

Jtuk vo'on chibat. I myself will go.

Much'u i'ay ta ana e? Who went to your house?

Li'ay jtuk. I went by myself.

Bu batem li Xun e? Where has John gone?

Te ta sna stuk. He's in his own house.

One can see that -tuk means as much "alone" as "by him/herself." The form of the third person, stuk, is the only word in Tzotzil that functions as a "pronoun" of the third person: "he, she, it."

Mi 'ip skrem li mol Xun e? Is John's son sick?

Ja' 'ip stuk. He himself is sick (that is to say, John himself).

Mi laxi' k'ai ijach' lakreme? Were you frightened when your son fell?

Muk' lixi' li vo'on a'a. Well, I wasn't frightened.

Ja' ixi' li stuk e. He he sure was.

Also, atuk and jtuk function similarly:

Timi chamilvan e, chcham atuk. If you kill people, you yourself will die.

'Ali t'ul e, mi ixi' 'o lachi'il ta paxyal?

Was the rabbit afraid of your companion during the hunt?

Ma'uk. Ja' ixi' 'o li jtuk e. No, it was afraid of me.

chi'il-il, "companion"

paxyal, "stroll, hunt"

I will give two examples more from R.M. Laughlin (1975:348):

Ja' stuk toj mas lek. He is the better one. (Literally: He's the only good one.)

Batz'i ja' trago stuk. It's the real thing: it's pure alcohol. (Literally: It is in reality the drink itself.)

In the second sentence, stuk functions emphatically: "This is the drink itself." One can also say:

Mi vo'ot atuk? Is it you?

The first example from Laughlin demonstrates the Tzotzil form for expressing superlatives in an adjectival expression. The general form is the following:


The subject is marked with absolutive affixes on the adjective and a "possessive" prefix with -tuk.

Ja' stuk mas p'ij li Xun e. John is the more intelligent one.


Mi atuk tzotzot ta 'abtel? Are you the only strong one when it comes to work?

Mu jtukuk. I'm not the only one.

Another construction related to this one omits the adjective. When the adjective is present, it takes an absolutive suffix.

Mi atuk 'ipot? Are you the only one who is sick?

Mu jtukuk 'ipon. I'm not the only one (there are also others).

Without the adjective, the absolutive suffix combines with -tuk.

Ja' jtukon. I'm the only one.

Mi atukot? Mi stuk lavajnile? Are you alone? Is your wife alone?

Ja' stuk li kajnil a'a. Vo'on e, 'oy jchi'il.

Yes, my wife is alone, but I have my friends.

Here one can see that the subject is doubly marked on the main word -tuk:

This type of double-reference can also be seen in the English construction: by oneself.

Jtukon. I am by myself.

Atukot. You are by yourself.

Stuk. He/she is by him/herself.

Mi stuk ital? Did he come alone?

Mo'oj, ital xchi'uk li Xun e. No, he came with John.

mo'oj, "no"

-chi'uk, "with"

Buch'u chachabaj achi'uk? Who do you farm your cornfield with?

Chichabaj jchi'uk li jbol e. I farm it with my brother-in-law.

chabaj-, "farm a cornfield"

bol-il, "brother-in-law"

Mi 'oy xa avajnil? Do you have a wife already?

'Oy. Linupun jchi'k stzeb li preserent e.

I do. I married the president's daughter.

nupun, "marry"

The noun -chi'uk (with alternative forms like -chu'uk; see Tzeltal -jok) is related to the word -chi'il, "companion." -Chi'uk carries a "possessive" prefix (which corresponds to the noun that accompanies something). It always carries a complement (although it can be implicit), which corresponds to the entity that the "possessor" accompanies. In general, the possessive prefix derives from the subject of the sentence.

In the third person the form xchi'uk derives from s-chi'uk through the assimilation of s- before ch. As in other constructions that we have already encountered, word order is stricter when the constituents of the sentence are all nouns. Consider the following sentence:

Chbat ta Jobel xchi'uk Xun li Petul e.


Peter is going to San Cristóbal with John.

In this sentence, only the subject can be fronted:

'Ali Petul e, chbat ta Jobel xchi'uk li Xun e.

From the above sentence, one can construct the following questions:

Buch'u chbat ta Jobel xchi'uk li Xun e?

Who is going to San Cristóbal with John?

'Ali Petul e, much'u chbat ta Jobel xchi'uk?

And Peter, who is he going to San Cristóbal with?

With constituents that are not in the third person, word order can be even more flexible, as long as there is no possibility of ambiguity.

Much'u chabat achi'uk ta Jobel? Who are you going to San Cristóbal with?

Te much'u chibat jchi'uk. I'm going with someone (but I'm not saying who).

-Chi'uk shares some characteristics of transitive verbs that we will consider in Chapter VIII (Section 8.11).

Possessive prefixes show up in unexpected places. I will mention a few common examples here. To describe the sex of an animal (and, rarely, a person) one utilizes the forms sme' (literally: "his mother") and stot (literally: "his father").

Mi sme' mi stot latz'ie? Is your dog male or female?

'Ali t'ul e, mu xvinaj mi sme' mi stot k'alal bik'it 'une.

With rabbits, you can't tell whether they are male or female when they're young.

vinaj-, "appear, be evident, be visible"

That use appears to derive from compound expressions, of the jol-na type. For example, one can say:

me' kaxlan hen (literally: a chicken's mother)

But if the second element of the compound receives a possessive prefix or article, the first element can also take a prefix. Therefore, one can say, for example:

sme' kalak' my hen

-alak', "chicken, bird (always possessed)

Compare the following pairs:

me' k'obol thumb: (literally: mother of my hand)

sme' jk'ob my thumb

me' vinik nausea, seasickness, dizziness

sme' jvinik my nausea (which I feel) (literally: mother of my man)

The attributive usage of sme' ("female") and stot ("male") may derive from constructions of this type.

Another unexpected usage of possessive prefixes can be seen in expressions with -talel, a noun that comes from the verb meaning "to come."

K'u yu'un chbat 'alperes ta Ni'bak? Why are the ensign-bearers going to Ixtapa?

Stalel yech (ti chbat e). Just because.

Ni'bak, "Ixtapa"

'alperes, "ensign-bearer"

K'u yu'un tol chave'? Why do you eat so much?

Stalel (ti tol chive'). I just do.

ve'-"to eat (intransitive)"

The meaning of stalel "custom" may relate to expressions like the following:

ta stalel ta slikel by tradition (literally: since its arrival, from the beginning)

in which the grammatical possessor is a person, place, or thing that has been that way from the beginning. Many Tzotzil expressions have the form of a possessed noun that has lost its possessive character.

7.4 Numeral Expressions

We have already seen complex nouns of the form:

Noun + Possessor

or of the form:

Article + Noun (+ Demonstrative)

Thus, for example:

sna li Xune

li jna e

li ton li'e

taj sna e

Specific numeral expressions precede the nouns that they modify.

Ital jun vinik. The man came.

'Oy chib pexu ku'un. I have two pesos.

Buy li chib limete e? Where are the two bottles?

jun, "one"

chib, "two"

pexu, "peso"

limete, "bottle"

Numbers can also be predicates.

Mi jun mi chib li be e? Are there one or two roads?

Mi mu chibuk 'ak'ubal ich'ay? You weren't lost for two nights?

'Ox vo' jkrem. I have three sons.

Cha' vo' no'ox jtzeb. I have only two daughters.

Pero jkot no'ox li jtz'i' e. But I have only one dog.

According to the nature of the things being counted, Tzotzil numbers have different forms. Tzotzil uses a system of "numeral classifiers": words that denote countable units of some thing. (See Berlin, 1968.) For example, human beings are counted with vo' (which can be roughly translated as "person, bipedal thing"), while animals are counted with kot ("four-legged"). Some things are counted with "absolute" forms of numbers. The numbers in Tzotzil are the following:

No. Absolute Form Classifier Form

1 jun j-kot one animal

2 chib cha'-kot two animals

3 'oxib 'ox-kot three animals

4 chanib chan-kot etc.

5 vo'ob vo'-kot

6 vakib vak-kot

7 vukub vuk-kot

8 vaxakib vaxak-kot

9 baluneb balun-kot

10 lajuneb lajun-kot

11 buluchib bulun-kot

12 lajcheb/lachaeb lajcha'-kot

13 'ox lajuneb 'ox lajun-kot

14 chan lajuneb chan lajun-kot

15 vo' lajuneb vo' lajun-kot

... ...

19 balun lajuneb balun lajun-kot

20 j-tob j-tob ta kot

21 jun xcha'-vinik jun xcha'-vinik ta kot

22 chib xcha'-vinik chib xcha'-vinik ta kot

... ...

40 cha'-vinik etc.

50 lajuneb y-ox-vinik

60 'ox-vinik

80 chan-vinik

200 lajun-vinik

300 vo' lajun-vinik

400 (j-bok')

The shortened forms of numbers (which are here presented with the classifier -kot) are used with classifiers. The "absolute" forms derive from shortened forms plus a hypothetical "general" classifiers (of the form -Vb). Thus, for example:

chib vaj two tortillas

cha'-vo' vinik two men

chan-vo' tzeb four girls

vakib pexu six pesos

vak-p'ej six houses

-p'ej "classifier for round things, houses, flowers, etc."

From the number twenty onward, the "absolute" form is used by itself or with ta, plus the applicable classifier.

jtob ta vo' j'ilol twenty curers

'ox-vinik pexu sixty pesos

vo'ob xcha'-vinik ta lik vun twenty-five sheets of paper

-lik "classifier for papers, articles of clothing, nets, hats, etc."

One can see that the numbers 1 to 10 are simple roots. Buluchib appears to denote "nine plus two," and lajchaeb "ten plus two." The numbers from thirteen to nineteen are composed of the shortened forms of three to nine plus lajun(eb) "ten."

The Mayan numeral system is vigesimal: based on multiples of twenty. (On the other hand, the Arabic system is based on multiples of ten.) The absolute form for "twenty" is j-tob ("a twenty"), but the root -tob only occurs in that context. The classifier for more than twenty is vinik ("man"): a reference to the fact that a man has twenty digits. Also, for example, one expresses "forty" as cha'-vinik "two twenties"; "one-hundred" as vo'-vinik "five twenties," etc. The simple numeral roots that survive in Tzotzil and Tzeltal are the following:

-tob/-vinik (Tzeltal: -tahb, -winik) twenty

-bok' (Tzeltal: -bahk') four hundred (= 20 x 20)

-pik (Tzeltal) eight thousand (= 20 x 20 x 20)

The numbers of each [veintena] belong to the following [veintena]: 25 = "[cinco de la segunda veintena]," vo'ob xcha'-vinik. (According to Josh Smith's observation, this system is similar to the one of counting centuries: 1976 belongs to the [vigésimo] century, and not to the [décimonono]. Note that the "possessive" prefix combines with the number that denotes the [veintena] which belongs to the entire expression. For example:

cha'-vinik = 40

jun x-cha'-vinik = 21

'ox-vinik = 60

chib y-ox-vinik = 42

Many Tzotzil-speakers no longer use this system. They count in Spanish instead and make use of neologisms based on the root -chi'uk "with."

'Oxib syen pexu ich'ay. Three-hundred pesos were lost.

Jtob xchi'uk vo'ob stojol. Its price is twenty-five (literally: twenty with five).

Sometimes the Spanish word "mil" functions as a numeral classifier. Consider the following expressions:

cha'-mil = 2,000

chib syen ta mil = 200,000

We already know another word, jayib "how much, how many," which can be analyzed as a number: it is the interrogative number, a compound of jay- (the shortened form that is used with classifiers) plus -ib.

Jayib pexu stojol? How many pesos does it cost?

Jayib 'ora chabat? What time are you going?

Chibat ta 'oxib 'ora. I'm going at three.

Jay vo' vinik chabat achi'uk? How many men are you going with?

Te jay-vo'uk. A few.

The suffix -uk gives a diminuitive sense to numbers.

Jay-kot aka'? How many horses do you have?

Vuk kotuk no'ox. Only six or so.

Mi chtal to vaj? Are more tortillas coming? (In other words: Should I give you more tortillas?)

Chibuk no'ox. Only two or so (in other words: not many).

Also, the words juteb (which can be analyzed as the number jut- "few" plus -eb "general classifier"), and jutuk "few" denote small quantities. There is also another word j-set' (literally: "a pinch," "a drop," "a small portion").

Mi 'oy jset' juteb? Is there just a little?

Ordinal numbers are formed by means of possessive prefixes--another use of the mechanism of grammatical possession. The suffix -Vl (where V represents the final vowel of the classifier) is added to a number of a numeral classifier or -al is added to absolute forms.

chib, "two"

x-chib-al, "the second"

vakib, "six"

s-vakib-al, "the sixth"

vak-vo' moletik, "six elders"

s-vak-va'-al mol, "the sixth elder"

'ox-p'ej na, "three houses"

y-ox-p'ej-el na, "the third house"

With the numbers vo'ob, "five," and vukub, "seven" (which in their hypothetical forms have an initial *H), ordinals are formed with y- instead of s- (prefix) with the initial v of the root.

vo'ob, "cinco"


yo'ob-al, "the fifth"

vuk-lik vun, "seven pieces of paper"

s-vuk-lik-il vun

yuk-lik-il vun, "the seventh piece of paper"

Note that the classifier -vo' changes its vowel in its suffixal form:

chan-vo', "four (people)"

x-chan-va'-al, "the fourth (person)"

The basic form of the root is: vA'. Many roots with the vowel A have o in their numeral classifier form, but have a in suffixal forms.

An ordinal number can be the predicate of a sentence:

Vo'on rejirolon. I am a regidor (religious position).

Pero 'oy chan-vo' rejirol. But there are four regidors.

Sjay-va'al rejirolot? Which regidor are you?

Xcha'-va'alon. I am the second.

(Note that an ordinal number is also formed with jay- "how much, how many.")

The ordinal numbers in expressions that denote a period of time ('ora, "hour," k'ak'al, "day," jabil, "year," etc.) are equivalent to the expression "... ago":

K'usi 'ora layul tal? When (which day) did you arrive here?

Svaxakibal k'ak'al. Eight days ago. (Literally: the eight day).

Sjayibal jabil la'ay ta Mejiko? How many years ago did you go to Mexico?

Yukubal xa. Seven years ago.

One must be mindful of the differences between the following expressions:

K'usi 'ora? What day? When?

Jayib 'ora? What time?

K'usi k'ak'alil? Which day (of the week)?

K'usi 'ora chatal? When will you come?

K'al to chib jabil. In two years.

K'usi k'ak'alil lavie che'e? What day is today?

Jay melkulex lavie. Today is Wednesday.

Ordinal numbers are not formed with the number jun (or the shortened form j-) "one." Zinacantec Tzotzil uses, in its place, the Spanish word "first" or compound possessive expression with the word ba-il "front, face, top, above."

'Ox vo' yol li 'antz e. The woman has three kids.

'ol-ol, "child, son (of a woman)"

Ja' sba yol li Xun e. John is the first (i.e., the eldest) child.

Ja' xcha'-va'al (yol) li Petul e. Pedro is the second oldest.

Primero rejirolot. You're the first regidor (the First Regidor).

Ja' xcha'-va'alon. I am the second.

The contraction junabi (of jun + jabil) means "one year ago." K'al junab means "in a year." Curiously enough, in order to say "one person" one says jun vinik and not ***j-vo' vinik.

The word 'o'lol "half" has some characteristics in common with numbers and numeral classifiers. It also occurs in combination with j- "one."

I'ipaj j'o'lol li parajel e. Half of the hamlet is sick.

J'o'lol icham j'o'lol ikux. Half died, and the other half recovered.

kux-, "to recover"

But, as a simple number, 'o'lol appears in many fixed compounds. For example:

'o'lol xchibal on and a half (literally: half of the second)

'o'lol yoxp'ejel garapon two and a half large carafe (literally: half of the third large carafe)

'o'lol xchanibal syen three-hundred and fifty

In the previous section, we saw how an expression like -tuk or -kotol, used with possessive affixes, could modify a noun, specifying its reach or extension. Complex numeral expressions, with the suffix -Vl, function in a similar manner.

Jay vo' chbat? How many people are going?

Chbat xcha'-va'alik. Two are going.

Mi chabat avoxva'alik? Are the three of you going?

Mu'yuk. Chibat jtuk. No. I'm going alone.

The word avoxva'alik can be analyzed in the following way:

'ox vo' three people

-ox-va'al suffixal form with -Vl

av-ox-va'al-ik "possessed" form with the second person prefix av- and the plural suffix -ik

Mi 'ep ik'ak' naetik? Were the houses that burned many?

Ik'ak' yoxp'ejel sna li Xun e. Three of John's houses burned down. Or: His third house burned down.

The suffix -etik denotes plurality with unpossessed nouns.

There is a great number of numeral classifiers, many of which have very specialized and restricted usages. For example, the expression ta jmek "very" contains the archaic classifier -mek "time." The literal meaning of ta jmek is "one time." Laughlin (1975: 234) provides another example:

Mu jmekuk chabat 'o. Don't go forever.

Positional roots create many classifiers for counting things with the indicated positional form. For example:

busul, "in a pile, accumulated"

-bus, "classifier for piles (say, of accumulated word)"

tzelel, "in a large mound"

-tzel, "a large mound"

chepel, "sitting (say, a load of something)"

-chep, "a load (of firewood, for example)"


There are also classifiers that derive from intransitive verbs, often with the suffixation of -el to the verbal root. We already know a classifier of this type:

Chibat ta jlikel. I'll go in a moment.

J-likel means "one moment." -Likel can be analyzed as a classifier derived from the intransitive verb lik- "to rise, to begin." Another very common classifier derives from lok'- "to leave."

'Oxlok'el li'ay. I went three times.

Mu jay-lok'el li'ay. I went many times. (Literally: It wasn't just a few times that I went.)[2]

In the following chapter we will see classifiers based on transitive verbs. Other common classifiers are the folowing.

-p'is, "a measure or serving"

'ox p'is pox, "three shots of liquor"

-chop, "group, family, hamlet"

jchop xonobil, "a pair of sandals"

xonob-il, "sandals"

-tos, "type"

cha'-tos 'ixim

-koj, "grade, level"

'ox koj 'abtel, "three levels of work (in other words, three positions in the religious hierarchy)"

Compare the expressions: jchop 'o and jtos 'o "different." Similarly, one says:

jkoj 'o, "one more grade"

jlik 'o, "another sheet, another piece (of rope, for example)"

jun 'o, "another, different, one more"

yan 'o, "different, separate"

yan, "different, distinct, unpleasant"

Other expressions of quantity and extension are formed by means of classifiers together with possessive prefixes and certain productive affixes. The entirety of something is expressed, for example, in a similar manner:

Possessive Prefix + Numeral Classifier + -lej

Solel ilaj sp'ejlej sjol. His entire head is gone.

'Ali chije, i'och ta p'in skotlej. The deer went all the way into the pot.

Sva'lej xa li tzeb e. The girl has already achieved her full height.

With the number one there are two expressions that signify entirety: sjunul and sjunlej.

'Oy vo' sjunul k'ak'al. There is water (or: it rains) all day.

'Oy vo' skotol k'ak'al. There is water every day.

Solel 'ipon ta jjunlej. All of my body is sick.

The reduplicated forms of numeral expressions signifies "each one, every two, etc." or "one by one, two by two, etc." Those forms are somewhat irregular, and circumlocutions often substitute for them.

'Oy preserente ta jujun jteklum. Each district has a president.

jteklum, "municipality, fatherland"

Ta chab-chab k'ak'al 'oy ch'ivit. There is a market every day.

Ta jujun vaxakib k'ak'al 'oy ch'ivit. Every eight days there is a market.

Ta 'ox-'ox vo' chlok'ik tal. The people are leaving three by three.

'Oy cha'-p'ej alobol jujun. Every one (of you) will have two fruits.

lobol, "fruit"

7.5 The Structure of Nouns and Adjectives

We have already various forms of nouns. So, for example:

li Xun e John

li na le' e that house

l ana e your house

jkot ka' a horse

cha' p'ej jna my second house, two houses of mine

xcha'-p'ejel jna my second house, the two houses of mine

li chib pexu taj e those two dogs (there)

The general form of a complex noun can be represented with the following diagram:

(Article) (Numeral) Noun (Possessor)

It is noteworthy that numeral expressions or possessors can directly modify a noun or serve as a predicate in a sentence where the noun is the subject. For example, there is a relationship between the complete sentence and the complex noun in the following pairs:

Li' li na e. The house is here.

li na li'e this house here

avu'un li ka' e The hourse is yours.

l aka' e your house

'Ox vo' li jvabajometik e. The musicians are three in number (in other words, there are three musicians).

li 'ox vo' jvabajometik e the three musicians

In all of these cases, the predicate of a sentence is attributed to the subject noun or is an integral part of a complex noun. A noun can also incorporate an attributive adjective. In most adjectives, there is a special suffixal form that is used in such circumstances.

Muk' li na e. The house if big.

'Ali muk'ta na e, ja' yu'un li Xun e. The big house is John's.

Sik li vo' e. The water is cold.

Li'atin ta sikil vo'. I washed myself with cold water.

'atin-, "to wash oneself"

Nat li vinik e. The man is tall.

'Ali 'unen e, ixi' 'o li natil vinik e. The child was afraid of the tall man.

Yox to li si' e. The firewood is still green.

Mu xk'ak' li yaxal si' e. Green firewood doesn't burn.

yAx(al), "green, humid, fresh"

We will represent such adjectives with parentheses, in order to show that the adjective takes a suffix when used attributively. In the case of yAx(al), the A of the non-suffixal form sounds like o. Thus, yox "green" (predicative form), yaxal "green" (attributive form). Many of the adjectives that we already know follow this pattern. So, for example:

sik(il) cold

muk'(ta) big

lek(il) good

'ep(al) many

tzAtz(al) hard, strong

nat(il) tall, long, deep

p'ij(il) intelligent

ch'aj(il) lazy, infertile

Color adjectives are of the same type:

'ik'(al) black

sak(il) white

tzAj(al) red

k'An(al) yellow

yAx(al) green, blue

Attributive adjectives are completely incorporated into the complex noun. Possessive prefixes do not combine with the noun itself, in a complex expression, but instead with the attributive adjective that modifies and precedes it.

'Ik' li jpixol e. My hat is black.

Ich'ay li k-ik'al pixol e. My black hat is lost.

Poj li 'ul e. The atole is sour.

Mi 'oy a-pajal 'ul? Do you have sour atole?

pAj(al), "sour"

In general, the attributive suffix is -il, or -al after a bisyllabic root or in a root with the vowel A, although there are some exceptions.

Takin li te' e. The wood is dry.

Ch'abal taki te'. There is no dry wood.

Takin xa li balamil e. The ground is dry already.

Chicham ta taki ti'. I'm dying of thirst (literally: of dry mouth).

Here, takin is the predicative form of "dry." Taki- is the attributive form, which also functions in various fixed compounds (which don't receive possessive prefixes).

There are also adjective that can modify nouns directly, without the use of any sort of attributive suffix.

K'ixin xa li vaj e. The tortillas are already warm.

Mi 'oy k'ixin vaj? Are there warm tortillas?

'Ach' to li balamil li'e. This land is still new. (In other words, This is still virgin land.)

Chi'abtej xa ta 'ach' balamil. I work on new land.

'Unen to li jtzeb e. My daughter is still a little girl.

'Ip li kunen tzeb e. My little girl is sick.

There are also some adjectives that can modify nouns with or without the use of an attributive suffix. There may be some difference in meaning between the suffixal and the simple form, or perhaps the simple expressions are [compuestos congelados].

Lek mu li vaj e. The tortillas are really tasty.

Ilaj xa li muil vaj e, naka xa poj. The tasty tortillas are gone; there are no more sour ones.

Ital li mu vinik e. The repugnant man came.

mu-il, "tasty, fragrant; repugrant"

Bik'it tajmek li tonetik e. The rocks are very small.

Naka xa chtun li bik'tal tonetik e. Now they only use little rocks.

Ch'ak'otaj li bik'it 'alkalte e. The second alcalde viejo is dancing.

Mu means "tasty, fragrant," or--with a sarcastic twist--"repugnant, bitter." The simple form in attributive position only maintains the second meaning. I do not understand the precise difference between bik'it and bik'tal in attributive position. Bik'tal appears to suggest plurality:

bik'tal chonetik little animals

bik'tal j-toy-k'inetik [entretenedores menores] (religious officials for the Party of Saint Sebastian)

On the other hand, bik'it in attributive position appears to have the meaning of "younger." In order to say "small," Zinacantecos favor the word k'ox "small" (whose equivalent in other dialects is chin).

Bik'it li p'in e. The pot is small.

Te ta k'ox p'in li 'ul e. The atole is in the little pot.

Not all adjectives can be incorporated into a complex noun. For example, some adjectives only function as predicates and can only directly modify nouns by means of relative clauses. This is true, for example, of some derived adjectives with the suffix -Vl of verbs and positional roots.

Chapal ta kastiya li tzeb e. The girl knows (literally: is ready for) Spanish.

Ital li tzeb ti chapal ta kastiya. The girl that knew Spanish came.

Kuxul li jvabajom e. The musician is sober.

I'ilin li jvabajom ti kuxul e. The musician who is sober got mad.

The formation of such relative clauses is obviously related to the process of noun fronting.

'Ip to'ox li t'ul e. The rabbit is sick.

'Ali t'ul e, 'ip to'ox. As for the rabbit, it is sick.

Icham xa li t'ul ti 'ip to'ox e. The rabbit that is sick died.

We can consider that the last sentence results from a concatenation of sentences with the following form:

Icham xa li t'ul e. 'Ali t'ul e, 'ip to'ox.

The second occurence of li t'ul e is replaced by the relative particle ti (which appears to be related to the article ti); the relative clause that results end with the enclitic -e.

Icham xa li t'ul (ti) 'ip to'ox e.

Note that adjectives with a suffixal attributive form can also form relative clauses:

K'un li vaj e. The tortillas are smooth.

k'un-il, "smooth, weak, soft"

Ilaj xa li k'unil vaje. The smooth tortillas are gone.

Ilaj xa li vaj ti k'un e. The tortillas that are smooth are gone.

We can use the following notation to represent the various types of adjectives:

(1) with parentheses we can indicate attributive suffixes: e.g., lek(il); (2) with a hyphen, we can indicate an optional suffix for the attributive use: e.g., k'a'-al "old, ruined, rotten"; and (3) with
, we can indicate that it does not have an attributive use (given that the derived adjectives do not have it): e.g., 'ip
"sick," jal
"long (duration)." I will present a few more examples:

Lek to'ox jlik jpixol. A hat of mine was good.

Pero ich'ay xa li jlekil pixol e. But my good hat is lost.

K'ajomal iko li chopol e. Only the bad one remained.

k'ajomal, "only, no more"

(Note that in the last example the adjective chopol functions as a noun, with the article li and the enclitic -e

[where is closing parenthesis?]

'Oy to jk'a' pixol. I still have my old hat.

K'ajomal xa 'oy k'a'al lobol. Now there are only rotten fruits.

'Ep xa ikom k'a' limete. Many broken bottles remain.

Jal chi'abtej, pero toj jal to li 'abtele. I work a lot, but the work isn't long.

There are also adjectives that are only used in attributive form. Those adjectives cannot be predicates alone; they are represented in our notation with a final hyphen.

batz'i- "true"

ch'ul- "holy"

Chapalot ta batz'i k'op. You know Tzotzil.

Icham ti jbatz'i ka'. My true horse (in other words, my stud) died.

Chtal xa lach'ul tot e. Your godfather is coming (literally: your holy father).

The two adjectives batz'i- and ch'ul- are also incorporated into compound verbs, as integral parts of the verb stems.

Mu xatun. You're useless.

Mu xabatz'i-tun. You're truly useless.

tun- "to serve, be useful"

Mi cha'abolaj? Will you do me a favor?

Mi chach'ul-'abolaj. Will you do me a big (literally: holy) favor?

'abolaj- "to do a favor, be friendly, be bothered"

The compound roots receive absolutive and temporal affixes as unities.

xa -tun You're not useful.

xa -batz'i-tun You're truly useless.

There are also attributive forms of nouns, with suffixes very similar to those with which attributive adjectives are formed.

Chlaki ta 'ich li mail e. The pumpkin is boiling with chile.

laki-, "to boil, cook"

'ich, "chile"

mail, "pumpkin"

Chlaki xa li 'ichil mail e. The chili pumpkin is boiling.

Tzeb to li chij e. The sheep is still young.

Ja' tzebal chij li'e. This is the young sheep.

Also consider the following expressions:

Ch'ivital vo' chica given to the family of the bride-to-be by the family of her husband-to-be in the market of [las ferias]

ch'ivit, "market"

vo', "water"

'antzil ton a rock occupied by a supernatural woman

'antz, "woman"

ton, "rock"

chenek'ul vaj bean tamale

chenek', "bean"

vaj, "tortilla"

te'tikil chij deer (literally: forest sheep)

te'tik, "forest"

chij, "sheep, deer"

Modifying a noun with the attributive form of another noun can signal a variety of relations between the two of them, for example: "pumpkin that is prepared with chili," "a sheep that is like a girl," "water that is bought in the market," "rock that is woman-like," etc. [Hasta] the quasi-possessive compound can receive attributive suffixes, as in the following example:

Ich'i ta yut mok li chenek' li'e. These beans grow inside of the fence.

Ilaj xa li yut-mokil chenek' e. The patio beans are all gone.

Note the form te'tikil (or te'tikal) "of the forest." Te' means "tree, wood." The suffix -tik denotes an area or extended space of some natural thing. For example, one says:

te'tik, "forest"

te', "tree"

chobtik, "cornfield"

chob, "cornfield"

tontik, "rocky place"

ton, "rock"

vo'tik, "rainy season"

vo', "water"

Te'tikil has an additional suffix, the attributive -il. Sometimes the attributive suffix also engenders other changes in the root.

ja'al tzo', "diarrhea"

vo' (=*HA') "water"

tzo', "shit"

me'anal 'antz, "widow"

me'on (= *me'An) "orphan, poor person"

'antz, "woman"

pamal 'ul, "aromatic atole"

pom (=*pAm), "incense"

'ul, "atole"

Not all noun have attributive forms. There is another very common expression in Tzotzil, which produces compounds of two conjoined nouns, without any affix. The construction is of the following form:


Noun 1 + Noun 2

The compound means "B of type A"

tzotz k'u'ul, "woolen poncho"

tzotz, "wool"

k'u'-ul, "clothing"

'ixtol k'op, "joke"

'ixtAl-al, "toy"

k'op, "word, speech"

nukul moral, "leather bag"

nukul, "leather"

moral, "bag"

There are compounds of the same form in English, for example, "dog food," "strawberry jam," or "squash blossom." There are also compounds in English where the first element has an attributive suffix: "watery place," "rocky place." In Tzotzil, compounds of these two types can carry possessive prefixes in their integral form, in contrast to the rigid quasi-possessive compounds like ti'-na "house entrance." For example one can say:

'Oy j-tzebal-chij. I have a young sheep.

'Oy j-nukul-moral. I have a leather bag.

But, note the possessive prefixes in the following expression:

'Oy sti' li jna e. My house has an entrance.

Students need to learn which nouns have an attributive suffixal form, and which form compounds without any such attributive suffix.

Mi chtal 'ep krixchano? Are many people coming?

'Ep'eptik. (Yes), enough.

Mi lek lachobe? Is your cornfield good?

Leklektik. Pretty good.

Mi ya li 'ich e? Is the chili hot?

Yayatik. Pretty hot.

ya(il), "hot, spicy"

The reduplicated form of adjectives with the additional suffix -tik means "pretty ___," "somewhat ___." Polysyllabic adjectives combine with the suffix -tik without being reduplicated.

Mi k'ixin to li vaj e? Are the tortillas still hot?

K'ixintik to. (They're still) somewhat hot.

Mi p'ij li vinik e? Is the man smart?

'I'i, sonsotik. No, he's somewhat stupid.

sonso, "stupid"

The diminuitive sense of the reduplicated forms can also be seen in the stems of a few verbs and nouns.

'Och'ochan tal. Scoot up a little.

'och- "to enter"

Tey ta ti'ti vo'. It's on the riverbank.

Mi po'ot xa li k'in e? The party is nearby (in other words: Is it coming soon?)

Tzk'an to. In a bit (literally: it wants still).

Tzk'ank'an to. In a little bit.

(See the following chapter with respect to the transitive verbs.)

Much'u li jmeme'tik le'e? Who is that old woman?

me', "mother"

jme'tik, "Mrs." (literally: our mother)

jme'me'tik, "little old woman, grandmother"

In general, only adjectives have reduplicated forms.

Adjectives for colors form numerous compounds with diverse roots. Those compounds denote the colors of specific objects.

Chibat 'ik'-luman. [???] I am going at sun up.

'ik', "black"

lum, "land"

Solel sak-nexan li sjol e. His [destello] hair.

K'an-nexan li sjol e. His hair is blonde.

nex, "blonde, of white complexion"

sak(il), "white"

k'An(al), "yellow"

The general form of those comopunds is the following:

Color Adjective + CVC Root + -an

There is a special root that replaces tzAj(al) "red" in compounds of this type: chak- "red."

Solel chak-p'itan ssat li jyakubel e. The drunkard's eyes are red.

chak-, "red"

p'it-, "jump"

The situation is further complicated by the existence of nominal adjective forms, which should carry possessive prefixes. The nominalizing suffix appears to be the attributive suffix: with many bisyllabic roots and with roots with A, the suffix is -al; with other roots the suffix is -il. In its primary usage, nouns derived from adjectives function as true possessed nouns.

Skoj sbolil ti ichuk e. He was jailed because of his stupidity.

sbol[], "stupid"

-bolil, "stupidity"

Tol lixanav ta jbik'tal. I travelled a lot in my youth.

bik'it, "small"

-bik'tal, "young, smallness"

Mi 'ol tajmek li 'ikatzil e? Is the load very heavy?

'ol (=*'Al), "heavy"

-alal, "weight"

With those derived nouns questions such as "how much?" or "how heavy?" are formed.

K'u yepal 'oy? How many?

'ep(al), "many"

K'usi yalal? How much does it weigh?

K'u smuk'ul li krem e? How big is the boy?

muk'(ta), "big"

K'u snamal alumale. How far away is your country?

-lumal, "country"

nAm(al), "distance"

K'u sjalil latal? How long have you come for?

jal[], "a long time"

K'u snatil la'och ta ch'en? How far did you go into the cave?

nat(il), "tall, long"

Note that in the following examples, the possessive prefix s- (third person) does not correspond to any actual possessor, but instead plays a purely grammatical role.

Nat li'och ta ch'en. I entered deep into the cave.

K'usi snatil la'och? How deep did you go in? (Literally: how is the length you went in?)

Another similar use, in which the noun functions as an adjective, is based upon the imperatives k'elo "look!" and vi "see!":

Vi slekil. Look how good it is!

K'e(lo) smuk'ul li xchob e. Look how big his cornfield is!

Va'i sbolil li Xun e. Listen to how stupid John is!

va'i, "listen!"

In these constructions, a sentence with an adjectival predicate becomes a constituent that appears as a possessed noun.


Other expressiosn that also have the grammatical form of possessed nouns are clearly equivalent to adjectival sentences. For example:

Yach'il to li jpixol e. My hat is very new. (Literally: the newness still of my hat.)

Slekil yo'on ital. He came out of the goodness of his heart.

Yepal to ikom lobol e. There remained many fruits. (Literally: the numerousness of the fruits remained.)

Snamal chabate. How far you're going! (Literally: his distance that you're going.)

7.6 Noun Classes

We already know about two types of noun roots. There are nouns that can occur with or without possessive prefixes.

na, "casa"

jna, "my house"

There are also nouns of the "inalienable" type, which always take possessive prefixes or combine with a suffix (typically of the form -il) denoting "indefinite possession."

jk'ob, "my hand"

k'ob-ol, "the hand (of someone)"

atot, "your father"

tot-il, "the father (of someone)"

The two noun classes already mentioned contain sub-classes of more specialized roots. For example, there is a small group of nouns that can never carry possessive prefixes. It depends in part on the possibilities of possession. Laughlin (1975:24) tells us that in 1959 when no Zinacantecos had buses, the word 'aktavus never occured in a possessed form, but today Zinacantecos don't hesitate to buy buses or to utter the following possessed forms: kaktavus, avaktavus, yaktavus, etc. However, other nouns cannot combine with possessive affixes, apparently for purely grammatical reasons. These nouns are related to possessors only by means of the relational word 'u'un-il.

ch'ivit, "market"

ch'ivit avu'un, "your market"

'ak'ot, "dance"

'ak'ot yu'un, "his dance"

Mi 'oy 'ak'ot yu'un li nupunel e? Is there going to be a dance for the wedding?

We will represent these nouns with the word-initial symbol
, in order to indicate that possessive prefixes do not combine with the root. We already know other nouns of the same type:

ch'ivit, "market"

'ak'ot, "dance"

'ak'ubal, "night"

'ok'ob, "morning"

vaj, "tortilla"

It is possible to say "my tortilla," but in Tzotzil this idea is expressed by means of a suppletive root, which is a member of a sub-class of inherently possessed nouns (of inalienable possession). This root can be represented this way: 'ot-il "tortilla (of someone)"; however, there is no indefinite form of this root. For example, one can say

kot, "my tortilla"

avot, "your tortilla"

yot, "his tortilla"

Although by ***'otil one understands something equivalent to vaj, "tortilla," this form is never actually used. We will represent roots of this type (nouns that are always possessed or have no indefinite form) with a hypen at the beginning: -ot, "tortilla." The special nouns we learned about in the previous section are members of this subclass:

-chi'uk, "with"

-tuk, "alone, by him/herself"

-kotol, "all"

We also know of the word -lumal "native land, place of origin," which we can also consider a member of the same sub-class. (This word is obviously related to lum "land"--a relation we will later examine.)

Nouns derived through this process of affixation inherit the characteristics of the sub-class to which they belong. For example, nouns with the suffix -tik, which denotes the extension of something natural, belong to the class of unpossessable nouns:

te'tik (=
te'tik) "forest"

tontik (=
tontik) "rocky place"

Similarly, nouns derived from from adjectives through the suffix -Vl (generally -al) belong to the class of always possessed nouns:

-epal, "a quantitiy of..."

'ep, "many"

-alal, "the wieght of..."

'ol, "heavy"

-bik'tal, "the smallness of..."

bik'it, "small"

-bolil, "the stupidity of..."

bol, "stupid"

The ownership of these nouns derived from a certain class of noun is automatic, and it is not necessary to note that relationship of ownership in every case.

Another purported example of a suppletive form is the following:

vo', "water"

-al'al, "water (of someone)"

We have already seen that the basic form of vo' is *HA'. In reality, the "suppletive" form -a'al results from suffixing -al (the same suffix that we see in -lumal "homeland") to *HA'. The result is -Ha'al. This hypothetical form, united with the possessive prefix s-, can give either ***sya'al or ya'al (see: svo'obal/yo'obal "the fifth"), and it appears possible that the form with an initial vowel, -a'al, results from the re-interpretation of ya'al, "water."[3]

Similarly, the ordinary word for "chicken" in Zinacantec Tzotzil is kaxlan. This word appears to be derived from the Spanish word "castellano": it is used as an attribuitive adjective for saying "stranger, not native, introduced." With the agentive prefix, the word j-kaxlan means "ladino, non-indigenous person." In order to say "my chicken" one must use another root: -alak'.

'Oy 'ox-kot kaxlan ta jna, jot yalak' li jme' e, jokot kalak' li vo'on e.

There are three chickens in my house: two that belong to my mother and one that belongs to me.

kaxlan, "chicken"

-alak', "chicken (of someone)"

In Zinacantec Tzotzil the word 'alak' does not occur alone, but only appears in possessed form. On the other hand, in Chamulan Tzotzil, the ordinary word for "chicken" is 'alak', which occurs in possessed or absolutive form. Thanks to this suppletive root it is unnecessary to confuse jkaxlan "ladino" (with the agentive prefix j-) with the possessed form.

We already know that in Tzotzil grammatical possession is used in many non-possessive contexts. For example, the grammatical possessor of a noun derived from a verb by the suffixation of -el corresonds to the subject of the verb in a sentence where the verb is explicit. For example:

Nax to liyul. I arrived early.

Nax to jyulel. My arrival was earlier.

In both sentences the true subject of the verb yul- "to arrive (here)" is in the first person: "I." In one, there is a absolutive prefix of the third person. In the other, there is a "possessive prefix" of the first person. There is impressive varitety in the uses and meaning of grammatical possession, [only in its relationship with nouns]. We will analyze the different uses of grammatical possession with respect to the different form of nouns.

(a) The absolute form of a noun does make reference to someone (or something) who owns or is somehow related to the object.

'Oy chitom ta ch'ivit. There are pigs in the market.

Po'ot chlok' 'ixim. The corn will soon leave (in other words: be harvested).

po'ot, "soon"

(b) The "simple possessed" form of a noun indicates that there exists a specific relation between the thing designated by the noun and the grammatical possessor. Among the various relationships that have been mentioned are the following:

(i) the relationship of a part of the whole

Ja' kok. This is my leg.

Te ta sti' jna. This is the entrance to my house.

(ii) the relationship of the thing or the object possessed to the possessor, which has control or power over it:

Ja' jna. It is my house.

Ja' jpixol. This is my hat (which I bought and use...)

Ja' jkrem. It is my son (whose father I am and who I am in charge of...).

Ja' kot. It is my tortilla (which I plan to eat...).

(iii) the relationship of something produced to its producer: of work to the person who did it.

Ja' kot. It is the tortilla that I made.

Ja' kabtel. It is my work (which resulted from my labor).

A noun, by itself, can share various relations. Li jchobe "my cornfield" can denote the cornfield that belongs to me, as well as the cornfield I have worked on and cultivated. (In the state of Chiapas, the two things are quite distinct.) Also, many words are fundamentally relative: with these simple possession is related precisely to the terms of the relation: jtot "my father" (= the person with whom I have a father/son relationship.)

(b') Many Tzotzil nouns have a form of "indefinite possession," with the meaning of "the X of someone, of a person already understood, or inspecific, or of people in general." The words that denote body parts, or kinship terms, formed with the suffix -Vl (in general, -il) show this meaning of "indefinite possession." The suffix -il is added to other words with absolute forms (in the sense of (a)) in order to produce a meaning of indefinite posession.

Chchap 'iktazil. Someone's load is being prepared.

chap-, "to be prepared, wrapped up"

'ikatz-il, "load, burden"

'Ep 'ilil. There are many doubts (of someone).

Chopol chpoj 'abtelil. It is bad to steal (people's) work.

Toj 'antzil le'e. That is just like a lover.

Ilik chamelil. Menstruation (literally: (someone's) sickness)) began .

These forms imply a relationship between the noun and the possessor similar to the one indicated by the simple possessed form (in the sense of (b)). However, here the possessor is not made explicit.

(c) The majority of nouns also have a possessed form, which various authors have called the form of "inanimate possession" (Laughlin, 1975) or "impersonal possession" (Cowan, 1969). I believe that this form also expresses "benefactive possession": in other words, it expresses a relationship of mutual benefit (or detriment) between a noun its grammatical possessor. The general form is the following: a possessive prefix combines a the noun with the suffix -Vl (often -al) to indicates benefactive possession. I will give examples of various types:

(i) the location or origin of a thing

'Ali ch'en le'e, 'oy sbolom -al. Jaguars live in that cave there.

'Oy yuch' -al jjol. My head has lice.

'Oy avinatab -il. You've got a lizard (for example, walking on your back).

Ja' yak'al -el tulan li'e. This is oak charcoal.

'ak'al, "charcoal"

tulan, "oak (a type of wood)"

K'usi sbek't -al li'e? What kind of animal is this meat from?

(ii) object or function of a thing

Ch'abal yak' -il li ka' e. There isn't any rope for the horse.

'ak', "vine"

Tol yabtel -al li balamil e. The land needs too much work.

Tzk'an yot -al (svaj -il) li bek'et e. The meat needs tortillas.

Ch'abal yik' -al li pelota e. The ball doesn't have any air.

'ik', "air, wind"

Mi 'oy yasuka -il li kajve? Does the coffee have sugar already?

K'usi yaj -il li'e? Mi ja' yaj -il yakil vo'?

What is this [caña] for? Is the [caña] for the [chicha]?

'aj, "reed"

yakil vo', "[chicha]" (literally: [embriaguente] water)

(iii) destination, intention, cause; victim or beneficiary of a thing

'Och yalak' -il chobtik. The chickens entered the cornfield (to eat it).

'Ep ikom yil -al li na e. Because of the house there remain a lot of debts.

Ja' sbel -el Jobel li'e. This is the road for San Cristóbal.

Ja' xa jbolom -al xa chtal. What's coming is the tiger that is going to kill me.

Icham xa latzek -ale. The scorpion that was going to sting you already died.

'Animal 'oy sbot -al li chobtik e. There is a lot of hail.

tzek, "scorpion"

bot, "hail"

Tzotz xchamel -al li pox e. The hangover is bad.

Tol xchan -ul li kixim e. My corn is infested with animals.

chon (=*chAn), "animal, snake"

Chapal xa yasaluna -il li tz'i'lel e. The hoe is ready for the weeds.

tz'i'lel, "plant, weed [mala hierba]"

With very few exceptions, the root of a noun's benefactive or impersonal form takes the suffix -al (which changes to -il after a final syllable with -a-), although there are also suffixes with other vowels: -el after -Vl, -ul after -An, etc.

The difference between use (b)--simple possession--and use (c)--benefactive or impersonal possession--can be seen in the contrast between the following pairs of expressions:

kalak' my chicken

kalak'il the chicken for my curing ceremony

kasuka my sugar

kasukail (?) the sugar that is made by my body (?)

jmachita my machete

jmachitail the machete they are going to kill me with

kinatab my lizard

kinatabil the lizard that bit me, or that is on my body

kak'al the charcoal that belongs to me

kak'lel the charcoal that results when my body burns

'oy column, [pilar]

koy the column that belongs to me, that I'll use

yoyal jna my house's column, the column for my house

koyal the column that I am [amarrado] in

The forms with -al show what is called "inanimate possession" because, as is obvious after reflecting upon it, inanimate things and inanimate beings do not possess things in the same sense. If we re-examine the meaning of simple possession, we should be able to see that only one of the menaings allows for an inanimate thing to possess something in a simple manner: when the noun possessed denotes the part and the possessor (the inanimate thing) denotes the whole:

yok li vitz e the foot of the mountain

yok li ka' e the horse' foot

kok my foot

In these examples the relationship between the possessed noun and the possessor is the same; there is no difference between the forms. But if the relationship between the possessed and the possessor is a relationship of "ownership" or of "product," the possessor cannot be inanimate. Thus, the noun roots and the meanings of grammatical possession contrast in the following phrases:

sna li vinik e the man's house

snail 'ixim the house for corn

yabtel li Xun e John's work (the work he did)

yabtelal chobtik the work the cornfield needs

sbe ka' the road for horses

sbelel vo' the road for water

yixim li jchabajom e the farmer's corn (the corn he produced)

yiximal chobtik the corn from the cornfield

There also seems to be a relationship between nouns of the already mentioned type with the suffix -al (or with another vowel) and the nouns derived from adjectives with the same suffix -al:

jsonsoal my stupidity, the stupidity that afflicts me

kakoval my wasp, the wasp that afflicts me

There are other similarities between nouns and adjectives that we will see below.

(c') Adding the suffix of indefinite possession to the benefactive or inanimate form of a few nouns produces an unpossessable form, which has the meaning of "indefinite benefactive possession": in other words, a form with the same meaning as the noun with -al, but without an explicit possessor. For example, from the root 'e-al "mouth," there are simple possessive forms (uses (b) and (b')):

ke "my mouth"

'eal, "the mouth (of someone)"

There is also a form of "benefactive possession"--already with an extended or idiosyncratic meaning:

'Oy keal. I have ulcers of the mouth.

K'usi 'ip 'o? What is he sick from?

Ja' 'ealil. (He is sick with) ulcers of the mouth.

The word 'ealil can be analyzed as follows:

'e + -al + -il

mouth + Benefactive Possession Suffix + Indefinite Possession Suffix

The same is true of the word 'ak'lelil (= 'ak'al + el + il) which means "charcoal" that results from burning someone": in other words, the indefinite form of the root of kak'lel "charcoal made from my body." These forms are uncommon. (Another, more common example is 'ajvalil "owner," the indefinite form of -ajval "boss, lord, owner"; the basic root is 'ojob (= *'AjAv) "owner"; -ajval contains the suffix of benefactive possession, -al. Consequently, kajval doesn't mean "the person that I possess" but rather "the person that possesses me, that controls me, that threatens me.")

There are other forms of nouns that also occur with possessive prefixes, although they have very specialized uses.

(d) A suffixal form is used to ask, "What type of X is it? Why is it so X?" The root generally carries the suffix -al (with the same vowel changes that are observed in the suffix of benefactive possession). Often, it carries the additional suffix -il. This form does not require possessive prefixes.

K'usi botal chtal, 'animal muk'tik. What kind of hail is coming, that is should be so big?

K'usi bililal taj e? What kind of name is that?

(Note here: bi-il "name"--a form of indefinite possession--plus -al).

K'usi 'unenalil, tol x'ok'. What a baby, what a cry baby?

K'usi 'osilal lavi e? What day is today?

K'usi 'oyal(il) chich' li mok e? What type of post does the fence need?

-ich', "to receive"

-k'an, "to want"

(We will consider transitive verbs in the next chapter.)

K'usi 'omal le'e? What kind of sand is that?

K'usi 'omalil ti batz'i toj mas? What kind of sand is that, that there should be so much?

(Here we can see that the additional suffix -il implies the plurality of the noun.) This form, which denotes the "type," also occurs with adjectives. For example:

K'usi toj 'alalil taj e? What is it that it should be so heavy?

'ol (=*'Al), "heavy"

K'usi 'asukail? What kind of sugar (white, brown, etc.)?

K'usi 'iximal? What kind of corn (white, red, hybrid, etc.)?

(e) There is another, very similar noun form that does carry possessive prefixes, in order to denote quantity or quality. This type of construction is very peculiar.

Yajval to much'u lek xvabaj. Those that have mastered music are few.

Yosilal(il) to ti bu lek xch'i chobtik. It isn't in every land that corn grows well.

Ssotz'al to ti xti'van. Not all bats bite.

sotz', "bat"

ti'van-, "bite, bark"

Stzekilal to li 'ep chanav. Not all scorpions walk around so much.

Yokolal yech much'u chanav. That how the legs are for walking (of someone that walks well or a lot).

K'u yu'un toj lek lachobe? Why is your cornfield so good?

Yiximal(il) to. Because of the quality of the corn.

Batz'i muk' li 'inatab li'e. This lizard is pretty big.

Yinatabilal 'o yech. That's how this kind of lizard is.

K'u yu'un tol chalo'ilaj? Why do you chat so much?

Kealil 'o yech. That's the way my mouth is.

This form can be analyzed as follows:

k- e -al -il

1st person prefix mouth Suffixes of Quality

K'u yu'un toj lek lavabtele?

Sk'abalil to yech. It depends on the hand that makes it.

(= s- k'Ab -al -il)

The exact order of the suffixes appears to depend on the root: roots with a hyphen (with inefinite form of simple possession) add -al to the indefinite form; other roots add -al(il), unless the last vowel of the root is -a-, in which case the sequence of suffixes is -il(al). There also appears to be a good deal of individual variation in the final grouping of suffixes.

(f) We alredy know about the use of the suffix -ik for denoting the "extension" of something. Nouns that denote natural things (plants, trees, etc.) also combine with the suffix -al (or -il after a syllable with -a-), often plus -tik, in order to denote a more extended space, full of some thing.

'iximaltik cornfields

'osilal(tik) an expansive space of mountains

'akovaltik a wasp nest, an area full of wasps

'ajil(al)tik a stretch of [caña]

'alavena(il)tik a stretch of [hierbabuena]

'alavena, "hierbabuena"

(g) Another use of the suffix -al (or -il after a syllable with -a) produces a noun root that can combine with possessive prefixes and which denotes the state of being something or the completion of some duty. (This suffix -al combines with noun as well as certain adjectives.)

'Ali jtot e, i'ech' ta martomoal. My father had a (religious) term as "mayordomo."

martomo, "mayordomo"

Pero i'ipaj ta smartomoal. But he got sick during his terms as "mayordomo."

In other dialects, for example in that of Chamula, the form of the word borrowed from Spanish "mayordomo" is martoma. For example, one says:

I'ech' ta martomail. GLOSS?

Me'on k'al ilok' ta spreserenteal. He was poor when he left from his term as president.

Pukujon ta jkremal e. I was a terror when I was young.

Tzpas chitomal. He carries himself like a pig.

-pas, "to do, to make"

Tzpas sonsoal. He is being stupid (literally: he makes stupidity).

Yu'van me'elot xa; atzebal to. You're not yet an old woman; you're still young. (Literally: You are in the period of being a girl.)

yu'van, "it isn't as that..., [as it will be that...], how can you believe that..."

Slajunebal xa jabil i'och ta mastroale.

Ten years ago he became a teacher.

Uses (d) through (g) of the suffixal noun forms are specialized and limited. It is precisely the behavior of a sustantival root in the uses (a) through (c) that determines its type or nominal class. Not every root takes every form: the possibilities is a function of each root's meaning and syntactic character. Also, many roots have regular forms (for example, forms of "benefactive possession"), which include extended or specialized meanings, unpredictable on the basis of the syntactic form alone. We will examine a few examples in order to see the diversity and the complexity of the system:

'abtel--verbal noun, "work"

(a) 'abtel, "work"

Ch'abal 'abtel. There is no work.

Mi ilaj li 'abtel e? Has the work finished?

(b) -abtel, "work of..."

Ja' to chlaj kabtel 'ok'ob. The work will last till tomorrow.

'Ep yabtel li povre karo e. The poor car has a lot of work to do.

(b') 'abtelil, "someone's work"

Tol chch'ay 'abtelil. The work (of some unspecified person) is always lost.

(c) -abtelal, "the work needed by something"

Tol yabtelal li balamil e. The land needs too much work.

vo' (= *HA') "water"

vo', "water"

Chtal vo'. It's going to rain (literally: rain is coming).

vo'-ch'oj vo' name of a hamlet ("Five Wells")

-ch'oj, "numeral classifier for holes, gaps, openings, etc."

(b) -a'al, "someone's water"

Ja' ka'al li' e. This is my well, my water.

Te ta tzu li ya'al e. His water is in the pumpkin.

(c) -a'lel (= *HA' + al + el) "water that something produces or needs"

Ch'abal ya'lel li limon e. The lime doesn't have any juice.

Ilok' ya'lel jsat. From my eyes the tears left.

ya'lel 'itaj vegetable juice; or: water in which vegetables are boiled; or: water for [regar sobre] the vegetable, etc.

In this example, the possessed form of vo' has been derived through the suffixation of -al. As in (b), this suffixal form serves as the root with which another suffix is combined in order to indicate benefactive possession. (In Tzeltal, the cognate forms have different meanings: ha' "water," ha'al, "rain").

The system of possessive suffixes appears to be very complicated because Tzotzil employs many suffixes that have the same form (-Vl), but different meanings. The suffix -al of -a'al is probably related to the suffix -al by means of which noun are derived from other nouns. Consider, for example:

bak, "bone; thin, skinny, bony"

bakal, "[olote]"

k'ok', "figure, light, fever, heat, hot, burning"

k'ak'al, "day (root: *k'Ak')

mol, "elder, old man, husband"

malal-il, "husband"

The second words in each pair have been derived from simple roots through the suffixation of -al. The members of each pair have different meanings (although they are related) and diferent characteristics [en cuanto a su relación] to the possessive.

bak, "bone"

(a) bak, "bone"

'Oy bak. There are bones.

(b) -bak, "someone's bone"

Buch'u sbak? Who owns this bone?

(c) -bakel, "something's bone, bone to accompany something"

K'ux jbakel. My bones hurt.

Li'e, ja' sbakel vakax. Those are the cow's bones.

Mi 'oy jset' sbakel li bek'et e? Is there a piece of bone for the meat?

(c') bakelil, "bone of some (indefinite) thing"

bakal, "[olote]"

(a) bakal, "[olote]"

But ta xch'ay li bakaletik e? Where [se echan] the [olotes]?

(b) -bakal, "[olote] that belongs to someone"

Much'u sbakal li'e? Whose [olotes] are these?

(c) -baklel, "something's [olote] (a plant)"

Li'e, ja' sbaklel 'ixim, ja' vojton. This is the corn [olote].

vojton, "ear of corn"

From the adjectival root mol "old" the noun -malal is formed "old age (of men)," whose possessor can be someone upon whom the adjective mol is predicated.

Mol li ka'e. The horse is old already.

Smolal to li ka'e. The horse has entered into old age.

But the word -molal should not be confused with the homophynous word, with the derivative suffix -al: -molal (or more frequently malal-il), which means: "husband, spouse."

malal-il, "husband, spouse"

(b) -malal (-molal) "someone's husband"

'Oy jmalal. I have a husband (that is, I'm married).

(b') malalil, "someone's husband"

Chlok' ta 'abtel li malil e. The husband left for work.

The number of homophynous words is even greater with the pair k'ok/k'ak'al. There is first the adjectival use of k'ok', which we can represent with the following formula:

k'Ak'(al) aj: "hot"

K'ok' li vo' e. The water is hot.

Mi 'oy k'ak'al vo'? Is there hot water? (attributive form)

From the same root (k'Ak') comes the noun k'ok' "fire, light," with the following forms:

k'ok', "fire, light"

(a) k'ok', "fire" (absolute form)

Mi 'oy k'ok? Is there fire?

'och''ochan li' ta ti' k'ok' e. Scoot up to the fire!

(b) -k'ok' "someone's fire (or light)" (simple possessed form)

Mi ch'abal ak'ok? You don't have a fire?

Itup' li jk'ok' e. My fire went out.

tup'-, "to go out, to be extinguished"

(c) -k'ak'al, "fire, heat, light for something" (benefactive form)

Ilik sk'ak'al ko'on. I got angry. (Literally: The fire in my heart arose.)

Mi 'oy sk'ak'alil li ve'lil e chta'aj 'o e?

Is there a fire for the food so that it will [se cueza]?

There are also various forms of the derived word:

k'ak'al, "day"

(a) k'ak'al, "day, sun" (absolute form)

Chik'ot ta jun no'ox k'ak'al. I will arrive in one day.

Itoy xa li k'ak'ale. The sun rose already.

(c) -k'ak'alil, "day for someone" (benefactive form)

I'ech' xa sk'ak'alil. The day for this has passed already.

'Oy xa sk'ak'alil. It's been a few days since this happened.

Thus one can see the complications introduced by the multiplicity of suffixes of the form -Vl.

In the same way we can explain the form of 'av-il, "place":

(b) -av, "place (of someone or something)"

Ja' yav 'ak'al li'e. This is the incensary (literally: the place for charcoal).

Ja' kav li' e. This is my place.

(b') 'avil, "place" (indefinite possessed form)

(c) -avil, "origin, place from whence something came"

Ikom ta yavil. It stayed in its permament place.

It should be apparent that the two -il suffixes have two different functions: one is the suffix of indefinite possession and the other is the suffix of benefactive possession.

We can now review the types of nouns, in terms of their possibilities for grammatical possession. The first type can be represented by 'abtel "work." We will write the word without a hyphen, which indicates that the root can occur in an absolute as well as a simple possessed form. Also, there are forms of benefactive and indefinite possession:

(a) 'abtel

(b) -abtel

(b') 'abtelil

(c) -abtelal work

A subclass of this type of nouns has words without simple possessed forms, for example,
vaj "tortilla":

(a) vaj

(b) --

(b') --

(c) -vajil tortilla

Another example of this subtype is
'ok'ob, "tomorrow":

(a) 'ok'ob

(b) --

(b') --

(c) -ok'omal tomorrow

(a) 'ak'ubal

(b) --

(b') --

(c) -ak'ubalil night

Lik'ot ta lunex, pero lak'ot ta yok'omal.

I arrived on Monday, but you on the following day.

Lik'ot ta yak'ubalil k'in. I arrived on the night of the party.

It appears that the possibility of forming roots of benefactive possession is limited more by semantic characteristics than by syntactic ones.

We have written the second type of noun with a hyphen to indicate that the root always has possessive prefixes of some form (often with the suffix -il) when there is no explicit possessor. A prototypical example is k'ob-ol, "hand."

(a) --

(b) -k'ob

(b') k'obol

(c) -k'abal hand

(a) --

(b) -sat

(b') satil

(c) -satilal eye, face

The names of articles of clothing also show the characteristics of inalienable possession.

(a) --

(b) -k'u'

(b') k'u'ul / k''il

(c) -k'iu'ilal clothing, shirt

(a) --

(b) -tzek

(b') tzekil

(c) -tzekilal skirt

Ilaj jk'ob. I hurt my hand.

Chi'abtej ta k'obol. I work with my hands.

Chopol sk'abal li be li'e, mu tuk'uk. The hand that made this road was bad, because this road isn't straight.

tuk'(il), "straight"

Mu xk'ot ssatilal. [No se ve] (literally: the eyes for this don't arrive).

'Oy xa yach'-tzek. She already has a new skirt.

Pero pwersa chtal stzekilal k'in. She badly needs a skirt for the party.

A subset of the above-mentioned nouns have defective noun roots--that is to say, roots that lack some form of the paradigm. The most common situation is the absence of non-possessed (indefinite) forms.

(a) --

(b) -ot

(b') --

(c) -otal "tortillas"

(a) --

(b) -alak'

(b') --

(c) -alak'il "chicken"

There are also nouns that only have a simple possessed form.

(a) --

(b) -bek'

(b') --

(c) -- "seed, bone"

(a) --

(b) -bel

(b') --

(c) -- "content"

It seems to me that the lack of form (c) (benefactive possession) or form (b) (simple possession) often reflects semantic limitations. Animate and inanimate things do not possess "contents" in different senses: there is no need for an "inanimate' form of the word -bel. Thus, for example, an animate being cannot be the possessor of "morning"; in that sense, there doesn't exist a form (b) of the word

This well-developed system of possession provides the opportunity for great subtlety of expression. In what follows a few more examples will be given. First, the word 'antz "woman" shares characteristics of two types of nouns. As a predicate, this word appears to be an adjective (and has an attributive form).

'antz(il) adj: "feminine"

'Antz li Maruch e. Mary is a woman.

Te lijach' ta 'antzil ton. I fell nearby the "feminine" rock.

As a noun, the word 'antz has all the ordinary forms, plus an extra one:

(a) 'antz woman

(b) -antz lover

(b') 'antzil lover

(c-1) -antzil woman

(c-2) -antzilal wife

A more adequate analysis, however, will divide these words in two groups, like the following:

(a) 'antz

(b) --

(b') --

(c) -antzil "woman"

(a) --

(b) -antz

(b') 'antzil

(c) -antzilal "lover"

The forms from the first group pertain to the word
'antz "woman," which does not have a simple possessed form.

Ital li 'antz e. The woman came already.

Ch'abal yantzil li na e. The house does not have a woman (to care for it).

The forms of the second group belong to the word 'antz-il "lover, wife." Note that the concept of "lover" presupposes a possessor. That is to say, the word is intrinsically possessed or relational.

'Oy avantz. You have a lover.

'Antzil no'ox le'e. That's just a woman for you.

Analysis of the suffix -al for benefactive possession gives -antzilal "wife" (that is to say, "lover for someone").

Mi chbat avantzilal vo'ote? Is your wife going to go?

There are also forms for other uses that we have seen; for example, the word -antzil(al) expresses use (d), which expresses the type of quality of something.

Yantzil(al) to much'u xnop ta 'olon 'osil.

Not all women are accustomed to hot country.

nop- "to be accustomed"

The word tzeb "woman" appears like 'antz and has adjectival uses.

Tzebot to. You are still young.

Tzebal-'antzot to. She's still a young woman.

All the expected forms also occur:

(a) tzeb woman

(b) -tzeb daughter

(b') tzebil daughter

(c) -tzebal sister

In absolute form, tzeb means "girl," a female youth, without explicit relation to anyone. In the simple possessed forms, -tzeb means "daughter": the girl who belongs to someone (namely, to her parents).

'Oy cha' vo' jtzeb. I have two girls.

Ta tzebil ikom li me'on e. The orphan stayed around like a daughter.

The benefactive form, -tzebal, means "girl for someone": in other words, "sister."

Mi 'oy atzebal? Do you have a sister?

(There is also another word, -tzebal, derived from the adjectival use of tzeb, that means "youth (of a girl).") Finally, in order to complete this complex description, I will mention the fact that there is another suffix -il that signals plurality.

'Oy jtzebalil. I have (many) sisters.

The same suffix can be seen in the following example:

Kich'akil ilaj 'o. He suffered from my fingernails. (In other words, I scratched him.)

'ich'ak-il, "fingernail, claw"

[1] It is noteworthy that the word -koj does not function as an ordinary noun, but only by itself in "benefactive" or instrumental constituents. In order to say "I am at fault, I am guilty," one uses the word mul-il "crime, blame, guilt." For example:

7Oy jmul. I am guilty.

On the other hand, the word kwenta as an ordinary noun, sometimes possessed, means "debt."

Ilaj li jwenta e. My debt is finished.

[2] The expression mu jayuk means "too much, so much that there was no end to it."

Mi ilaj li 7abtel e? Is the work finished yet? Batz'i mu jayuk. It's overwhelming. (In other words, it never ends).

[3] It is possible that the restrictions on the possessed forms of some nouns is motivated by the desire to avoid homophonous word. For example, the root

7ok, "turtle"

does not occur with possessive prefixes, but only with forms of 7u7un-il.

Ja7 ku7un li 7ok le7e. That turtle is mine.

Thus, a possessed form of "turtle" is not confused with a form of the inalienably possessed noun 7ok-ol, "foot."

Ja7 kok le7e. That is my foot.


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