Chapter 4:
The Structure of Nouns, Part 1

4.0 Nouns and Possession

`Oy krus ta jol vitz. There is a cross on top of the mountain.
`Oy much'u te ta ba `osil. There is someone on top of the hill.
`osil, "land, earth"
Te ta ti` na li tz'i`. The dog is in the doorway.
ti`, "mouth, bank, opening"
Taj ta pat mok li tzebe. The girl is behind the fence.
pat, "back, behind"
mok, "fence"
`Ataj krem e, te ta pat mak na. As for that boy, he is behind the door.

A large class of nouns, many of which are body part terms, combines with other words to create compound forms:

X (part) of Y

Thus, for example, from jol "head" and vitz "mountain," one forms the compound jol vitz "on top of the mountain." The grammatical relation of possession, marked by "X of Y" or "Y's X" in English, is indicated by word order in Tzotzil: the grammatical posssessor follows the main noun, the possessum. The roots jol "head," ba "face, top," ti` "mouth, bank," and pat "back" are all body part terms. Furthermore, they all figure into numerous compound expressions with derived meanings. For example,

jol na "roof, loft, attic"
ba na "on top of the house, on the roof"
ti` na "entrance to the house"
pat na "patio (behind the house)"

These expressions are true compounds. Compound expressions of this sort often have a special meaning that is not predictable from the meaning of their constituent parts. For example, ti` be means "the side of the road," and ti` k'ok' means "the edge of the fire," but ti` na does not mean "side of the house" but rather "entrance to the house." The compound pat na has a shortened form, pana, which means "outside (of the house)," and arises from derivational processes like the [integral root]. (Similar compound expressions are common enough in English: e.g., hilltop, rootop, hillside, doorway, etc.)

The example ta pat mak na shows a great level of complexity. The constituents pat "back," mak "lid," and na "house" combine in order to form a structure of the form:

pat mak na
the back of the cover of the house

The compound mak na "door of the house" (literally: "cover of the house") serves as the grammatical possessor of pat; thus the total compound means "behind the door of the house" (literally: "the back of the cover of the house"). The order of elements determines their grammatical relation.

4.1 Possessive Prefixes

Although "quasi-possessive" compounds of this sort are fairly common in Tzotzil, they actually represent special forms of constructions that result from general processes.

`Ali tzebe, te ta sna li Xune. As for the girl, she is in John's house.
Mi `oy si` ta ana e? Is there firewood in your house?
Li` ta jna e, ch'abal ch'o. Here in my house, there aren't any rats.

In the expression ta sna li Xun e the complement of the preposition ta is a possessed noun. The possessor is li Xun e "John." As in the previous examples, this noun, like other posessors, follows the possessed object. Sna can be broken down as a possessive prefix s- "his/her," plus the root na "house." This is the resulting structure:

s- na li Xune
his house of John

The possessed nouns in the rest of the examples are the result of a similar process. The possessive prefixes are:

j- na my house
a- na your house
s- na his/her house

Examples follow:

Bu l ana e? Where is your house?
`Ali jna e, te ta ti` vo`. My house here, it is on the riverbank.
Buch'u te ta ana e? Who is in your house?
Te li jkrem e. There is my son.

Note that articles are used with possessed nouns. L ana e (which sounds like lanae) is composed of l- (a shortened form of li which is always used before the possessive prefix a-), the possessed noun a-na "your house," and the enclitic -e: literally "the your house." In Zinacantec Tzotzil, the possessive prefix of the second person, a-, does not carry a glottal stop and therefore has a very smooth sound. Ta ana "in your house" is pronouned like taana, with a long a.

`Alanae, ch'abal xa. As for your house, it no longer exist.

`Alanae can be analyzed as `a- "initial particle with definite nouns" + l- "definite article (shortened form)" + a-na "your house" + -e (enclitic).

Mi `oy akrem? Do you have a son?
Ch'abal to, pero `oy jtzeb. Not yet, but I have a daughter.
krem, "boy, son"
tzeb, "girl, daughter"
pero, "but"

Here we see the form taken by sentences of ownership in Tzotzil. Thus, in order to say "I have a daughter", one says, literally: "My daughter exists."

Mi `oy ana? Do you have a house?
Ch'abal jna li vo`on e. `Oy sna li jtot e. I don't have a house. My father has a house.
vo`on, "I"
tot, "father"

We have seen that a possessed phrase has the form:

Object Possessed + Possessor

The possessor follows the possessum, whose possessive prefix cross-indexes its possessor. When the possessor is another noun--another person, for example--the prefix is s- "his/her."

s- na li Xun e (his) house of John

When, according to context, the possessor is known from discourse--for example, if we have already spoken of John--it does not have to be explicitly stated.

Bu li Xun e? Where is John?
Te ta sna. In his house.

Here the prefix s- indicates that the possessor is someone (or something) already mentioned in discourse, and the noun that denotes this person (or thing) remains implicit. On the other hand, when the possessor is in the first or second person--if the possessor is the speaker or addressee, respectively--it is generally unnecessary to specify the possessor.

`Ali tzeb e, te ta jna. As for the girl, she is in my house.
`Oy xa ana. You already have a house.

For greater emphasis, it is possible to include an explicit first or second person "pronoun." The singular pronouns are:

vo`on, "I"
vo`ot, "you"

Pronouns conform to the same pattern: they follow possessed objects and can also carry articles.

jna li vo`on e my house (of mine)

A pronoun appears as possessor in order to stress its contrast with another possessor.

Li` jna ta Nabenchauk. My house is here in Nabenchauk.
Bu ana vo`ot? Where is your house?

It is also possible to construct stratified possessive expressions with three or more levels of possession (as in the previous example, ta pat mak na). For example, the subject of the sentence

`Oy sna li jtot e. My father has a house. (Literally: the house of my father exists.)

shows the structure:

[DIAGRAM MISSING] The pronoun vo`on, "I," does not appear, but remains implicit in the prefix j- "my." Very complex expressions can often result from this stratification of possession.

Mi `oy stz'i` stzeb skrem l abankil e? Does the daughter of your older brother's son have a dog?
bankil, "older brother"

The basic structure of this complex possessive phrase is:


Note that, although the entire possessive phrase is definite--it means "the dog of the daughter of the son of the older brother"--only the last constituent carries the definite article li. Similarly, the complement of a locative phrase with ta cannot carry the definite article, but a posessor in this construction can:

`Oy `ixim ta sna li jtot e. There is corn in my father's house.
`Ali tz'i` e, te ta sna skrem li jbankile. As for the dog, he is in my older brother's son's house.

Possessed nouns also occur without an article, with an indefinite, generic, or partitive meaning.

skaro jnachij the car of someone who inhabits the region of Nachij (indefinite meaning: we don't know which inhabitant)
j-nachij, "inhabitant of Nachij"
sk'u` `antz woman's blouse (generic sense: the type of blouse woman generally wear)
k'u, "blouse, clothing"
`antz, "woman"

One sees the partitive meaning of an indefinite noun in the contrast between the following examples:

Li` li jchenek e. Here are my beans.
`Oy jchenek'. I have (a certain amount of) beans. Or: I have planted (a certain amount of) beans.

A possessed noun whose possessor is definite can be either definite or indefinite.

Li` xchenek' li jtote. Here are the beans belonging to my father.
`Oy xchenek' li jtote. My father has beans.

The form x-chenek' results when one adds the prefix s- "his/her" to chenek' "beans." The s assimilates to the initial ch of chenek' and becomes x. (One says that the s "assimilates" because it becomes a sound closer to ch.) The letters x and ch' also cause the assimilation of the prefix s-.

j-xan my palm
xan, "palm (one uses it to sew hats)"
a-xan your palm
x-xan his/her palm (sounds like xan)

Examples follow:

Mi `oy ach'akil? Do you have fleas?
ch'ak(il), "flea"
Ch'abal jch'akil vo`on. `Oy xch'akil jtz'i`. I don't have fleas. My dog has fleas.
Mi `oy ana? Do you have a house.
Vo`on e, ch'abal jna, ch'abal kosil. As for me, I have neither a house nor land.

The word kosil is composed of a possessive prefix k- "my" and the noun `osil "land." Nouns beginning with a glottal stop and a vowel take different possessive prefixes than those beginning with a consonant. The prefixes are the following:

k-osil my land
av-osil your land
y-osil his/her land

One can see that a root's initial glottal stop disappears before the addition of the prefix.

Mi `oy xa avajnil? Do you already have a wife?
`ajnil, "wife"
Ch'abal to. Vo`ote? No, I don't. And you?
Vo`one, `oy kajnil. As for me, I have a wife.
Mi `oy xa `ox avajnil janabi e? Did you already have a wife last year?
Ch'abal to `ox a`a. Not yet then.
a`a, "indeed (emphatic particle)"

4.2 Fronting Nouns

Mi `oy xa smalal li Xunka` e? Does Jane already have a wife?
malal, "husband"
Xunka`, "Jane"
`Ali Xunka` e, ch'abal smalal. `Ali Loxa e, `oy smalal. As for Jane, she has no husband. (On the other hand,) Rose does have a husband.

We have already seen that the subject of a sentence can be fronted-it moves to the front of the sentence for greater emphasis.

Te ta Jobel li Xunka` e. Jane has a husband.
`Ali Xunka` e, `oy smalal. As for Jane, she has a husband.
`Oy avixim. You have corn.
`Ali vo`ote, `oy avixim. You, you have corn.

And the possessor within a phrase with ta can also move.

`Oy `ixim ta sna li Xun e. There is corn in John's house.
`Ali Xun e, `oy `ixim ta sna. As for John, there is corn in his house.
Ta sna li Xun e, `oy `ixim. In John's house, there is corn.

One must distinguish sentences such as these, which express the existence of something (corn) in a certain place (John's house) from locative sentences, which express the location of something specific.

Te ta sna Xun li `ixim e. The corn is in John's house. What interest us is the corn in particular.
Te `oy `ixim ta sna li Xun e. There is corn there in John's house. What interests us is where we find something.

In the first sentence, the word Xun does not carry a definite article. Zinacantec Tzotzil avoids sequences of nouns with definite articles. In a sequence of definite nouns, only the last noun carries an article. We can conlude that the first examples results from the underlying hypothetical sentence that follows:

***Te ta sna li Xun e li `ixim e.

But this hypothetical sentence never occurs. The correct form results from the disappearance of the article carried by Xun, an article that is deleted by the presence of the definite noun li `ixim e. If the subject, li `ixim e, moves forward, the ommitted article re-appears.

`Ali `ixim e, te ta sna li Xun e.

Sometimes even more complicated sentence show up:

Li` ta jna vo`on skrem sbankil li Xun e. The son of John's older brother is here in my house.
`Ali Xun e, li` ta jna skrem li sbankil e. As for John, his older brother's son is here in my house.
`A taj sbankil li Xun e, li` ta jna li skrem e. As for John's older brother, his son is here in my house.
`A taj skrem sbankil li Xun e, li` ta jna li vo`one. As for John's older brother's son, he is here in my house.

It would appear that the word taj shows up in these formulations to avoid the occurence of two nouns in a row introduced by li. Furthermore, taj provides a vehicle for the introductory particle `a- that goes at the beginning of sentences with fronted definite nouns.

Indefinite nouns also can be fronted, but they do not require the initial `a- particle.

`Oy `ixim ta kuveta. There is corn in the bucket. What interests us is what is in the bucket.)
Te ta kuveta, `oy `ixim. In the bucket there is corn.
`Ixim e, `oy ta kuveta. There is corn in the bucket. What interests us is the location of the corn, any amount of corn.

These fronted indefinite nouns have a clearly partitive meaning.

`Osil e, `oy ta `olon. As for land, there is some in the lowlands.
Tzebetik e, `oy ta Nabenchauk. As for girls, there are some in Nabenchauk.
Bolom e, ch'abal xa li` e. As for tigers, there aren't any around here anymore.
bolom, "tiger, jaguar"

(The suffix -etik indicates plurality: tzeb "girl," tzebetik "girls"; similarly, tz'i`etik "dogs," naetik "houses.")

This partitive construction is somewhat rare. In general, only definite nouns at the end of a sentence can be fronted.

Te ta sna Xun li jchamel e. The sick person is at John's house.
jchamel, "person who is sick"
`Ali jchamel e, te ta sna li Xun e. The sick person, he's at John's house.

Contrast the following example sentences:

`Oy `ixim ta sna li Xun e. There is corn at John's house.
`Ali Xun e, `oy `ixim ta sna. As for John, there's corn at his house.
Te ta sna Xun li `ixim e. At John's house there is corn.
`Ali `ixim e, te ta sna li Xune. As for the corn, it's at John's house.

In all of these sentences, the most definite noun comes is sentence-final or gets fronted.

The formulation of questions is related to this process of fronting, because interrogative words are always sentence-initial. Look at the following pairs:

`Oy X ta sna li Xun e. // X e, `oy ta sna li Xune.
K'usi `oy ta sna li Xun e? What is there in John's house?

`Oy `ixim ta X. // Ta X e, `oy `ixim.
Bu `oy `ixim? Where is there corn?

`Oy `ixim ta sna li X e. // `Ali X e, `oy `ixim ta sna.
Buch'u `oy `ixim ta sna? In whose house is there corn?

Te ta sna Xun li X e. // `Ali X e, te ta sna li Xun e.
Much'u te ta sna li Xun e? Who is in John's house?

One questions precisely those constituents that can be fronted, but it is obligatory to move the questioned constituent to the beginning of the sentence. The fronting does not impede the interrogative sentence from being transformed by the fronting of other constituents. (In indicative sentences, only one constituent can be fronted.)

That is to say, the presence of one interrogative word in a sentence alters the word order. As a consequence, another noun is liberated for fronting.

Much'u te ta sna li Xun e? Who is in John's house?
`Ali Xun e, buch'u te ta sna? As for John, who is in his house?

Note that various types of fronted nouns precede interrogative words:

`Ali jtz'i` e, mi te ta ana? Is my dog in your house?
Te ta k'ib e, k'usi `oy? What is there in the water jug?
`Ali Xun e, much'u te ta sna? As for John, who is in his house?

We have seen that only indefinite nouns--in general with a partitive meaning- -can be fronted from a non-final position. In this sense, note that the word k'usi "what?" is the indefinite interrogative.

`Oy si` ta te`tik? Is there firewood in the forest?
Si` e, `oy ta te`tik. As for firewood, it is in the forest.
K'usi `oy ta te`tik? What is there in the forest?

There is a structural relationship between the following sentences:

`Ali Xun e, `oy `ixim ta sna.
Much'u `oy `ixim ta sna? Who has corn in his house? (Literally: In whose house is there corn?)

Also note the possibility of these sentences:

Ta sna li Xun e, `oy `ixim. At John's house there is corn.
Much'u ta sna `oy `ixim. At who's house is there corn?

In the last example, the process of question formation seems to transform only the locative phrase with ta. A phrase of the form ta sna X becomes much'u ta sna. The resulting sentence means: "We know that there is corn in some house, but in whose house?" or "At whose house is there corn?"

Possessed nouns have special characteristics, which we see in the following sentences:

`Oy jna ta Jobel. I have a house in San Cristobal.
Te ta Jobel li jna e. My house is in San Cristobal.
Te jna ta Jobel. I have my house in San Cristobal.

The phrase li jna e means "the house (in particular) that exists and is mine," whereas jna means "a house that exists and is mine." Saying jna "a house of mine" asserts the existence of a house that is mine (although we employ the word only in order to negate the existence of such an entity:

Ch'abal jna. I don't have a house. (My house does not exist).

The sentence Te jna ta Jobel seems to violate the rule that the more definite noun should be at the end of a sentence. Thus, the sentences:

Te sna ta Jobel li Romin e. Domingo's house is in San Cristobal.
Romin, "Domingo" (personal name)

and the most common form:

`Ali Romin e, te sna ta Jobel.

appears to violate the rule that the grammatical possessor should directly follow the possessed noun. Analagous sentences with unpossessed subjects are not permitted. Thus:

(Te) `oy k'in ta Jobel.
`Oy k'in (te) ta Jobel. There is a party in San Cristobal.
Te ta Jobel li k'in e. The party is in San Cristobal.

But one cannot say:

*** Te k'in ta Jobel.

The posssibility of sentences such as:

Te jna ta Jobel.

appears to be related to the fact that the possessed noun includes in its meaning an assertion of the existence of the thing named. But I cannot find a satisfactory explanation of either this phrase nor of the form with the possessor fronted:

`Ali vo`on e, te jna ta Jobel.

Furthermore, it appears that this construction is only used with nouns that denote immovable objects, things that remain in the place indicated. One does not say:

*** Te kajnil ta Nabenchauk.

But it appears correct to say:

Ta jchob ta Nabenchauk. I farm in Nabenchauk.
chob, "cornfield"

This sentences asserts not only that I do have a cornfield, and that this cornfield is in Nabenchauk, but also that it is in Nabenchauk that I maintain my cornfield.1

4.3 Agentive Nouns with the Prefix j-

One should not confuse the possessive prefix j- "my" with a homophynous prefix j- that appears in words like j`ilol "curer," jnachij "inhabitant of Nachij," and jchamel "sick person." The agentive prefix j- transforms roots of various types into words that denote person or living things.

`il, "to see" j`ilol, "seer, curer"
Nachij (place name) jnachij, "inhabitant of Nachij"
chamel, "sickness" jchamel, "a sick person"
`olon, "below, lowland" j`olon, "inhabitant of the lowlands" `ik'al, "black" j`ik'el, "black demon, spook" `abtel, "work" j`abtel, "worker"

An obvious difference between the possessive prefix j- and the agentive prefix is that only the latter combines with roots that begin with a vowel. Thus, for example,

`abtel "work"
j`abtel "worker" (the j- cannot be possessive)
kabtel "my work"

Agentive nouns with j- can also carry possessive prefixes: the possessed forms are based on the infix -aj- instead of the prefix j-.

j`abtel "worker"
kaj`abtel "my worker (who works for me)"
avaj`abtel "your worker"
yaj`abtel "his worker"
jchamel "(a) worker"
kajchamel "the worker that I care for"
avajchamel "your worker" etc.

The root of the possessed form of agentive nouns begins with -aj-, with a vowel, and attracts the k-/av-/y- pattern of possessive prefixes.

4.4 Other Possessive Compounds

We have seen compounds like ti` na "entrance to the house" and jol vitz "mountaintop." It is evident that these compounds are derived from possessive expressions that have frozen, often acquiring an extended or metaphorically-changed meaning. Ti` na is related to a construction of the form

X of Y

which, in general, occurs with a possessive prefix, derived from the element Y, together with the element X. That is to say,

jol na "roof"

is a special example of the construction in:

s-jol li Xun e "John's head"

The construction with a possessive prefix differs from the compound (which lacks an explicit possessive prefix), which functions as a unity. For example, the compound can carry a definite article:

li jol na e "the roof"
li mak na e "the door"
li jol `itaj e "the cabbage"
`itaj "vegetable"

One can see that the expression jol `itaj "cabbage" means, literally: "head of vegetable"). On the other hand, one cannot say: *** li sjol Xun e and we already know that sjol li Xun e is definite (it means "the head of John"), although the article that accompanies sjol has disappeared as the result of the presence of the article carried by Xun. If one adds an article to the second element of a compound, it loses the frozen relation of the unity, and the underlying possessive prefixes cannot disappear.

Te ta jol na li Xun e. John is on the roof (we already know which house.)
Te ta `ak'ol li jol na e. The roof is up there. (This sentence might be used, say, to explain what a roof is.)
Ch'abal to sjol li na e. The house still has no roof. (Literally: The head of the house still does not exist.)

Here we are talking about a definite thing--we are talking about his roof in particular--and the possessive prefix appears explicitly. Similarly, if the second element of a compound receives a possessive prefix, it loses the tight-knit relation between possessed and possessor, and the compound expression loses its integrity.

Te ta sjol jna li Xun e. John is on the roof of the house. `Ali tz'i` e, te ta ti` na. The dog is in the entrance to the house.
`Ali tz'i` e, te ta sti` ana. The dog is in the entrance to your house.
Mi `oy `itaj? Are there vegetables?
`Oy jol `itaj. There is cabbage.
Vo`ote, mi `oy sjol avitaj? And you, do you have cabbage? (Literally: Does the head of your vegetable exist?)

There are similar constructions in English:

Buy li na ba e? Where is the molehill?
ba, "mole"

"Molehill" is a compound word equivalent to na ba (literally: mole house).

Buy sna li ba e? Where is the mole's hill?

"Mole's hill" loses its integrity when the explicit possessive suffix -'s appears. Similarly, when we talk in Tzotzil about the hill of some specific mole, the first element of na carries the explicit prefix s-. Not all possessive expression can function as a unity without possessive prefixes: a student should be mindful of the constructions (the expressions) that permit the dropping of the prefix s-. Many roots that denote body parts begin with vowels. These also function in compound expressions, but they never lose the possessive pefix, which in this case is y-.

`Oy krus ta yok vitz. There is a cross at the foot of the mountain.
`ok, "foot"
`Oy k'ok' ta yut na. There is a fire inside of the house.
`ut, "interior, inside"
Mi `oy yav `ak'al? Is there an incensory?
`av, "place"
`ak'al, "charcoal"

The corresponding expressions based on consonant-initial roots omit the possessive prefix s-, as we have seen. With these vowel-initial roots, if the grammatical possessor (the second element) carries an article or is possessed, there is no change in the first element.

`Oy krus ta yok li muk'ta vitz e. There is a cross at the foot of the big mountain.
`Oy k'ok' ta yut li jna e. There is fire inside of my house.
Mi `oy yav avak'al? Do you have an incensory? (Literally: Does the place of your charcoal exist?)

Note that in compound possessive expressions the "true" possessor is marked by a prefix together with the second element.

sjol jbi my last name (literally: the head of my name)
bi, "name"
yav kabtel my workplace (literally: the place of my work)
yut amok your patio (literally: the inside of your fence)
sni` ak'ob your finger (literally: the nose of your hand)
ni`, "nose, point"
k'ob, "hand"

4.5 Inalienable Possession

Many words, especially names of body parts and kinship terms, always occur with a possessor. In general, we do not speak of a hand without it being someone's hand: a father is someone's father, etc. In Tzotzil, the inalienable character of certain nouns has a formal and grammatical reflex. For example, the root k'ob "hand" is never used in isolation. It either carries a possessive prefix (for example, jk'ob "my hand") or it requires a nominal sufix, which produces an absolute form, indicating the indefiniteness of the possessor (for example, k'ob-ol "hand (of some unspecified person)." One never hears the root in isolation, except in fixed compounds, in which the possessive prefix s- is thought to have disappeared.

k'ob krus arm of the cross

With the majority of these words, the absolute suffix (of indefinite possession) is -il, but there are so many exceptions that it will be preferable to indicate (and for the students it is necessay to memorize) the particular suffix that accompanies each inherently possessed noun. Here we employ the notation introduced by Josh Smith (n.d.): a noun with a hyphen loses the absolute suffix upon being possessed: for example, k'ob-ol "hand." Of the nouns we already know, the following are of the same type:

Body Parts

`ok-ol, "foot"
pat-il, "back"
ti`-il, "mouth, entrance, side; lip"
ba-il, "forehead, face"
jol-ol, head"
k'ob-ol, "hand"

Other Words

bi-il, "name"
`av-il, "place, container, footprint"
`ut-il, "inside"
k'u`-ul, "clothing, blouse, shirt"

Kinship Terms

bankil-al, "older brother (of a man)"
`ajnil-al, "wife"
malal-il, "husband"

To recapitulate, the possessed forms of these words carry possessive prefixes (except in fixed compounds) without the absolute suffix:

  • kok, "my foot"
  • jba, "my face"
  • jbi, "my name"
  • ak'u`, "your clothes"
  • avajnil, "your wife"
  • If they are not used in a possessive construction, these roots should carry the indicated absolute suffix. However, the use of the so-called "absolutes" forms is very restricted. It does not correspond to the English usage of non-possessed equivalents. In general, the suffix signifies indefinite possession.

    Li` `oy k'u`ul. There is clothing here (of someone unknown).

    The forms of the suffix also have a general meaning:

    jayib `ok'ol? How many steps?
    jayib, "how many, how much"
    ta `okol by foot, walking
    ta k'obol by hand

    In other cases, the form of the suffix has a changed or extended meaning. For example, bankilal can denote senior officials of elders. It also means a type of indigenous tobacco that is considered to have supernatural powers and protective virtue (perhaps as a type of older brother?). Also, totil (from tot-il "father") can means either "a father" or "an elder, a venerated person." Jolol means not only "head" but also "hair." And the roots

  • `e-al, "mouth"
  • `o`on-il, "heart"
  • ch'ut-il, "stomach"
  • produce absolute words that denote infirmities of the body parts mentioned above: mouth ulcers or angina, dizziness or nausea, and stomach aches and diarrhea, respectively. In reality, the "absolute" forms with a suffix are more specialized than generalized, and the roots more frequently occur with possessive prefixes.

    Grammatical "possession" in Tzotzil is a well-developed syntactic resource. Tzotzil uses possessed forms to express ideas that are communicated by means of very different constructions in English. We have already seen a basic example: English sentences of ownership employ the verb "to have." Their Tzotzil equivalents are sentences indicative of existence, with a possesed noun as the subject.

    `Oy kixim. I have corn.

    We also know about the use of relational nouns, with possessive prefixes, which are used in place of preposition.

    ta jol na on top of the house
    ta yut mok inside of the house, on the patio
    ta yolon jtem beneath my bed
    ta yak'ol ana above, on top of your house

    Another example, which Josh Smith mentions in his description of Tzeltal, is the use of body part terms. For example, person who speaks Tzotzil will offer as the translation of the word "hand" not the "absolute" form of the suffix-a form that, as we have already seen, has a restricted and special usage-but instead the possessed form jk'obtik, which means "our hands." This word suggests that hands are things inherently possessed, which we all have.

    Certain roots that we write with a hyphen show more complexities. For example, ti`-il gives the expected forms:

    ti` na entrance to the house
    ti` be large door, entrance to the road
    sti` l ana e the entrance to your house
    jti` my mouth, my lips
    ti`il entrance, side, mouth (absolute form)

    But additional forms also exist:

    ti`il be the side of the road
    sti`il jbe the side of my road (where I walk)

    This latter form contrasts with:

    sti` jbe the entrance to my road (in other words, the turn where the road leaves for the house)

    Thus, there is a form of the suffix, ti`il, obviously related to the basic root, but this form with a suffix can also carry possessive prefixes, with an extended meaning. Provisionally, we can represent these words this way:

    ti`-il, "mouth, entrance"
    ti`il, "side" (without a hyphen)

    Other words show similar complexities. The word `ut-il "inside" gives the expect forms: yut "inside of ___," kut "my inside," `util "inside (absolute form)." But the following forms also occur:

    ta yutil yo`on [heartfelt] (literally: in the center of his heart)
    ta yutil in the center (of a population)

    That is to say, there is another stem (from the same root `ut-il) of the form `util (without the hyphen) with the meaning "center." However, this stem has very limited usages. From the root `av "place" there are the forms `av-il "place" and `avil (without a hyphen) "origin." Thus we have:
    yav li Xun e the seat (place) of John
    yav li `ixim e the place of corn
    ta yavil in its original or permanent place

    In the following pages we will delve more deeply into the complexity of Tzotzil's possessive system.


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