Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 5, No 2 (2011)

Ritual and conversational discourse in Nahuatl: from ‘There is no drink as sweet and fragrant as this’ to ‘eat your meal!’

José Antonio Flores Farfán
Issued Date: 15 Jul 2012

Abstract


Linked to a series of sociolinguistic differentials (e.g. power, cultural, conversational) materialized in specific linguistic phenomena, this paper analyzes a couple of discourse markers in Nahuatl linguistics; namely, the presence/absence of epenthetic /i/, its metathesis, and the marked use of pronominal prefixes. All these resources indexicalize different discourse genres and types of interaction together with different social positions in ritual and conversational discourse. Epenthetic /i/ has mostly been described as an obligatory segment to maintain the structure of the Nahuatl syllable, which according to existent grammatical descriptions does not allow consonant clusters. Yet as documented by this and other few works this restriction only holds for written discourse. As an overall trend, in actual oral practice the presence or absence of epenthetic /i/ manifests two different types of discourse, ranging from a highly formal (i.e. ritual) to an informal (i.e. extemporaneous) discourse. Metathesis of epenthetic /i/ is also interpreted by speakers as a marked choice towards a Nahuatl de iksaan, “ancient Nahuatl”, especially with the imperative, xi-/ ix-, whereas its deletion is conceived as the unmarked choice indexing more conversational, informal (referential or not) practices. Regarding pronouns, the shift between the first person singular bound morphemes ni- to the second person singular ti-, while addressing a second person singular, mits-, which from an external point of view could be thought as ungrammatical, also indexes different interactional treatments and power differentials, such as those concomitant to generational, gender differences and different types of discourse and interaction. All this is succinctly analyzed in this paper for the first time, theoretically advancing an interpretation that goes beyond quantitative paradigms in sociolinguistics, postulating more than, for example, an audience oriented (Bell 1984) a conversational and power approach to the variable use of language, particularly in the case of Nahuatl.

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DOI: 10.1558/sols.v5i2.181

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