Mam grammar in outline

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Mam grammar in outline
England, Nora Clearman
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xii, 256 leaves : ; 28cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Adjectives ( jstor )
Glottal stops ( jstor )
Intransitive verbs ( jstor )
Noun phrases ( jstor )
Nouns ( jstor )
Phrases ( jstor )
Sentences ( jstor )
Verb phrases ( jstor )
Verbs ( jstor )
Vowels ( jstor )
Anthropology thesis Ph. D ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Anthropology -- UF ( lcsh )
Mam language -- Grammar ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: leaves 253-255.
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by Nora Clearman England.

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Copyright By
Nora Clearman England

Frederica de Laguna
for introducing me to anthropology


I would like to acknowledge the great assistance

given me in the preparation of this dissertation by

Juan Maldonado Andres and Juan Ord6iez Domingo, native

Mam speakers from San Ildefonso Ixtahuacan. They worked

with me for over two years in the analysis of Mam, and

much of the data collection and some of the analysis is

specifically their work. Above all they had great

patience in guiding me through the intricacies of

their language.

Dr. M. J. Hardman-de-Bautista was my advisor at

the University of Florida, and I would like to thank

her very warmly for her supervision of my graduate

education. She has at all times been exciting to work

under, and her understanding of the complexities of

language has inspired all her students to look deeper

and do more in their own work. It has indeed been a

privilege to work with her. Dr. Terrence Kaufman

directed my fieldwork and helped me to understand much

about Mam and Mayan languages. Many of the terms used

here and some of the format are his. It was a pleasure

to work under someone who is as meticulous and as

knowledgeable about Mayan languages as he.

I would also like to thank my examining committee,

whose members are Dr. Hardman, Dr. William E. Carter,

Dr. Charles Wagley, Dr. Norman Markel, and Dr. Alexander

Moore, for their time and guidance. Finally, I would

like to acknowledge the Proyecto'Linguistico Francisco

Marroquin, in Antigua Guatemala, for institutional

support during the period in which I did my fieldwork,

and the United States Peace Corps for support in the

field from August, 1971 to December, 1973. The

linguistic students and staff at the Proyecto Linguistico

Francisco Marroquin were a pleasure to work with and

provided both professional and informal assistance.


Acknowledgements .......................

................. iv

Conventions and Abbreviations ......................... x

Abstract................................................... i

0. Introduction...............
0.1 The Language and the
0.2 Research............
0.3 Personnel...........
0.4 Previous Studies....
o.5 Scope ................



1. Phonology.........................
1.1 Phonemic Inventory .........
1.2 Phonemic Description........
1.2.1 Consonants..........
1.2.2 Vowels ..............
1.2.3 Glottal Stop........
1.2.4 Juncture ............
1.3 Stress .....................
1.4 The Syllable ...............
1.5 Morphophonemics ............
1.5.1 Vowel Dropping......
1.5.2 Vowel Neutralization
1.5.3 Vowel Synthesis.....
1.5.4 /y/ Insertion.......
1.5.5 Glottal Stop and Glo
1.5.6 Movement of Glottal
Long Vowels........
1.5.7 Nasal Alternation...



ttalized Consonant
............ ....... 39
Stop Toward
................... 41

2. Grammatical Process....................
2.1 Morpheme Classes..................
2.2 Word Classes......................
2.2.1 Verbs ..................... Transitive Verbs... Intransitive Verbs.
2.2.2 Nouns..................... Relational Nouns... Measure Words......


2.2.2 .3 Names ...........................58 Toponyms.........................59 Pronouns.........................59
2.2.3 Adjectives .............................62 Demonstratives...................63 Numbers......................... 63
2.2.4 Affect Words ........................... 64
2.2.5 Particles ...............................65 Interrogatives ..................66 Negatives........................67 Affirmatives.....................68 Conjunctions.....................68 Locatives....................... 68 Temporals........................ 69 Manner Particles................ 69 Exclamations.....................70 Vocatives........................71 Other Adverbials ...............71 Other Particles................ 72
2.2.6 Adverbs ................................73
2.2.7 Review of Inflection ...................73 Verb Inflection................. 74 Noun Inflection................. 75
2.3 Root Classes...................................75
2.3.1 Verb Roots .............................75 Transitive Roots................ 75 Intransitive Roots.............. 76
2.3.2 Positional Roots .......................76
2.3.3 Noun Roots .............................77 S1 ..............................77 Sla .............................77 Slb .............................78 S2 ..............................78 S3 .............................. 79 Never Possessed Noun Roots...... 80 Always Possessed Noun Roots.....80
2.3.4 Adjective Roots ........................ 81
2.3.5 Affect Roots ...........................81
2.3.6 Particle Roots .........................81
2.3.7 Canonical Shape of Roots...............81 Transitive Root Shapes..........82 Intransitive Root Shapes.........82 Positional Root Shapes ..........82 Noun Root Shapes................ 82 Adjective Root Shapes ...........83 Affect Root Shapes ..............83 Particle Root Shapes............ 84
2.4 Stem Formation................................84
2.4.1 Verb Formation...........................86 Transitive Stem Formation....... 88 Intransitive Stem Formation.....99


2.4.2 Noun Stem Formation....................106
2.4.3 Adjective Stem Formation ...............115
2.4.4 Affect Stem Formation ................. .121
2.4.5 Derived Adverbial Formation ............ 122
2.4.6 How Roots and Stems are Derived
(in Review) ............................124
2.5 Phrase Formation ..............................130
2.5.1 Verb Phrases ...........................130 The Transitive Verb Phrase...... 132 The Intransitive Verb Phrase....135
2.5.2 Noun Phrases ...........................137 Third Person Noun Phrases....... 137 Pronoun Phrases................. 147
2.5.3 Adverb Phrases ......................... 149 Adverbials.......................149 Adverbial Noun Phrases ..........150
2.6 Sentence Formation............................. 151
2.6.1 Simple Sentences........................151 Linking Sentences............... 152 Intransitive Sentences.......... 154 Transitive Sentences............ 156
2.6.2 Variations of Simple Sentences .........158 Negatives ........................ 158 Interrogatives .................. 160 Passives ........................161 Imperatives......................163
2.6.3 Sentence Level Clitics................. 164
2.6.4 Compound Sentences...................... 178
2.6.5 Complex Sentences.......................180 Verbal Nouns .................... 180 Subordination with Set A
Person Markers ..................181 Subordination with Subordinate
Aspects.......................... 187

3. Verb Semantics......................................... 191
3.1 Semantic Extensions of Directionals...........193
3.2 Citation Form Directionals ....................196
3.3 Directional Distribution ......................202

4. Grammatical Categories...............................203
4.1 Verbal Categories .............................204
4.1.1 Time ............... .................... 204
4.1.2 Direction............................... 209
4.1.3 Transitivity............................210
4.2 Person Relationships.......................... 214
4.2.1 Person Marking......................... 214
4.2.2 Case and Location...................... 217
4.2.3 Body and Human Metaphor............... 220


4.3 Description..................................... 223
4.4 Emphasis......................................227
4.5 General Considerations.........................229

Appendix: Text ...................................... 236

Bibliography.............................................. 253

Biographical Sketch..................................... 256


[ ] phonetic representation

/ / phonemic representation (practical orthography)

{ } morpheme

divides morphemes in examples and texts

T transitive root

I intransitive root

N noun root

A adjective root

AF affect root

P positional root

t transitive stem

i intransitive stem

n noun stem

a adjective stem

af affect stem

underlining with numbers refers to phrases
braces under words indicate clauses

(Sp) Spanish loan

Dashes before or after a morpheme indicate that it is


Words or morphemes underlined in discursive passages are

always in the phonemic orthography.

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Nora Clearman England

June, 1975

Chairman: M. J. Hardman-de-Pautista
Major Department: Anthropology

Mam is a Mayan language spoken by several hundred

thousand indigenous people in highland Guatemala and

Chiapas. It has the third largest number of speakers

in the Mayan family, but has been relatively little

described, even compared to other Mayan languages. This

grammar is a description of the phonology, grammatical

processes, verb semantics, and grammatical categories

in Mam. It is based on data collected during more than

two years of fieldwork in Guatemala.

The phonology chapter contains a phonemic analysis

of the language and a description of the major

morphophonemic processes. The grammatical processes

chapter describes morpheme, work, and root classes;

and stem, phrase, and sentence formation.

Root classes are verbs, positionals, nouns,

adjectives, affect words, and particles. Of these all

but positionals are matched by stem and word classes.

Word classes are verbs, nouns, adjectives, affect words,

derived adverbials, and particles. Phrases types are

noun, verb and adverb. Simple sentences are linking,

intransitive, or transitive; in addition there are

compound and complex sentences. Inflection of nouns

and verbs is described under word classes, while deri-

vational affixes are described under stem formation.

In addition there are a number of clitics, which are

described under word classes, phrase formation, and

sentence formation.

After the description of the grammatical processes,

a chapter is devoted to verbal semantic categories as

revealed through the use and distribution of directionals

in the verb phrase. A final chapter is devoted to a

discussion of the grammatical categories which are

defined by the organizational principles of the language.

This includes discussion of verbal categories, person

relationships, description, and emphasis.

An appendix gives a text in Mam, broken down into

morpheme segments and with both a literal interlinear

and a free translation.




Mam is a Mayan language spoken in highland Guatemala

in the departments of Huehuetenango, San Marcos, and

Quezaltenango and also in Chiapas, Mexico. It is one

of the twenty-four to thirty extant Mayan languages

(Kaufman, 1974a:34), and belongs to the Greater Mamean

branch of the Eastern Mayan languages. Greater Mamean,

which includes Teco, Ixil, Aguacatec, and Mam, split

off from the Greater Quichean branch in approximately

1400 B.C., and Mam proper has been a distinct language

since about 500 A.D. (Kaufman, 1974b).

There are approximately 350,000 speakers of Mam today

(Kaufman, 1974a:85), which makes it the third largest

Mayan language after Quich6 and Cakchiquel. There is

considerable dialect variation within the language;

almost every town where Mam is spoken has a different

dialect (there is even some variation within towns,

primarily on a geographical basis), and the differences

between major dialect areas are such that intelligibility

is greatly reduced. The data on which this grammar is

based are from the town of San Ildefonso Ixtahuacan,

Huehuetenango, Guatemala, where a dialect of Northern

Mam is spoken. These data are representative of

general processes which can be found in other dialects

of Northern Mam. Specific details will differ on all

levels of the grammar, however.

The Mam people live in a part of the Guatemalan

highlands which they have occupied continuously since

long before the Spanish Conquest, perhaps from as early

as 500 A.D. (Kaufman, 1973). Huehuetenango, partially

occupied by Mam people today, may in fact have been

the center of early Mayan dispersal, about 2600 B.C.

(Vogt, 1969b). The area, in short, has a very long

history of occupation by the Mam people and their forebears,

both before and after the Spanish Conquest. Many of the

present day towns (municipios) originated before the

Conquest (Valladares, 1957:28) and each has a separate

and distinct identity whereby people from one town regard

people from other towns as strangers, even if they speak

the same language (Wagley, 1969:55). Town endogamy,

different styles of dress, and dialect differences help

establish and maintain the identity of each town. The

rarity of intermarriage between towns and the isolation

of one town from another probably have been major

contributing factors in language divergence and the

establishment of dialect differences.

Primary ethnographic sources for the Mam area are

Oakes (1951a, 1951b), Valladares (1957), and Wagley (1941,

1949). In addition Wagley (1969) has written an excellent

summary of the characteristics of the Northwestern

Guatemalan area, which is mostly inhabited by Mam

speakers. The Southern Mam area has been almost ignored

(Vogt, 1969a:33). The very brief summary presented here

relies on the sources mentioned above and on personal

experience while doing fieldwork.

The people today are primarily subsistence farmers,

relying on the traditional maize, beans, and squash for

their sustenance. The area in which they live also

supports a wide variety of other crops which come from

both the New and Old Worlds, some of which supplement

the basic diet, and some of which are farmed for cash

(Wagley, 1969:50). The major occupation of the men is

to farm and provide food and shelter for their families,

while that of the women is to care for the house, children,

and provide some assistance with the planting or harvesting

as needed. Men, in addition to farming their own lands,

frequently travel to the coastal areas of Guatemala and

Mexico to work as seasonal labor on the large plantations--

one of the few ways they have to earn a cash income

(Oakes, 1951b:37). This labor, although common, is

viewed as a last resort in times of need, primarily because

of the poor working conditions and dreaded lowland

diseases which are absent or rarer in the highlands.

Weekly local markets in all towns and some aldeas

(hamlets) serve as centers for the exchange of goods.

Most items are bought and sold by women in these markets

(Valladares, 1957:59) except for a few things, such as

manufactured clothing or large animals, which are

traditionally sold by men. Some towns are noted for their

"traveling salesmen" who spend time attending markets in

the surrounding area to sell particular products from

their towns, but there is no actual full-time trader

class in the area (Wagley, 1969:61). There is also some

craft specialization by town in the Mam area, whereby a

particular town produces a single specialty item and

sells that product in the area. For instance, people

from Colotenango buy pots from Concepci6n Tutuapa, San

Miguel, and Ixtahuacan; buy mats from Jacaltenango and

Huehuetenango; thread, blankets, bags, and nets from

Concepci6n Tutuapa; and cotton cloths from Comitancillo

(Valladares, 1957:59). Where there are climate differences

between towns there may also be crop specialization and

crop exportation (Wagley, 1969:50). Craft specialization

does not extend to personal clothing, which is hand-woven

by women for their families, except in areas where

hand-woven cloth is being replaced by footloomed cloth

or manufactured menswear. There is an increasing tourist

market in hand-woven items, however.

The religion and ceremonial life of the Mam area has

been rather well documented in the various sources. It

is basically a complex synthesis of Catholic and

indigenous belief and ritual. No attempt will be made to

describe the complexities of the religious system here, but

it should be pointed out that ritual is often a rich source

for linguistic as well as anthropological data, and that

the connections between language and culture are sometimes

strikingly lucid in ritual. Thus anyone familiar with re-

ligion and ritual in the Mam area will find parts of

the grammar which will immediately bring to mind aspects

of the religious system. For instance, numbers are

intimately connected with the calendar, metaphor is

important in ritual as well as daily life, direction

and location are striking in both the grammar and the


Men in the Mam area travel to the plantations and

other towns for commercial purposes. The former activity

places them in limited contact with outsiders, including

Ladinos and other Indians; the latter activity may take

them to the departmental capital in addition to other

towns, but it rarely takes them farther than that. There

are many men who have never been to the national capital,

which is a good day's travel by bus from most of the

Mam towns. Bus service to large parts of the Mam area is

infrequent and at times nonexistent, reducing possibilities

for long distance travel even further. Women are more

restricted in travel outside their towns, since they do

not as a rule participate in intertown marketing. An

unmarried girl does not travel alone, and a married

woman is usually tied down by children and household

duties. Women will travel between their houses and

the town center for the local market and church. The

local market is, in fact, an important social event where

men and women meet with their friends and transact all

sorts of business and where young people, of course,

court. The young people are exquisitely turned out on

these occasions--the girls with their most elaborate

blouses and hair styles, the boys as neat as possible.

Since a large portion of the Mam area is relatively

isolated in distance from Guatemala City, the people are

fairly removed from outside and government influences.

There are few Ladinos living in their towns, and less

tourism reaches Mam towns than, for instance, Quiche

or Cakchiquel towns. Bus service where available is

often infrequent and expensive; there are fewer schools

with fewer grades than in more central areas; and there

is less contact with government agencies and programs.

Furthermore, tension between Ladinos and Indians appears

stronger and more open than in towns closer to the capital.

In Huehuetenango, to take a superficial but indicative

example, Indians are forced to the back of the bus, while

this never happens in Sacatepequez or Chimaltenango.

Indians do not own any of the small businesses in

Ixtahuacan; Indians own a bus line, a hotel, several

small stores and more in Comalapa (Chimaltenango).

One of the obvious correlations to this isolation

and inaccessibility is that fewer Indians in the Mam area

are bilingual than in any other part of the country

except Alta Verapaz. Bilingualism among women is uncommon

and among men it is low. In the case of the latter group

it seems that while many men speak a little Spanish, it

is poor Spanish, sufficient only to carry out the most

necessary negotiations in the departmental markets, the

municipality, or the plantations. For various reasons,

few children complete even six years of schooling--the

reasons most often cited are that the parents need the

children at home, the schools are too far, the teachers

do not attend consistently or do not teach anything

when they attend, and that the children do not learn

anything anyway because the schools are conducted in

Spanish. Learning Spanish is highly valued, especially

for boys, because it is seen as advantageous in dealing

with the outside, especially in legal matters; but few

children learn much. In very recent years the government

has instituted a program of castellanizaci6n which uses

bilingual teachers to offer a pre-first-grade year of

education in Spanish literacy using materials prepared

in the native language and Spanish. The program has not

yet reached many of the schools in the Mam area. In places

where a good school exists (i.e., a school where Mam

children are taught sufficient Spanish so that they can

complete six years of education) parents are often

willing to make considerable financial sacrifice to send

their children to school. The reasons parents give for

not sending their children to school should not be taken

as an absence of value placed on schooling; quite the

contrary, the parents are merely making a realistic

evaluation of the benefits of poor education in a foreign

language by minimally motivated and prepared teachers.

The situation, then, is that Mam is a language spoken

by several hundred thousand people in Guatemala and

Mexico, and is the only language of many of these people.

It is not a written language, nor a national language, nor

a prestigious language. It has been relatively little

studied (compare linguistic work on Cakchiquel, Quiche,

or Yucatec), and the results of the few studies made

are fairly inaccessible to Mam speakers. Experiences

while conducting the fieldwork, however, point to a

deep interest on the part of Mam speakers in knowing how

to read and write in their own language and in learning

the grammar. The language is not dying and is unlikely

to disappear in the foreseeable future. Any linguistic

work, especially work which can eventually be shared

with the Mam speakers, is of tremendous importance.

It is the intention that the results of this analysis

will be made available to Mam speakers. Furthermore,

every bit of information about a relatively unstudied

language is of use to linguistic and anthropological



The fieldwork on which this analysis is based was

undertaken in Guatemala in two periods, from August

1971 to December 1973 and from June to September 1974.

During the first period the author was a linguist with

the Proyecto LingUistico Francisco Marroquin (PLFM)

in Antigua, Guatemala, under the auspices of the U.S.

Peace Corps. The responsibilities entailed by this position

were to teach linguistics to a group of twelve students

who were native speakers of Quiche, Cakchiquel, oi Mam;

to teach the Mam students how to produce various education-

al materials in their language and to supervise that

work; and to do the necessary linguistic analysis of

Mam for all other aspects of the work. During the second

part of the research the grammatical analysis of Northern

Mam was continued and a course in Mam derivational

morphology was taught to Mam speakers.

The data used for this analysis consist of a Mam-

Spanish dictionary compiled by the Mam students at the

PLFM, a substantial body of texts and dialogues

collected and transcribed by the author and the Mam

students and analyzed by the author, data on directionals

collected for three hundred transitive verbs, incidental

material gathered from educational pamphlets prepared

by the Mam students, and various materials elicited

directly by the author. All data is on file at the PLFM in



The research for this grammar was accomplished with

the extensive aid of two linguistically sophisticated

native Mam speakers, Juan Maldonado Andres and Juan

Ordo6ez Domingo. Both are from the town of San Ildefonso

Ixtahuacan and both began working with the PLFM and

studying their language in November, 1971. At the time

they were bilingual in Spanish and Mam and literate in

Spanish; since then they have participated in intensive

courses in Mam literacy, phonology, morphology, syntax,

Mayan grammar, and dictionary preparation. They have

prepared a bilingual Mam-Spanish dictionary, have collected

and transcribed texts in Mam, have written a number of

pamphlets of an educational nature in Mam, and have

written a paper in Spanish describing their work with

teaching literacy in Mam (Maldonado and Ordo~ez, 1974).

They have further contributed to the analysis of Mam

undertaken here by eliciting and self-eliciting material

on various grammatical themes, by checking and rechecking

lexical material with other people in the community, and

by participating in and initiating extensive discussions

of points of grammar with the author and other members

of the staff at the PLFM. It has always been the intent

to discuss, insofar as possible, the analysis of Mam

with Juan Maldonado and Juan Ord6nez in order to check

that analysis with the Mam experts.

Juan Maldonado is twenty-four years old and lives

in the aldea of Acal, San Ildefonso Ixtahuac6n. Both of

his parents are from the same town; his father is bilingual

in Spanish and Mam, and his mother is monolingual in

Mam. He has had nine years of formal education, all in

schools in his town, and is a subsistence farmer. He

has for a number of years been interested in community

development and has participated in the savings and loan

cooperative in his town, voluntary Spanish literacy

classes, and programs of Desarrollo de la Comunidad (a

community development agency).

Juan Ord6oez is twenty-one years old and lives in

the caserlo of Chupil, San Ildefonso Ixtahuacan. His

father is bilingual in Spanish and Mam; his mother is

monolingual in Mam; both are from Ixtahuacan. He

completed six years of formal education in his town and

then participated in a two-year agricultural course in

Chiantla, Huehuetenango. He also has given classes in

Spanish literacy.

Many other people of Ixtahuacan contributed to this

grammar by recording folklore, helping with data verifi-

cation, or working with the author and the Mam students

in elicitation sessions. A list of these people follows;

it is not a complete list of all who have been involved

in the work in that many others have made informal


Eustaquio Garcia Ortiz

Jose Ord6nez Mendez

Andres Maldonado Morales

Juana Maldonado Andres

Juan Morales Ord6oez

Miguel Velasquez Morales

Sebastian Morales Maldonado

Diego Ramirez Maldonado

Maria Maldonado

Pedro Ord6nez Ortiz

Alonso Ortiz Maldonado

Francisco Maldonado Felipe

Jos6 Maldonado Visquez

Rafael Maldonado Visquez

Diego Domingo Felipe

Jose Perez Ord6nez

Miguel Morales Ortiz

Pablo Felipe G6mez








La Cumbre


Chej oj


Vega San Miguel

Vega San Miguel








Early works on Mam are sparse--only a few vocabulary

lists and grammatical sketches have been made. The grammar

sketches have not been seen by the author; for a review

of them see Peck (1951). A bibliography of early works

on Mam can be found in The Handbook of Middle American

Indians, volume 5.

In recent years several grammatical studies have

been made. The first of these is a master's thesis by

Edward Sywulka (1948) in which the author briefly describes

the phonology and morphology of Man of San Juan Ostuncalco,

a Southern Mam town. Sywulka studied linguistics with

Pike, Nida, and Trager, and wrote his grammar according

to a modified tagmemic/descriptive framework. He lists

and briefly describes the phonemes and morphemes which

he found for Southern Yam. Sywulka's later sketch of

Mam (1966) uses the same framework but describes the Mam

of San Ildefonso Ixtahuacdn (Northern Mam). This sketch

does not include phonology (although the phonemes are

listed in a footnote and the author has by now decided

that vowel length is phonemic in Mam), but does include

sections on clause and sentence structure as well as

morphology. It is quite a brief description of Mam which

contains lists of some morphemes, notes on sentence

structure, and a spot/filler analysis of the verb clause.

A sample text is appended.

Dorothy Peck's master's thesis (1951) continues the

analysis begun by Sywulka and for data uses recordings

made by Manuel Andrade. Peck is concerned with the syntax

of Southern Mam. She includes an inventory of syntactic

units, a section on the distribution of classes which

is essentially a list of sentences or clauses containing

different elements, and a section on features of arrangement

of sentences. Sample texts are included. Peck also

makes her analysis according to a descriptive/tagmemic


The most complete of the recent Mam grammars is

that by Una Canger (1969). This analysis is a glossematic

grammar of the dialect of Mam spoken in Todos Santos

(Northern Mam, but quite different from other Northern

Mam dialects). Arranged according to glossematic theory,

the grammar gives phonological, morphological, and

syntactic information and is quite extensive and accurate.

Of particular interest are Canger's treatments of

underlying phonological shapes and verb structure. This

grammar was very helpful in making the present analysis.

There is also a modern teaching course in Mam

(Robertson, Hawkins, and Maldonado, n.d.) which includes

lessons, texts, and a Mam-Spanish-English/Spanish-

Mam-English dictionary. This is based on the Mam of

San Ildefonso Ixtahuacan. The principal author,

Robertson, has recently completed a dissertation on

pronoun distribution in seven Mayan languages, which

should include Mam, but this has not yet been seen.


This work is meant to be a descriptive grammar of

the dialect of Mam spoken in Ixtahuacan. Topics which

are covered are a brief description of the phonology;

grammatical process, which includes morpheme, word,

and root classes, and stem, phrase, and sentence forma-

tion; verb semantics, which discusses special semantic

and syntactic properties of the verb phrase; and grammati-

cal categories, which is a section on distinctive

organizational principles which govern the language.

No complete grammar of this dialect of Mam has

been written so far, and this grammar covers topics

which are not contained in any of the previous works on

Mam. The organization is fairly standard for a descriptive

grammar, with the addition of chapters on verb semantics

and grammatical categories. These are included in order

to explain and illuminate problems of wider interest

in Mam and certain grammatical structures necessary to

an understanding of the language. Description such as is

presented here is requisite to almost any further

study of the language because without an understanding

of basic structure no further steps can be taken.

The first three chapters should be of particular

interest to linguists and language students who need

to know details of Mam grammar. The last chapter should

be of more general interest to linguists and anthropologists

who are concerned with such problems as language universals,

language diversity, or world view as revealed through

linguistic organization. It is obvious by now that any

language can handle almost any problem; of continuing

interest is the variety or lack of variety in the choices

available to solve each problem and the ways in which

those resolutions can be correlated with cultural and

social choices.



The phonemic symbols used here and throughout are

a practical orthography designed for I"am by Terrence

Kaufman and used at the PLFM.

lap: rr

W C CU ) H

Vowels : front back
High: i u (vowel length)
0 0 0 0 -3 > (d
(d W) a) a) 5 W 4- r-
e o (juncture)> >
rLow : a
-H Ct C> 0 >

Occlusive: p t tz ch tx ky k q 7

Glottalized b' t' tz' ch' tx' ky' k' q'
Fricative: s xh x j

Nasal: m n

Resonant: w 1 y

Flap: r

Spanish loans: b d g

Vowels: front back

High: i u : (vowel length)

e o (juncture)

Low: a



The occlusive phonemes are a series of eight simple

or affricated voiceless stops each having a different

point of articulation. The glottal stop will be discussed

in section 1.2.3. All the stops occur in initial,

medial, or final position and all require release in

final position. In the cases of /tz, ch, tx, ky, q/

this release is affrication, while for /p, t, k/ it

consists of aspiration. Release may also occur

optionally before other consonants in clusters. The

palatalized stop /ky/ and the velar stop /k/ have

restricted and partially complementary distribution.

/ky/ only occurs before front vowels and /a/, while /k/

.only occurs before back vowels and /a/. Both can occur

after front vowels and /a/; only /k/ occurs after back

vowels. The two phonemes therefore contrast before /a/

and after /i, e/ while in other vowel environments

there is no contrast. The occlusive phonemes with their

allophones and examples are:

/p/ [ph] finally [si:ph] /si:p/ 'tick'

[p] elsewhere [pu:x] /pu:j/ 'dust'

/t/ [th] finally [rI?th]/ri7t/ 'solid'

[t] elsewhere [ta?w] /ta7w/ 'pain'

/tz/ [i] [wlI] /witz/ 'hill, mountain'

/ch/ [6]
/tx/ [c]

/ky/ [kY]

/k/ [kh]

/q/ [qx]




[kuc] /kuch/ 'pig'

[Su:'] /b'u:tx/ 'boiled corn'
[kYaq ] /kyaq/ 'hot'

[ku?kh] /ku7k/ 'squirrel'
[Iko:'yG-] /xko:7ya/ 'tomato' t

[gwu:qx] /wu:q/ 'seven'
[qeP?] /qe7n/ 'gourd to keep tortillas

The glottalized occlusives are unit phonemes which

contrast with plain occlusives plus glottal stop.

Phonetically /tz', ch', tx', ky', k'/ are glottalized

stops, with glottalization occurring almost simultaneously

or even preceding the stop onset. /b', t', q'/ are
imploded stops. They are voiced or partially voiced in

initial or medial position and are voiceless in final

position. Before a pause they are released finally.
The distribution of /ky', k'/ is similar to that of

/ky, k/. The glottalized occlusive phonemes with their
allophones and examples are:

/b'/ [5] finally [sI5] /sib'/ 'smoke'

[6] elsewhere [a'j:] /b'a:/ 'mole'
/t'/ [] finally [sxe4] /xhjet'/ 'stomach of animals'
[c] elsewhere [du'dafn] /t'ut'an/ 'watery'

/tz'/ [,d] [I ud?] /tz'utz'/ 'coati'
/ch'/ [C ] [prc7] /poch'/ 'bedbug'

t [4] will be used here to indicate the allophone of /7/
which consists of falling pitch without actual closure.

/tx'/ [6*] ['C??] /tx'otx'/ 'earth, land'
/ky'/ [kY'] [kYaqx] /ky'aq/ 'flea'
/k'/ [k7] [ka:] /k'a:/ 'bitter'
/q'/ [cf] finally [sla':cf] /xhla:q'/ 'young man, boy'

[E] elsewhere [E?rn] /q'e7n/ 'booze'
Fricatives occur in all positions. /j/ is postvelar
in the environment of postvelar consonants and velar
elsewhere. The phonemes with their allophones and
examples are:

/s/ [s] [si:+] /si:7/ 'firewood'
/xh/ [s] [s :l] /xha:l/ 'frog'
/x/ [s] [sxa:1] /xja:l/ 'person'

/j/ [x] next to postvelars[qxa':] /qja:/ 'our house'
[x] elsewhere [xo:x] /jo:j/ 'crow'
Nasals occur in all positions. /m/ has Iml as an

allophone; the allophonic conditioning of /n/,is complex.
1. /Cn#/ is realized as [Cn#].
2. /nn#/ is realized as [n#].
3. /Vn#/ is realized as [Vn#] .
4. /n {-b'il}/ is realized as [nSIl].
5. /VnC (except /b'/) V/ is realized as [VnCV .'
6. /n Occlusive or /y// is realized as
[homorganic N Occlusive or /y/].
7. All other /n/ are realized as [n].


[pd:?a n] /a:tz'n/ 'salt'
[taxblad:'n] /tajb'la:nn/ 'it's useful'

3. [pO?~n] /ptz'on/ 'sugarcane'
4. [gae:'n~ll] /q'a:nb'il/ 'medicine'

5. [ganpl've?] /xq'anpitz'/ 'a small bird'
but [qa'mbaxj /qamb'aj/ 'foot and lower leg'

[tqan] /tqan/ 'his/her foot'
6. [mpa:'ya]/mpa:ya/ 'my bag'

[sxe? k ] /sjenky/ 'guitar'
[NaFy] /q'any/ 'you, familiar (between males)'
[?@:'nfllj] /a:nq'b'il/ 'life'
[GCnkh /b'onk/ 'fat'

[?unth /unt/ 'brains'
7. [nmo:'xa] /nmo:ja/ 'my double thread'

[n?l] /ne7l/ 'sheep'
[?anu'ph] /anup/ 'silk-cotton tree'

[ngwi:'sa] /nwi:xha/ 'my cat'
As can be seen in the second example under (5) above
and the first example under (6) the discreteness between

/m, n/ breaks down before bilabial occlusives. In the
case of /qamb'aj/ 'foot'and lower leg' the underlying
form is discoverable through the possessed form /tqan/
'his/her foot'. If, however, the bilabial occlusive
is not separable, the underlying phoneme cannot be
recovered, for example: [skumbu:'l] /xkumb'u-:/ 'dove'
An example of /m/ in a non-neutralized environment is
[mo:s] /mo:x/ 'june bug'.
Resonants occur in all positions. /w/ is velarized
before back vowels and after /n/. The resonant

phonemes with their allophones and examples are:

/w/ [w] before back vowels, [ wo:4] /wo:7/ 'toad'
after /n/
[npwi:'~a] /nwi:xha/ 'my cat'

[w] elsewhere [waA:+x] /wa:7j/ 'tortilla'

/1/ [l] [la'.] /la:/ 'chichicaste'

/y/ [y] [ya^:] /ya:b'/ 'sick'
The flap occurs infrequently. A bilingual speaker

may trill the /r/ in Spanish loans with the trill, but

monolingual speakers never distinguish the flap and the

/r/ [r] [xQ a:'t ] /jora:t/ 'quickly'

[ifIth] /ri7t/ 'solid'

The combination of /t/ plus /x/ is written as /t-x/

to distinguish it from /tx/. This particular cluster only

occurs over morpheme boundaries.

In Spanish loans three additional consonants are

found: /b, d, g, /. /b/ also occurs in one native Mam

word, /baqa/ 'scarcely'. In old loans or in the speech of

monolinguals these phonemes may be changed to a native

Mam phoneme, usually the similarly articulated voiceless

stop or voiced resonant, but many words are often pronounced

with the Spanish phonemes. Example's:

/b/ [b] [ba:ikh] /ba:rk/ 'boat' (Spanish barco)

/d/ [d] [mu:'nde] /mu:nda/ 'world' (Spanish mundo)

/g/ [g] [ga?'na] /ga:na/ 'in vain' (Spanish gana 'desire')

Minimal Pairs:

P / b'

/pa:/ 'bag'

/b'a:/ 'mole'

t / t'

/ta:l/ 'her son (of a woman)'

/t'a:l/ 'liquid'

tz / tz'

/tzankl/ 'bunch of hair or thread without order,
lying there'
/tz'ankl/ 'something smooth like an orange, lying there'

ch / ch'

/chi71/ 'basket'

/ch'i71/ 'edible grasshopper'

tx / tx'

/txu:txan/ 'blister-like'

/tx'u:tx'/ 'granary'

ky X ky'

/kyaq/ 'hot'

/ky'aq/ 'flea'

k / k'

/uk/ 'a bug like a bedbug'

/uk'/ 'louse'

q / q'

/qe7n/ 'gourd to keep tortillas warm'

/q'e7n/ 'booze'

t / tz

/te:t/ 'toy to divert children'

/tze:t/ 'laugh'

t' / tz'

/t'ut'an/ 'squishy'

/tz'utz'/ 'coati'

tz / ch

/tza:k'/ 'toothy'

/cha:k'/ 'tall and skinny'

tz' ch'

/tz'o:k/ 'he/she came in'

/ch'o:k/ 'plow'

ch / tx

/chil/ 'rattle'

/txil/ 'quetzal tail'

ch' / tx'

/ch'ak/ 'mud'

/tx'a7k/ 'grain'

ch # ky



ch' # ky'

/ich'/ '

/iky'/ '

ky / k



'its dirt'

'its fish'


passed by'






'burst grain'

ky' / k

/nchme:ky'a/ 'my turkey'

/nchme:ka/ 'my brown wax'

ky / k'



'grinding stone'


k q

/ku:kxh/ 'lightning bug'

/qu:q/ 'sandy farmland in cold climate'

k' / q'




'fight, anger'

s t /



/tze :t/


'place firewood in the fire'

'toy to divert children'


xh / ch

/xhiky/ 'rabbit'

/chiky'/ 'blood'

x / tx

/xi:n/ 'spider'

/txi:n/ 'little girl'

j X k



'first weeding of the corn'


s X xh # x

/po:s/ 'peanut shell without seed'

/po:xh/ 'scarecrow'

/po:x/ 'single grub of a kind of large ant'

m / n

/mo:j/ 'double thread'

/no:j/ 'fill up'

1.2.2 VOWELS

There are ten vowels in Mam distinguished as to


point of articulation (front, mid, back, low, high)

and length (long, short). Long vowels tend to be higher

than short vowels. Vowels are also higher before /n/

and lower before /7/. In the environment of glottalized

consonants or glottal stops vowels are pronounced with

considerable vocal fry ("creaky voice") and long vowels

have a long low off-glide accompanied by a drop in

pitch before glottal stop. Low and mid vowels have a

high off-glide before palatals. The phonemes with

examples are:

/i/ [I] [?IS7] /ich'/ 'mouse'

/e/ [E] [CE?w] /che7w/ 'cold'
/a/ [al [6aph] /chap/ 'crab'

/o/ [G] [pf d] /poch'/ 'bedbug'
/u/ [u] [kud ] /kutz'/ 'humming bird'

/i:/ [i:] [?i:c] /i:ch/ 'chile'

/e:/ [e:] [Ge:] /b'e:/ 'road'

/a:/ [a':] [kYa^:] /kya:/ 'grinding stone'

/o:/ [o:] [xo:x] /jo:j/ 'crow'
/u:/ [u:] [?u:j] /u:tz/ 'cradle'

Short unstressed vowels which follow the stressed

vowel in a word tend to be neutralized to [e] (see 1.3
for a discussion of stress). The underlying form of these

vowels is unrecoverable unless the word undergoes

some morphophonemic change in another form which lengthens

or stresses the neutralized vowel. The neutralized


vowel creates problems for the practical orthography

in that it is not heard consistently as one of the short

vowels by the native speaker, nor is it heard as a

sixth short vowel. Consequently a new symbol is not

acceptable for writing a neutralized vowel, and the native

speaker uses /a/, /e/, or /i/ for these vowels, often

inconsistently. In tape transcriptions the enclitic

[ian] has been written /tzan/, /tzen/, /tzin/, or /tzn/

by the same transcriber. Whenever possible a neutralized

vowel will be written as /a/. It can not be indicated by

nothing (deleting the vowel altogether) because a

neutralized vowel contrasts with no vowel in final


In roots and stems a short unstressed vowel

preceding the stressed vowel and following a consonant

tends to be dropped. Again, the dropped vowel is

unrecoverable unless it appears in another form which

undergoes appropriate morphophonemic changes. For instance,

the forms

/ma waq'na:ya/ 'I worked'

/aq'u:ntl/ 'work'

show that a /u/ has been dropped from the verb stem.


/ptz'on/ 'sugarcane'

/npa:tz'ana/ 'my sugarcane'

show a dropped /a/ in the root. This pair is also a good

example of vowel neutralization after a stressed vowel

(in the possessed form) which is recoverable when stress

moves to the otherwise neutral vowel (in the unpossessed

form). Vowel dropping leaves many consonant clusters,

which are a distinctive phonological characteristic of


There are no vowel clusters of dissimilar vowels.

Consequently long vowels are not analyzed as geminate

clusters. Only one long vowel is permitted in a word.

Minimal Pairs:

i e

/iky'/ 'passed by'

/eky'/ 'chicken'

e a

/me7xh/ 'just developing ear of corn'

/ma7xh/ 'tobacco'

a o

/ch'ak/ 'mud'

/ch'ok/ 'magpie'

o u

/ko7k/ 'cacaxte (wooden back pack)'

/ku7k/ 'squirrel'

i: / e:

/nb'i:ya/ 'my name'

/nb'e:ya/ 'my road'

e: X a:

/b'e:/ 'road'

/b'a:/ 'mole'

a: / o: / u:

/q'a:q'/ 'fire'

/q'o:q'/ 'chilacayote (a type of squash)'

/q'u:q'/ 'quetzal (archaic)'

i / i:

/ch'im/ 'straw'

/ch'i:m/ 'pancreas'

e / e:

/b'ech/ 'sprout'

/b'e:ch/ 'flower'

a a:

/awal/ 'plant'

/awa:l/ 'planter'

o / o:

/ch'ok/ 'magpie'

/ch'o:k/ 'plow'

u / u:

/us/ 'fly'

/u:tz/ 'crib'


The glottal stop is nonphonemic initially in the

word; all vowel initial words have a glottal onset. In

medial and final position glottal stop contrasts with

its absence and is phonemic. Medially if it follows a

consonant it distinctly occurs after the consonant.

There is only one example of glottal stop finally after

a consonant and in this case it is realized during or

slightly before the onset of the consonant. The example

is in the morpheme {-a} 'first person possessive enclitic'

which has an alternant /-y7/ after vowels.

Lnja':] /nja:y7/ 'my house'

Glottal stop after long vowels is realized as falling

pitch without actual cessation of breath (symbolized

here as [+J). Examples are:

/7/ [?] [?I'Fel] /i7tzal/ 'Ixtahuacan'

[+} [si:+] /si:7/ 'firewood'
Glottal stop at times behaves like a consonant and

at times like a vowel feature. The first person possessive

prefix for nouns is /n-/ before consonants and /w-/

before vowels. Generally vowel initial nouns lose the

nonphonemic glottal stop onset under possession and

prefix /w-/. A few nouns, however, do not lose the

glottal stop, in which case they prefix /n-/, just like

a consonant initial noun. In the unpossessed form these

words have no initial contrast with other vowel initial

words, so the /7/ is still not phonemic initially. It

must be inserted after possession for those words that

maintain it. All Spanish loans, unlike the pattern for

most Mam words, follow the pattern of maintaining glottal

stop under possession, probably because of analogy with the

more common consonant initial possession pattern.+

/anup/ 'silk-cotton tree'

/n7anupa/ 'my silk-cotton tree'

Furthermore, glottal stop can separate vowels, as can

any consonant.

/pe7e:t/ 'put within a fenced area'

After vowels and before consonants or finally, glottal

stop is more like a vowel feature. Vowel initial

suffixes or enclitics which occur after a vowel either

insert a /y/ glide between the vowels or synthesize the

vowels. This rule holds for a vowel followed by

glottal stop.

/y/ glide: /nja:ya/ 'my house' from /ja:/ 'house'

/nsi:7ya/ 'my firewood' from /si:7/ 'firewood'

Synthesis: /aq'ne:t/ 'work' from /aq'na-/ 'stem' +

/-e:t/ 'passive'

/che:7t/ 'grind corn' from /che:7-/ 'stem' +

/-e:t/ 'passive'

t In teaching Mam speakers to read and write, it is
necessary to teach them to write initial glottal stop by
rote, implying that it is nonphonemic in this position. At
the PLFM the Mam students thought it unnecessary.

Stress (1.3) falls on vowels followed by glottal stop

if there is no long vowel in the word. Since stress

rules in general are conditioned by vowel features such

as length, and other consonants do not have this effect

on stress, glottal stop here seems to be a vowel feature

rather than a consonant.

Minimal Pairs:

7 X absence

/ch'o7k/ 'rooster's comb'

/ch'ok/ 'magpie'

7 X q'

/ta:7/ 'his water'

/ta:q'/ 'his vine'

C7 X C'

/t7anup/ 'his silk-cotton tree'

/t'a:l/ 'liquid'


Juncture is indicated by a space. It is defined both

phonologically and grammatically. Words have one and only

one stress and have no more than one long vowel.

Therefore juncture must occur somewhere between two

stresses or two long vowels in a segment. The aspirated

or affricated release of simple occlusives in final

position indicates juncture, as does the voicelessness or

nonrelease of the imploded occlusives. Furthermore, a

pause can generally occur at juncture, although in

rapid speech it usually does not occur. Aside from these

criteria, juncture can be determined grammatically.

Morphemes consist of prefixes, roots, suffixes, or

enclitics. Clitics are almost always postposed to the

word because of phonological and immediate constituent

criteria (the only exception seems to be qa 'plural',

which can be proposed to the word). Juncture therefore

occurs before roots or prefixes, and after roots,

suffixes, or enclitics. The only real problems in

juncture analysis are in the verb phrase: Are aspects

prefixes or words? Are directional roots or affixes?

Are Set B person markers prefixes or words? Some aspects

are phonologically bound and some are not (those that

contain vowels). The phonologically free aspects can

take enclitics, and so are written with juncture, while

the phonologically bound aspects are written without

juncture. Directionals are derived from free roots and

are proposed to the main verb in the verb phrase. Pause

can occur after directionals, and they can also receive

stress, although in connected speech they usually do

not. For these reasons and also because the word in Mam

is usually short, directionals are written with juncture.

Set B person markers all contain vowels and therefore

are not phonologically bound. However, Set A person

markers are phonologically bound and with the verb 'to go'

Set B person markers are also phonologically bound:

Set B to go

chin- ma chi:nxa 'I went'

ma txi 'he/she went'

qo- ma qo7x 'we went'

chi- ma che7x 'they went'

Therefore all person markers are written without juncture.

The major elements of the verb phrase are therefore

written as follows:

unbound aspect #
Set B + Directional # Set A + Stem + Encli-
bound aspect + tics


Stress is not phonemic in Mam. Every word has one

stress, according to the following rules:

1. Stress falls on a long vowel in the word.

2. If there is no long vowel, stress falls on the

vowel preceding the last glottal stop in the


3. If there is no long vowel and no glottal stop,

stress falls on the vowel preceding the last

consonant in the root.

4. If none of the above conditions apply, stress

falls on the only vowel in the root.

That is, stress is conditioned by long vowels and

glottal stop and never falls on suffixes unless they

contain long vowels or glottal stop. Examples:

1. [?agu:'ntl] /aq'u:ntl/ 'work'

[wagnan:yo] /waq'na:ya/ 'I worked'

2. Fpu?la'?] /pu71a7/ 'dipper'

3. [spl'kY?] /spiky'a/ 'clear'

[splIa'cf] /xpichaq'/ 'raccoon'

4. [tl'k?] /tlok'/ 'root'

[Ga'loe /b'ala/ 'maybe' ({-la} is an enclitic)


Syllables have as many as three consonants initially

and four consonants finally. The vowel can be long or

short, with or without glottal stop.

(C)(C)(C)V(:)(7 ()(C)(C)(C)(

That is, consonants can cluster up to three or four in

any position and vowels never cluster. Words may begin

or end with consonant or vowel. There are no apparent

restrictions as to which consonants may cluster. It

should be noted, however, that clustering is a result

of vowel dropping, or occurs over morpheme boundaries.

The only clusters which occur finally in root morphemes

are of the shape nC (see 2.3.7).


Morphophonemic alternation primarily involves

vowel dropping, vowel neutralization, vowel synthesis,

/y/ insertion between vowels, glottal stop and glottalized

consonant alternation, the movement of glottal stop

toward long vowels, and nasal alternation.


Short unstressed vowels occurring before the stressed

vowel in a root are often dropped. If the root is used

in a form in which stress is shifted to another vowel,

the dropped vowel will reappear. If no such forms occur,

the dropped vowel is not synchronically recoverable.


/xjab'/ 'shoe'

/nxa:jb'aya/ 'my shoe'

/tzyu:l/ 'grab, verbal noun'

/tzuyb'il/ 'instrument for grabbing'

The first pair shows a dropped /a/ between /x/ and /j/;

the second pair shows a dropped /u/ between /tz/ and /y/.

Vowels are also always dropped between two /y/s.

For example, /xk6:7ya/ 'tomato' adds the enclitic /-ya/

under possession, and the resultant form is /nxko:7yya/

'my tomato'.


Short unstressed vowels occurring after the stressed

vowel in a word tend to be neutralized to [a]. If there

is a form in which the neutralized vowel receives

stress it can be recovered; if such a form does not exist

it is unrecoverable synchronically. Example:

[tpae:' ? an /tpa:tz'an/ 'his/her sugarcane'

[p/]?n /ptz'on/ 'sugarcane'

The second word in this pair shows that the underlying

form of the neutralized vowel in the first word is /o/.

In another example, the enclitic [ion] /tzan/ 'well

(connective)' never receives stress and therefore the

underlying form of the vowel is not recoverable.


If a vowel initial suffix or enclitic follows a

vowel final stem, the two vowels may be synthesized.

The particular suffixes which choose synthesization rather

than the insertion of a /y/ glide between the two vowels

are morphologically conditioned. {-e:t} 'passive'

requires synthesization:

/aq'na-/ 'work (stem)'

/aq'ne:t/ 'work (passive)'

1.5.4 /y/ INSERTION

In other cases, also morphologically conditioned,

if a vowel initial suffix or enclitic follows a vowel

final stem, a /y/ glide is inserted between the two

vowels. The person enclitics {-a} require /y/ insertion:

/ja:/ 'house'

/nja:ya/ 'my house'


Glottal stop may alternate with glottalized consonants

in final position, usually in free variation. An exception

is the morpheme {-e:7} which derives intransitive verbs

from positional roots, and in final position always has

the form /-e:7/. If suffixes (not enclitics) are added,

it has the form /-e:b'/.

/txulch/ 'quiet'

/ma txule:7/ 'he/she became quiet'

/ktxule:b'al/ 'he/she will become quiet'

Examples of /7/ in free variation with glottalized

consonants are:

/we:ky'a/ u /we:y7/ 'it's mine'

/kub'/ n /ku7/ 'down (directional)'

/tjaq'/ n /tja7/ 'underneath it'

A very few verbs that begin with a glottalized consonant

lose that consonant in some forms, which may be similar

to the alternation described above.

/q'o:t/ 'give'

/q'o:ntza/ /antz/ 'give me!'

/q'i:t/ 'take/bring'

/ma txi wi:7na/ 'I took it'

Glottal stops which occur before glottalized

consonants usually disappear:

/ku7/ 'down' + /b'aj/ 'finish' -) /kub'aj/ 'finish down'

There are exceptions to this tendency, however, for example:

/-b'ji7b'il/ 'nominalizing suffix (#61)'

/txa7q'/ 'the action of crunching a flea'


Glottal stop tends to move toward long vowels.

There are no words which have glottal stop after a short

vowel if there is a long vowel in the word. For example,

the morpheme {-7n} derives present participles from

transitive verbs, but only appears in this form if the

root has a short vowel. If the root has a long vowel

followed by a resonant, the glottal stop follows the long

vowel in the participle form; if the root has a long

vowel followed by a nonresonant, the glottal stop is

dropped in the participle form.

/b'iye:t/ 'kill'; /b'iyo7n/ 'killing'

/sjo:rat/ 'snore'; /sjo:7ran/ 'snoring'

/li:pat/ 'fly'; /li:pan/ 'flying'


Although words can end in /m/, there are a number

of words which change a base form /m/ in final position

to /n/. If a suffix is added to these words the /m/



/po:n/ 'incense'

/po:mal/ 'burn incense, perform rites'

/xb'a:lan/ 'clothes'

/xb'alami:l/ 'dress'

Final /n/ plus /1/ is reduced to /n/, even over

an intervening vowel (which is dropped).


/po:n-/ 'arrive there' + /-al/ 'potential' -


/ta:n/ 'sleep' + /-al/ 'potential' /ta:l/



Morphemes in Mam are either roots, clitics, or

affixes. Roots fall into several classes which are

matched by corresponding stem and word classes, except

for positionals, which are a root class only. The root

classes and their derivations are fully discussed in

sections 2.3, Root Classes; and 2.4, Stem Formation.

There are both preclitics and enclitics, and at

least one clitic which can be either proposed or postposed

to the word. Various clitics accompany words of any

class, and even some affixes. Clitics will be fully

discussed in sections 2.2, Word Classes (for the

paradigmatic person enclitics); 2.5, Phrase Formation

(person enclitics); and 2.6, Sentence Formation (syntactic


Affixes consist of both prefixes and suffixes,

and are inflectional or derivational. Inflection is

discussed under section 2.2, Word Classes; and 2.3,

Root Classes. Derivation is discussed under section

2.4, Stem Formation.


Word classes are defined both inflectionally and

syntactically. They are verbs, nouns, adjectives, affect

words, and particles. Most of these include several


2.2.1 VERBS

All verbs are inflected for person and for aspect

or mode. Two major sets of prefixed allomorphs

indicate person: Set A and Set B. Set A serves as the

agent of transitive verbs and the possessor of nouns;

Set B is the patient of transitive verbs and the subject

of intransitive verbs and of pronouns. In certain

types of subordinate constructions, described in section

2.6, Set A may replace Set B as the patient of transitive

verbs or the subject of intransitive verbs. Accompanying

the sets of person prefixes are person enclitics.

Together the prefixes and enclitics comprise the full

person system, as follows:

Set A Set B Enclitics

1 singular n- a w- chin- a ya

2 singular t- 0 v tz- tz'- k k- a y ya

3 singular t- 0 tz- n tz'- n k-

1 plural q- qo- a s ya
1 plural q- qo-
2 plural ky- chi- a n ya

3 plural ky- chi-

The allomorphs are primarily phonologically conditioned.

{n- w-} /w-/ occurs before vowels; /n-/ before


{0 4 tz- tz'- k- k--/ is used in the potential;

/tz-, tz'-/ occur before vowels in the non-


/tz-/ only occurs with the roots u:l 'arrive

here' and iky' 'pass by', while /tz'-/ occurs

with all other vowel initial roots and stems;

the prefix is unmarked before consonants in

the nonpotential.

{a' ya} /ya/ occurs after vowels, /a/ after consonants.

After vowels, /ya/ varies freely with the

forms /ky'a, y7/ for first person only.

Example of a transitive verb with Set A agent (0 patient):

Stem = tze:q'a- 'hit'

Elements are aspect, patient, agent, stem, enclitic.

ma 0.n.tze:q'a.ya 'I hit it'

ma 0.t.tze:q'a.ya 'you hit it'

ma 0.t.tze:q'a 'he/she hit it'

ma 0.q.tze:q'a.ya 'we hit it (not you)'

ma 0.q.tze:q'a 'we-all hit it'

ma'a.ya 'you-all hit it'

ma'a 'they hit it'

Example of an intransitive verb with Set B subject:

Stem = b'e:t- 'walk'

Elements are aspect, subject, stem, enclitic.

ma chin.b'e:t.a 'I walked'

ma 0.b'e:t.a 'you walked'

ma 0.b'e:t 'he/she walked'

ma qo.b'e:t.a 'we walked (not you)'

ma qo.b'e:t 'we-all walked'

ma chi.b'e:t.a 'you-all walked'

ma chi.b'e:t 'they walked'

Both second and third persons are indicated by

the same prefix, while first person is indicated by a

different prefix. Number is indistinguishable from

person. The prefixes, then, mark presence or absence of

first person in singular or plural. First person plural

exclusive forms refer to us (a group) as opposed to

you (another group), so the enclitic on the first

person forms excludes second person, not third person.

The enclitic used with the second person forms clearly has

a different function; that of marking the presence of

second person. Absence of an enclitic implies its

opposite. The functions of the prefixes and enclitics

can be shown as follows:

Prefixes Enclitics

A. +lsg A. -2sg

B. -Isg B. +2sg

C. +lpl C. -2pl

D. -Ipl D. +2pl

PreA + EncA Isg (+lsg, -2sg)

PreB + EncB 2sg (-lsg, +2sg)

PreB + 3sg (-lsg, -2sg)

PreC + EncC Ipl excl (+lpl, -2pl)

PreC ipl incl (+lpl, +2pl)

PreD + EncD 2pl (-ipl, +2pl)

PreD 3pl (-ipl, -2pl)

Note that PreA is always accompanied by EncA, because

the singularity of PreA demands exclusion of second


Aspects are proposed to the verb. They are:

{ma} 'recent past'

{o} 'past'

{n-} 'progressive'

{ok} 'potential'

{x-} 'recent past subordinated'

{0-} 'past subordinated'

All but {ok} are obligatory. The aspects with vowels

( {ma}, {o}, {ok}) are phonologically independent and

may at times be separated from the verb or combine with

enclitics. The remaining aspects are phonologically

dependent and are never separated from the verb. {x-}

synthesizes with certain of the person markers in Set B:

x- + chin- xhin-

x- + tz-, tz'- s-

x- + chi- xhi-

In other environments it is realized as /x-/. {0-}

also synthesizes with Set B person markers, with the result

of subtracting the initial consonant of the person


0- + chin- in-

0- + tz-, tz'-, k- + --

0- + qo- o-

0- + chi- i-

Mode is indicated by suffixes which follow the

verb stem. These suffixes are different for transitive

and intransitive verbs, and serve to indicate potential

or imperative. They are:

Potential Imperative

Transitive: -a7 -m

Imperative: -1

{-1} follows the stem formative vowel (section 2.4.1)

and lengthens the vowel of a root which ends in a short

vowel (this refers to the root vowel, not the stem

formative). {-1} also synthesizes with the compounding

directionals {-x} 'away' and {-tz} 'toward':

ke:lax 'he will go out' k- (-lsgB) + e:l (go out)

+ -al (pot) + -x (away)

ke:latz 'he will come out' k- + e:l + -al + -tz

ko:kax 'he will go in' k- + o:k + -al + -x

ko:katz 'he will come in' k- + o:k + -al + -tz

kja:wax 'he will go up' k- + ja:w + -al + -x

kja:watz 'he will come up' k- + ja:w + -al + -tz

kb'elax 'he will go down' k- + kub' + -al + -x

kb'elatz 'he will come down' k- + kub' + -al + -tz

ka:jatz 'he will come back' k- + a:j + -al + -tz

kiky'ax 'he will go to the k- + iky' + -al + -x
other side'
kiky'atz 'he will come to k- + iky' + -al + -tz
this side'

With the potential mode the potential aspect {ok}

can be used optionally. No aspect is used with the

imperative mode. If a construction is neither potential

nor imperative, aspect is obligatory. The potential

mode is used very rarely with transitive verbs that do

not have directionals.

There are two major classes of verbs: transitive

and intransitive. TRANSITIVE VERBS

Transitive verbs use Set B to indicate the patient,

Set A to indicate the agent, and the transitive forms

of the suffixes of mode. (Set A replaces Set B in

certain subordinate constructions; see

Transitive verbs can omit the agent entirely to express

an unknown or indefinite agent. With the imperative,

the person prefix for second person singular (PreB) is

omitted, as the unmarked imperative. The patient is

always present, although frequently indicated by the

prefix for non-first person singular (PreB) in which case

it is unmarked and unspecific.

Although there are two sets of prefixes to

indicate the agent and patient of a transitive verb, there

is only one set of enclitics, which refers to either

the agent or both the agent and the patient. If the

agent does not require an enclitic, then the patient

cannot have an enclitic. If the agent does require an

enclitic, then the patient may or may not be indicated

by the same enclitic. Consequently first person

involvement is clear, but there may be ambiguity as to

second person involvement. Partly because of this Mam

speakers prefer to use intransitive forms expressing

only the agent or the patient, especially if the patient

is not third person. The following table shows the

logically possible combinations of agent and patient

incorporated into the verb, and the actually realized


Stem = tze:q'a- 'hit'

Elements are aspect, patient, agent, stem, enclitic

Logically Actual Forms: Gloss:

lsg 2sg
Sma 0.n.tze:q'a.ya 'I hit you/him/her/:
Isg 3sg

isg 2pl only possible with a directional (e.g. ok)

Isg -* 3pl ma ch.ok n.tze:q'an.a 'I hit you-all/them


2sg l Isg

2sg 3sg

2sg Ipl excl

2sg 3pl

ma chin.t.tze:q'a.ya

ma 0.t.tze:q'a.ya

ma qo.t.tze:q'a.ya

ma chi.t.tze:q'a.ya

'you hit me'

'you hit him/her/it'

'you hit us'

'you hit them'


























-+ sg

- 3sg

p Ipl

- 3pl

- Isg

- 2sg

- 3sg

4 Ipl



3- 3pl




- Isg no

- 2sg no

- 3sg ma

- Ipl excl no

- Ipl incl ma

- 2pl no

- 3pl ma

excl 2sg
excl 3sg

excl 2pl
excl 3pl

incl 3sg ma

incl 3pl ma





not possible

not possible


not possible


not possible

not possible

'he/she/it hit


t possible

t possible


t possible


t possible






'ho/she/it hit us-all'

'he/she/it hit them'

'we hit you/him/her/

'we hit you-all/them'

'we-all hit him/her/
'we-all hit them'

'you-all hit me'

'you-all hit him/
'you-all hit us'

'you-all hit them'

'they hit him/her/it'

'they hit us-all'

Thus the pairs Isg 2sg, Isg 3sg;

Isg 2pl, Isg 3pl;

Ipl excl 2sg, Ipl excl 3sg;

Ipl excl 2pl, Ipl excl 3pl

are not different because there is no way to distinguish

the patient when the agent necessitates use of the enclitic.

Furthermore, the combinations 3sg Isg

3sg 2sg

3sg lpl excl

3sg 2pl

3pl Isg

3pl 2sg

3pl Ipl excl

3pl 2pl

are not realized because the agent does not take an

enclitic and therefore the patient cannot.

The combination 3pl 3pl seems to be impossible only

for semantic reasons; it is too confusing to specify

this combination through perfixes, so separate noun

phrases are used instead. Separate noun phrases can

always be used to indicate agent and patient, or to

clarify them, so that the morphologically impossible

combinations of agent and patient are still able to be

expressed in other ways.

One transitive verb se7- 'do' is defective and only

occurs with the interrogative particle ti: 'what?':

ti: q.se7 'what are we going to do?' INTRANSITIVE VERBS

Intransitive verbs use only one set of person

markers to indicate the subject, and use the intransitive

forms of the suffixes of mode. The subject is normally

indicated by Set B person markers, but Set A is used

in certain subordinate constructions. There is a

subclass of intransitive verbs which can be called affect

verbs. Formally they are similar to other intransitive

verbs, but have a distinctive derivation (2.4 #33, #80)

and are also distinctive syntactically ( and

semantically. They generally describe the manner in

which an action is performed, and therefore combine

verbal and adverbial functions. Examples:

leqeqe:n 'walk stooped over'

wit'it'i:n 'go running'

lach'ach'a:n 'go on all fours'

The forms of one intransitive verb xi7- 'go'

cannot be predicted. In the non-potential they are:

ma chi:n.x.a 'I went'

ma t.xi7 'he/she went'

ma qo7x 'we went'

ma che7x 'they went'

In the potential they are:

chin.x.e:l.a 'I will go'

k.x.e:l. 'he/she will go'


2.2.2 NOUNS

Most nouns can be possessed by Set A person prefixes

and person enclitics. They serve as the head of a noun

phrase and can be modified by adjectives.

Example of a possessed noun:

ja: 'house'

n.ja:.ya 'my house'

t.ja:.ya 'your house'

t.ja: 'his/her/its house'

q.ja:.ya 'our house (not yours)'

q.ja: 'our house (everyone)'

ky.ja:.ya 'you-all's house'

ky.ja: 'their house'

Example of a modified noun:

mati:j ja: 'big house'

jun ja: mati:j 'a big house'

There are a large number of common nouns which meet these

criteria. In addition there are a number of subclasses


There is a small set of relational nouns which

indicate grammatical relationships between other nouns

in the sentence. The grammatical relationships are

generally those of case or location. Many of the

relational nouns are related to common nouns, usually

body parts. Relationals are always possessed unless

preceded by the interrogative particle al 'who?'. The

relationals (given in 3sg form) and the common nouns

to which they are related are:

Location: Relational Noun Common Noun

t.witz 'on' witz.b'aj 'fac

t-xe:l 'instead of' xe:l.b'aj 'rep
t-xo:l 'between' xo:l.b'aj 'int

t.txlaj 'beside'

t.i:b'(aj) 'over'

t.jaq' 'below' jaq'.b'aj 'cus

t-xe 'under' t-xe:7 'its

t.uj 'in'

t.wi7 'above' wi7.b'aj 'hea

t.txa7n 'at the edge' txa7m.b'aj 'nos

t.b'utx' 'at the corner'

t.tzi:7 'at the entrance' tzi:.b'aj 'mou 'around'

Case: t.i7j 'about, by'


t.u:k.(al) 'with' t.u:k'al 'his

t.u7n 'by, because of,
(agent, causative,
t.e: 'to, of, at, for'

(dative, possessive,
benefactive, patient)
t.i:b'(aj) 'reflexive'











At jun el jun wo:7 at ta:l tuj jun a7.

'Once upon a time there was a toad that had its
offspring in the water.'

at jun el jun wo:7 dt ta:l
there is one time one toad there is its offspring

tuj jun a7
in one water

Jawle:t jun xaq kye:7yax tjaq' yo:xh tx'otx' tkub'.

'A precious stone appeared below the red earth.'

jawle:t jun xaq kye:7yax tjaq' yo:xh
it appeared one stone precious below red

tx'otx' tkub'
earth it went down

Ma:xtzan ktza:jal asta ma:x twi7 witz.

'Well, it has to come from there above the hill.'

ma:xtzan ktza:jal asta ma:x
well up to there it will come up to to there

twi7 witz
above it hill



Ju:n txile:n ti7j axi7n ojtxa.

'An explanation about corn in the old days.'

ju:n txile:n ti7j axi7n ojtxa
one its explanation about corn before


Nqo:kka te:na yo:lal tu:k' mati: Li:xh Pe:ls,

'And we started to talk with Andres Perez,'

nq:okka te:na yo:lal tu:k' mati:
we entered it is to talk with important

Li:xh Pe:ls
Andr6s Perez


Ax leq'ch ma tza:j a7 kyu7na.

'Also you-all brought the water from far away.'

ax leq'ch ma tza:j a7 kyu7na
also from far away it came water by you-all


Tokb'aj tzi:7 ch'el tu7n nima:l xaq.

'The beak of the parrot was finished because of the

tokb'aj tzi:7 ch'el tu7n
it was finished beak parrot because of

nima:l xaq
big rock


Ma aq'na:n Kye:l tu7n asdo:n.

'Miguel worked with a hoe.'

ma aq'na:n Kye:l tu7n asdo:n
he worked Miguel with hoe


B'isan kye:tzanma ma txi7 qq'o7na kyaqi:lkax o:nb'il.

'Soon we gave them all the help.'

b'isan kye:tzanma ma txi7 qq'o7na kyaqi:lkax
soon well them man we gave it away all



Per ente:r jun we:ky' ktzajal kyq'o7na.

'But you're going to give me mine whole.'

per ente:r jun we:ky' ktzajal kyq'o7na
but whole one mine you-all will give here


Ma chitzye:t che:j te: kyajwi:l.

'The horses were rounded up for their owner.'

ma chitzye:t che:j te: kyajwi:l
they were rounded up horse for their owner


Tne:jal ul a:j qo7ya awtorisa:7ral te: komite:.

'First we came to authorize (it) the committee.'

tne:jal ul a:j qo7ya awtorisa:7ral te: komite:
first came us to authorize it committee


Nb'ajtzan qma7na qilqi:b'xa.

'And we were talking among ourselves.'

nb'ajtzan qma7na qilqi:b'xa
we were finishing talking among ourselves MEASURE WORDS

Measure words are a class of nouns which are never

possessed and which describe specific measures of

quantity. In a phrase they are preceded by a number or

the interrogative particle jte7 'how many?', and are

usually followed by a noun referring to the substance

to be measured. Many are also common nouns; others are

only used as measures. There is'a fairly large number

of measure words in the language, and they have a high

degree of specificity.

Examples: Measure Word Common Noun

ba:s 'glassful (Sp)' ba:s 'glass'

ma71 'shot of liquor'

laq 'plateful' laq 'plate'

pixh 'piece'

txut 'drop' txut 'drop' NAMES

Given names and surnames are only rarely possessed,

and are usually borrowed from Spanish. A very few Mam

names remain in use.

Examples: Given Names Surnames

Li:xh 'Andres' Pe:ls 'Perez'

Lo:xh 'Alonso' Tmi:nk 'Domingo'

Chep 'Jos' To:ntz 'Ord6fez'

Wa:na 'Juana' Tis 'Ortiz'

Mal 'Maria' Mna:l 'Maldonado'

Xwa:n 'Juan' Mi:ntz 'Mendez'

Li:na 'Catarina'

Wi:t 'Natividad' TOPONYMS

Toponyms name places. Many of them are descriptive

compounds, and often the components cannot be synchronical-

ly recovered. Relational nouns for location figure

greatly in the compounds.


Chna7jal 'Huehuetenango'

I7tzal 'Ixtahuacan'

Tuj Ch'yaq 'Tuchiac'

Jlajxa 'Mexico'

Meq'maja7 'Quezaltenango' PRONOUNS

Pronouns maintain the same distinctions as do

nouns, but use person markers that are more like Set B

than Set A. There are essentially two different sets

of pronouns: one which functions as independent,

demonstrative, copulative, identificational, and

equative pronouns; and one which is locative or


The sets are:

Independent Locative

'this is X' 'X is (in a place)'

Isg (a:) q.i:n.a (a)t.i:n.a

2sg a:.ya (a)t.(a7.y)a

3sg a: (a)t.(a7)

Ipl excl (a:) qo7.ya (a)t.o7.ya

Ipl incl (a:) qo7 (a)t.o7

2pl (a)t.e7.ya

3pl (a)t.e7

To make an equative pronoun a noun is substituted for

the demonstrative a: of the independent pronoun.

Example with a noun base:

'X is a person'

Isg xja:l.q.i:n.a

2sg xja:l.a

3sg xja:l

Ipl excl xja:l qo7.ya

Ipl incl xja:l qo7



Example with an adjective base:

'X is tired'

lsg sikynaj q.i:n.a

2sg sikynaj.a

3sg sikynaj

Ipl excl sikynaj qo7.-ya

Ipl incl sikynaj qo7



The demonstrative base is optional is the rest of

the pronoun is phonologically independent; that is, the

first person forms.

Note the optional /a/ which can begin the locative

forms. This frequently is used in the second and third

person singular forms, in which case the /a7/ element

is usually dropped. Consequently there are two common

forms for second and third person singular of the

locative pronouns:

2sg ata ta7ya

3sg at 1' ta7

Analysis shows that all the pronouns use the usual

set of enclitics to mark second person. The independent

pronouns include elements which mark +lsg and +lpl,

but have nothing for -Isg and -Ipl. The distinction

between singular and plural for non-first person is

indicated by the plural enclitic qa. The locative

pronouns have a locative element {t-} and then add the

first and non-first markers and the enclitics. The

person markers in both sets are probably related to

Set B prefixes.

Demonstrative Locative Set B

q.i:n- -i:n- chih-

0 0 -a7- 0

qo7 -o7- qo-

0 -e7- chi-

Examples of pronouns in-sentences:

...b'ix aya kye:qaj te7 ti7j Ra:nch.

'...and those who are in Turrancho.'

b'ix aya kye:qaj te7 ti7j Ra:nch
and those of them they are Turrancho

Ta7 ma:x ja:.

'He is in the house.'

ta7 ma:x ja:
he is up to house

Noqtzan pwaq at.

'Well, only the money is there.'

noqtzan pwaq at
well only money there is

Sikynaj qi:na.

'I'm tired.'

sikynaj qi:na
tired I

Tne:jal ul a:j qo7ya awtorisa:7ral te: komite:.

'First we came to authorize the committee '

tne:jal ul a:j qo7ya awtorisa:7ral te: komite:
first came us to authorize it committee


Adjectives modify nouns and are not inflected in

any way. An adjective normally precedes the noun it

modifies. Variations in this structure are discussed

in section 2.5, Phrase Formation.


Cha7x ki:n tib'la:1 twe:x po:xh.

'The color of the pants of the scarecrow is blue.'

cha7x ki:n tib'la:l twe:x po:xh
blue it looks its color his pants scarecrow

Ba:ysan we:ky' chitzanta kyaa q'ankyo:q.

'"I can," said the red lightning.'

ba:ysan we:ky' chitzanta kyaq q'ankyo:q
well good of me it said red lightning

There are two subclasses of adjectives: demonstratives


Demonstratives precede nouns and require other

adjectives to follow nouns. They are:

aj 'this, that'

ajaj 'this, that'

a: 'this, that'

b'ixh 'that (referring to females)'

naq 'that' NUMBERS

Numbers precede nouns, never follow them, and

require that other adjectives follow nouns. The number

one also functions as an indefinite article. The

numbers are:

ju:n 1 junla:j 11 wi:nqan ju:n 21

kab' 2 kab'la:j 12 wi:nqan kab' 22

o:x 3 oxla:j 13 etc.

kya:j 4 kyajla:j 14

jwe7 5 ola:j 15

qaq 6 qaqla:j 16

wu:q 7 wuqla:j 17

wajxaq 8 wajxaqla:j 18

b'elaj 9 b'elajla:j 19

la:j 10 wi:nqan 20

winaq la:j 30

kya7wnaq 40

oxk'a:l 60

junmutx' 80

The numbers above twenty are only rarely used in

Ixtahuacan, and are not usually known by any but very

old speakers. Instead, Spanish numbers are borrowed.

It was not possible to elicit more than the numbers

given here. While the number system is undoubtedly

derived from the old base twenty Mayan system in which

each interval over twenty was counted on the way to the

next twenty (that is, twenty-one was one on the way to

forty), it has changed and disappeared so that the only

remnants are the original numbers from one to nineteen

and the numbers for twenty, forty, sixty, and eighty.

To all intents and purposes the number system is now



Affect words describe an action, a movement, the

moment of doing something, or a sound or noise. They

always precede the verb. They are not onomatopoeic,

or only minimally so, but there are certain phonological

conventions which go with certain types of actions.

Momentaneous or abrupt actions are described by affect

words which usually terminate in a single consonant.

Longer actions may reduplicate the entire word, redupli-

cate part of the word, reduplicate the final consonant,

or may lengthen the vowel. Examples are:

Ni7m se:x xja:l tu7n che:j.

'Umph! the horse pushed the man.'

ni7m se:x xja:l tu7n che:j
umph he went out person by horse

Am jaq so:kx tlame:l kamu:n.

'Suddenly, bang! the bathroom door slammed.'

am jaq so:kx tlame:l kamu:n
suddenly bang it went in its door outhouse

jejeje:y 'the sound of laughter' (partial reduplica-
ch'aw ch'aw 'the sound of a hammar on metal' (complete
matz matz 'the action of scissors cutting hair'
(complete reduplication)
kall 'the movement of a flea walking beneath the body
hair' (reduplication of final consonant)
tzi:7r 'the action of shooting' (lengthened vowel)


There are a very large number of particles with

various functions, including interrogatives, negatives,

affirmatives, conjunctions, locatives, temporals, manner

particles, exclamations, vocatives, adverbials, and

others. Particles by definition are never inflected

or derived, but they may be compounded and add enclitics.

Lists of the various particles follow--they are not

exhaustive. Note that many of the particles are

Spanish loans, primarily among the affirmatives,

conjunctions, other adverbials, and others. INTERROGATIVES

Interrogatives usually function as introducers of

questions and also as introducers of various clauses

which answer the questions.

alkye: 'who?'

al 'who?'

al uj 'in what?'

al u:k'al 'with whom?'

al u7n 'by whom?'

al e: 'of whom?'

al 17J 'for, about whom?'

jtoj 'when?'

jatuma 'where?'

ja: 'where?'

jte7 'how much, many?'

tza7n 'how?'

ti: 'what?'

ti: tqal 'what?'

ti ti:l 'what?'

ti: qu7n


niky 'pu:n




'what time?'

'what size?'

'how are you?'

'when?' (Sp) NEGATIVES

Most negatives are formed from a negative root

mi:, but they are not synchronically analyzable.

mi:7n 'no'

nla:y u mila:y 'it's not possible'

miju:n 'no one'

me7a:l 'no one'

tz'i:nan 'no one/nothing is here'

nti7 m miti7 'there isn't'

nya:7 miya:7 'it isn't'

nja:7 'it isn't'

na7x 'still not'

mi: % mi:x 'no'

mixti7 'there isn't'

ky'e:nan 'no one'

mi:ky' 'it isn't like that'

miwtla 'hope not'

i: n i:chaq 'it doesn't matter'

qami: 'if not' AFFIRMATIVES






bye :n







pwe: s











'it's possible'


'it's okay'

'yes, that's'it'

'okay' (Sp)

'good, okay' (Sp)

'good, okay' (Sp)



'and' (Sp)

'but' (Sp)

'then' (Sp)

'then, well' (Sp)

'and then'

'and (subordinator)'


'but rather' (Sp)



'on the other side'

'it's here'

'up to, over there'

'up to' (Sp) TEMPORALS





ma: yi:n














j omaj x




'just now'


'a little while ago'



'right now'


'now' (Sp)

'a long time ago'


'after' (Sp)


'a little while ago'

'early' (Sp)

'every little while'

'at last' (Sp)



kyja7 'like this'

iky 'like this'

jora:t 'quickly'

che:b'a 'slowly'

jonga:na 'strongly' (Sp)

tx'u7jb'an 'at full speed'

jona7wax 'instantly'

junya:7 'quickly'

e71akyim 'as quickly as possible'

b'a:ka 'little by little'

chi:x 'suddenly'

qit 'at times'

te:mb'ix 'always'

yalnax 'usually, simply'

kaba:l 'completely' (Sp)

ka:si 'almost' (Sp)

b'i7x 'all at once'

lije:r 'rapidly' (Sp)

q'ab'a:l 'by accident'

kix 'like this'

ga:na 'in vain' (Sp) EXCLAMATIONS

a 'don't bother me!'

aju: 'exclamation, fear of cold water'

ak 'exclamation, fear of hot water or fire'

a:y 'oh!'

a7n 'don't bother me!'

a7ny 'what a shame!'

ena:n 'exclamation of fright'

e:q'a 'fat chance! (between men)'















'fat chance! (between women)'

'how filthy!'

'what's happening!'

'how nice'

'fat chance!'



'you (familiar between men)'

'you (familiar between men)'

'you (familiar between women)'

'you (familiar between women)'

'you (familiar between spouses)'

'mom, ma'am'


o7kx 'only'

noq 'only'

so:la 'only' (Sp)

puro 'very' (Sp)

ma:s 'more' (Sp)

ch'i:n 'a little'

yi:n 'a little'

ni7xa 'a few'

mejo:r 'better' (Sp)

pyo:r 'worse' (Sp) Other Particles

kuna 'goodbye (first speaker)'

ku: 'goodbye (second speaker)'

a:x 'the same'

par 'for' (Sp)

base:r 'it will be' (Sp)

b'a:nchaq 'thanks that'

mas bye:n 'rather' (Sp)

dya:y 'hi, what's up' (Sp)

jodi:da 'what a mess' (Sp)

elj 'in case'

kisan 'right'

maj 'time (vez)'

el 'time (vez)'

b'ala 'maybe'

qapa 'maybe'

je:7kyala 'who knows'

ku:ya 'who knows'

baqa 'hardly'

sabe:r 'who knows' (Sp)

ke: 'that' (Sp)

el(a7) 'when (subordin'ator)'

qa(ma) 'if'

aj 'when (subordinator)'

kye:7yax 'good, beautiful'

nema:s 'everyone else' (Sp)

porke: 'because' (Sp)

komo 'like' (Sp)

berda: 'right (rhetorical)' (Sp)

i: 'that (subordinator)'

i:l 'necessary'

jlu:7 'this one, that one'


There are a few derived adverbs in Mam, which

because they are derived, are not particles. Their

derivation is described in 2.4.5. These words are

the heads of adverb phrases, and include directions and

time in the future and in the past.


jawnax 'up'

ka:7j 'in two days'

jna:b'a 'a year ago'


In the charts that follow, certain conventions are

used. Double lines indicate juncture or places where

elements are separable from the rest of the word. +

indicates an obligatory element, while indicates an

optional element. The horizontal lines show that either

the first five aspects or mode is obligatory, but that

they do not co-occur. The aspect ok is optional with

the potential mode.

Transitive Verb:

Intransitive Verb:

Aspect SetB Stem Mode Enclitics







tz'-I k-


a ya

a ya

a ya

a n ya
as ya


( imp)
+ + + +

Possessed Noun:

Set A (possessor) Stem Enclitics

n-xw- a t ya

t- a ya

q- a ya

ky- a ya

+ + +


Roots form the nuclei of words. The classes of

roots are defined morphologically by the types of

affixes which occur with each class, or by the internal

changes which a root class may undergo during word

formation. The root classes are verb, positional,

noun, adjective, affect, and particle. Most roots belong

unequivocally to one class, but a few roots are

ambiguous as to class.


Transitive roots are always bound and can form

transitive verbs without derivation. Example:

tzuy- 'grab'

ma 0.t.tzuy 'he grabbed it' INTRANSITIVE ROOTS

Intransitive roots are always bound and can form

intransitive verbs without derivation. Example:

kyim- 'die'

ma 0.kyim 'he died'


Positional roots are bound forms which must be

derived to form words, always with a change in class.

Some of the particular derivational affixes which form

words from positional roots are specific to this root

class, and most commonly form verbs or adjectives. The

adjectives thus formed indicate that something has

the position, form, or state described by the root, while

the verb indicates that something is becoming like or

is placed like that described by the root. Positional

roots have a semantic element in common; they generally

describe position, form, or state of an object, and

imply absence of movement. (For positional specific

derivation, see the chart in section 2.46; for more

on positionals, see 4.3.) Example:

tutz'- 'seated'

tutz'l 'seated (adjective form)'


Noun roots usually are free forms which form

nouns with no further derivation. There are a number of

subclasses of noun roots, defined by changes which

the root undergoes in either the possessed or absolute

form. (The numbers by which the noun root classes are

identified correspond to the numbers used in the Mam

dictionary being compiled at the PLFM in Antigua,

Guatemala.) S1

These are roots which do not change under possession.

The root is a free form. Example:

k'o:j 'mask'

n.k'o:j.a 'my mask' Sla

The root is a free form and the last vowel of the

root is lengthened under possession. It should be

noted that all noun roots of the shape CV7C fall into

this category, but there are many roots without glottal

stop which also lengthen the final vowel under possession.


xaq 'stone'

n.xa:q.a 'my stone'

ne71 'sheep' 'my sheep' Sib

The penultimate vowel of the root is lengthened

under possession and the root is a free form. Because

unstressed vowels are often dropped or neutralized

(see 1.6.1 and 1.6.2), it is usually necessary to have

both forms to know the base form of the root. Example:

tz'lom 'plank''a:lma.ya 'my plank'

l|tz'alomjl base form S2

The root is a free form and adds a suffix {-V(:)l}

for the possessed form. There are only four roots of

this class, all of which can also be possessed without

adding the suffix, suggesting that the class may be

disappearing in this dialect of Mam. Examples:

chiky' 'blood'

n.chiky'.e:l.a 'my blood'

xja:l 'person' 'my person'

xi:naq 'man'

n.xinaq.i:l.a 'my man'

xu7j 'woman' 'my wife' S3

The root is a bound form. For the absolute form

is adds a suffix {-b'aj -j}, and drops that suffix

under possession. All the roots of this class are objects

which are usually possessed by humans. Most of the roots

that take {-b'aj} are body parts and relatives, while

most of the roots that take {-j} are articles of

clothing. General food terms fall into both categories.

Not all body parts, relatives, foods, and clothing

are in this class, and the semantic distinction

between the two suffixes is not perfect. Examples:


qam.b'aj 'foot'

n.qan.a 'my foot'

ya:.b'aj 'grandmother'

n.ya:7.ya 'my grandmother'

a:m. 'skirt'

wa:m. 'my skirt'
w.a:m.a 'my skirt'

lo7.j 'fruit (picked)'

n.lo7.ya 'my fruit'

Exceptions to the semantic categories:

{-b' aj }

txo7w.b'aj 'blanket'

xmu:j.b'aj 'shawl'

ky'itz.b'aj 'belt'

{-j }

i:m.j 'breast'

One word, pa:sb'il 'hat', falls into this although

the suffix in the absolute form is not {-b'aj -j}.

The suffix is {-b'il}, probably an instrumental (2.4.2),

but under possession it is dropped, just like other

articles of clothing: 'my hat'. NEVER POSSESSED NOUN ROOTS

These roots are free forms which are never possessed,

primarily on semantic grounds; that is, the nouns

refer to things which are not considered possessable.

The class includes measure words, place names, and others,

many of which are natural phenomena. Examples:

kya7j 'sky'

laq 'plateful (measure word)'


These are bound forms which are always possessed,

usually and sometimes exclusively by a third person

possessor. Most of these roots refer to parts of objects

(non-human, and usually inanimate)." Some roots

belong to this class when they refer to objects and

belong to class S3 when they refer to people. All

relational nouns are of this class. Examples:

t.lok' 'its root'

t.b'aq' 'its seed'


Adjective roots are free forms which form

adjectives without derivation. Example:

yo:xh 'red'


These are free forms which form affect words

without derivation. Some roots reduplicate entirely or

in part to form words. Example:

lem 'the action of closing'


These are free forms and by definition do not add

affixes to form words. They may take enclitics, however,

and there are also some compound stems. Example:

iky 'like this'


The most common root shape is CVC, and most roots

end in C. Some root classes (verbs, positionals, affect

roots) are quite restricted as to shape. In the shapes

which follow, the first consonant can be considered

optional, giving vowel initial roots of the same shapes,

except for positionals, which never begin with a vowel.

Note that nC is the only possible cluster in final


'burn up firewood'




CV7 xi7-

CV:7 kye:7-

CVC b'aj-

CV7C tz'e7y-


CVC pew-


CV: b'a:

CV:7 kya:7

CVC jos

CV7C ch'i7x

CV:C b'a:q

CV:7C mu:7n

CVnC chank

CV:nC pe:nky'

CV7V:C sa7a:n

CV:CV q'e:b'a


'reach, last'





'in form of a ball'


'type of caterpillar'





'instrument for rolling
'type of flower'

'part of a loom'

'type of tree'

























































'like tiny birds without




'hollow stick'

'hairless' AFFECT ROOT










'movement of a worm'

'crunch (sound)'

'a call for turkeys'

'song of chickens'





'corn cob'






CV qa

CV7 kye7

CV: ti:

CV:7 jo:7

CVC ch'ix

CV7C tza7n

CV:C na:j

CV:7C mi:7n

CVCV baqa

CV:CV ma:xa

CV7CV ja71a

CVnC q'any

CVCVC b'isan

CVCV:C jora:t

CCV7 kyja7

'song of doves'

'action of shooting'


'fat chance!'








'up to'


'you (familiar between


'like this'


The topic discussed in this section is the formation

of stems through derivation. There is a large class of

derivational affixes which form new stems from roots

and stems by changing the stem class or the lexical

meaning of the root or stem to which they are added, or

both. The section is arranged according to the class

of the derived stem; a chart at the end also shows

which roots and stems can take which affixes. Information

about each affix is arranged according to the following


1. number, morpheme, gloss

2. allomorphs and distribution

3. function

4. productivity

5. examples

6. other remarks

1) 1. {S-}

2. s- xh- x- ch- lexicallyy determined)

3. Derives noun, transitive, adjective, affect stems

from noun, transitive, adjective, and affect

roots or stems, usually with no change in

class. The change in meaning is usually very

slight, and seems to be mostly a change in

specificity of reference. These prefixes

provide a way to derive new vocabulary as needed.

4. Productive

5. Examples:

q'an 'ripe' (A) xhq'an 'yellow' (a)t

t The following abbreviations are used: T = transitive
root, I = intransitive root, P = positional root,
N = noun root, A = adjective root, AF = affect root,
t = transitive stem, i = intransitive stem, n = noun
stem, a = adjective stem, af = affect stem.

k'a: 'bitter' (A) xk'a: 'bile (n)

juk 'short and fat' (A) chjuk 'fat,
potbellied' (a)

toq' 'frog' (N) + xtoq' 'frog' (n)

wit'- 'jump' (T) xwit'- 'jump' (t)

che7w 'cold' (A) sche7w shiveringn' (a)

2) 1. Reduplication


3. There are various forms of reduplication which

create stems of several classes and for which

there are not enough examples to generalize.

4. Nonproductive

5. Examples:

k'uxk'ub' 'a type of high grass' (n)

saqtz'utz'ub' 'partly dry' (a)

xko7j 'brown' (A) xkojkojte:7 'spiny plant,
yellow in color' (n)

pixhixhi:7 'a water bird' (n)

jet- 'uneven' (P) jetetje:7 'uneven'

waqlaq 'a type of bird' (n)


3) 1. {-V:} 'stem formative'

2. 0 after stems or roots which end in a long vowel

or vowel glottal stop (CV:, CV:7, CVCCV:);

vowel length after roots which end in a short

vowel (CV);

-a after stems or roots which end in a consonant

and have a long vowel or vowel glottal stop


-a: -u: n -o: after stems or roots which end

in a consonant and have a short vowel (CVC,

CVCC). The vowel chosen is lexically determined.

3. a. The stem formative is obligatory in the

formation of certain verb words:

1) It occurs before the verbal noun suffix

{-1} and the agentive suffix {-1} (both

transitive and intransitive stems and roots).

2) It occurs before the intransitivizing suffix

{-n}, the participle suffix {-7n}, the

processive suffixes {-7kj}, {-7tz}, and the

passive suffix {-njtz}.

3) It occurs optionally for transitive roots in

the non-potential if the root shape is CVC,

and obligatorily for other shapes.

4) It occurs before the transitive imperative


b. The stem formative derives transitive stems

from noun, positional, and affect roots.

4. Productive

5. Examples: