A blog about linguistics and the beauty of language. Updates Tuesdays and occasional Thursdays. What's a wug? Look here.

#zapotec posts


What do we mean by "present" tense

A quick glance at the Tlacochahuaya Zapotec habitual

Disclaimer: This is preliminary research

Hello! Like many things I post on this blog, this research is in very early stages. This means that I may have simplified some more complicated details. It also means I might just be wrong! So please take this information as an early hypothesis, not a solid fact. If you'd like to find out my up-to-date opinions on the topic, feel free to email me.

In Tlacochahuaya Zapotec, the “tense” of a verb (which I’m actually going to call the “TAM”) is indicated by a prefix, for example ‘Juan talks’ is rni Jwan with r- at the beginning, while ‘Juan is talking’ is kani Jwan with the prefix ka-. In a previous post, I looked at how verbs are divided into categories based on which TAM prefixes they use for “past” and “future”.

Recently in my research, I’ve been focusing on that r- prefix in rni Jwan ‘Juan talks’. I want to figure out what the r- means, which is a harder question that it might sound!

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A brief introduction to Tlacochahuaya Zapotec

San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya is located in the Tlacolula Valley in Oaxaca, Mexico. Tlacochahuaya is about 18 kilometers east of Oaxaca City, a 40-minute drive from the city’s historical center, and has around 2,300 inhabitants. Like most towns in the area, there are three parts of Tlacochahuaya’s name. San Jerónimo (Saint Jerome) is the patron saint of the town. Tlacochahuaya is the town’s Nahuatl name, and the official name used by the state. And of course, Tlacochahuaya also has a Zapotec name: Zunni ro’o. Incidentally, the word Zapotec also comes from Nahuatl. In Tlacochahuaya, they call Zapotec people Bënza, and the language is Dizhsa.

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Early research on Tlacochahuaya Zapotec pronouns

Disclaimer: This is preliminary research

Hello! Like many things I post on this blog, this research is in very early stages. This means that I may have simplified some more complicated details. It also means I might just be wrong! So please take this information as an early hypothesis, not a solid fact. If you'd like to find out my up-to-date opinions on the topic, feel free to email me.

One of the first things you learn when studying a language are the pronouns — the it’s and they’s and we’s of a language. We use pronouns like variables, so that we can refer to different people and objects without using their full names. Some of the pronouns of English are shown below. For the purpose of this table, I chosen the pronouns that I use most frequently/naturally.

(Some of the) English pronouns
singular plural
1st person I we
2nd person you you/y'all
3rd person, feminine she they
3rd person, masculine he they
3rd person, neutral/agender they they
3rd person, inanimate/nonhuman it it
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Studying Tlacochahuaya Zapotec "tense"

A little note about verb classes

Disclaimer: This is preliminary research

Hello! Like many things I post on this blog, this research is in very early stages. This means that I may have simplified some more complicated details. It also means I might just be wrong! So please take this information as an early hypothesis, not a solid fact. If you'd like to find out my up-to-date opinions on the topic, feel free to email me.

The current focus of my research is “tense” in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec. That’s what I’ll be writing my Qualifying Paper about next fall, and it’s the primary focus of my fieldwork this summer.

I put “tense” in quotes because what we colloquially call “tense”, linguists break down into three smaller categories: tense, aspect, and mood (abbreviated together as TAM; click the words to get pop-up definitions). These three categories are often very intertwined — it’s almost impossible to talk about one without the other two. So what I’m actually researching right now is TAM in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec.

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What does a linguist do (in Oaxaca)?

Today I'm in Oaxaca City, Mexico. Tomorrow I head to San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya, about 20 km east of the city, where I'll spend the next month learning about Tlacochahuaya Zapotec. Since I'm here, I thought I'd answer the question posed to me by every rideshare driver: "You're a linguist? But, um, what do you do?"

When linguists study language, they're seeking to understand (a) what constraints there are on how languages work, and (b) how any particular language fits into those constraints.

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My first blog post / My first archive deposit

Introducing: The Zapotec Collection of May Helena Plumb

Welcome to the blog! I’m using my inaugural post to mark a momentous occasion. It is with great pride that I announce *drumroll* my very first archive deposit! I’ll go into more detail below, but if you want to skip ahead, you can check out my archive collection here.

Last summer (2018), I spent five weeks in San Jéronimo Tlacochahuaya (Oaxaca, Mexico) learning about the Zapotec language they speak there. I came home with lots of recordings, data which will be the foundation of my future research on Tlacochahuaya Zapotec grammar.

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