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Final /h/
in Orizaba Nawatl
Pico de Orizaba from Atlehuaya

The phoneme /h/ of Orizaba Nawatl is difficult to hear when it is in word-final position, but it is important to be able to tell when it's there. The suffix -h plural is always the last suffix in a word, and in certain grammatical tenses (particularly present and imperfect) it is the only thing that distinguishes certain singular from plural forms.


In utterance-final position the vowel without following h is pronounced "checked", with a phonetic glottal stop [ʔ] following it, whereas the vowel-h combination sounds to English-trained ears like a normal final vowel. (Phonetically it dies away to voicelessness instead of ending abruptly with the glottal stop.) In other positions, and in less-careful speech styles, the difference is even harder to hear and may at times be completely neutralized.


The difference can be heard in the minimal pair 29 KB kitta he/she sees it/her/him / 51 KB kittah they see it/her/him.


The recorded words were extracted from the following sentences.


63 KB Nokni
My sibling
ompa
there
kitta.
he/she sees it/her/him.
  My brother/sister sees it/her/him there.

103 KB Miek
Many
tlakah
men
ompa
there
kittah.
they see it/her/him.
  Many men / people see it/her/him there.

Vowel-final words in Spanish (like English) are pronounced, for Nawatl ears, as if they ended in h. So, unsurprisingly, when they are borrowed into Nawatl they are analyzed and written as h-final words. This final h can be heard clearly when a suffix or another stem follows it. For instance, the Spanish word toro bull is written sound toroh in Nawatl (where it often means head of cattle rather than necessarily bull), and the h can be heard more clearly in the plural form sound torohtih cattle or sound itorohwan, or in the compound sound toroh-nakatl (bull/cow-meat) beef.


A systematic exception to this rule is made when the final vowel in Spanish is stressed; in such cases a final /n/, rather than an /h/, appears (and the word is given the normal Nahuatl penultimate stress.). E.g. Spanish café coffee is sound kahwen in Nawatl (cf. sound kahwentik brown [= coffee-color]) and papá daddy is borrowed as (for instance) sound mopapan your dad.


--David Tuggy


The voice you hear is that of Victor Hernández de Jesús.

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