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Honorifics in Mösiehuali̱
(Tetelcingo Nahuatl)

In Mösiehuali, when you speak to or about an adult, you generally need to use honorific forms (also called reverential or respect forms). There are also extra- or ultra-honorific forms which allow speakers to express unusually high degrees of respect on certain occasions, for instance when speaking to god-parental relatives or in prayer to God.

Details are given below on the following topics:

Other honorifics, including:

There are recordings of many of the examples, marked Click on this symbol to hear a recording. The sound files average about 50KB in size.

Honorifics on verbs

Second person honorifics on verbs

Second person honorific forms on verbs are generally formed by a combination of the reflexive prefix mo- with a causative or applicative suffix such as -ti̱a or -li̱a. These combinations produce a meaning something like cause yourself to do it (causative) or do it for yourself (applicative), rather than the non-honorific (and simpler) do it. Sometimes a different verb stem with a causative meaning is used instead of a causative suffix, like take/carry youself for the non-honorific go.

When the respected second person is subject of an intransitive verb, the causative suffix is usually the one that is used.

For instance:

Stem Non-honorific Honorific Meaning Added morphemes
pano xi̱pano sound xomopanulti̱ Come in! (pass) mo-, -lti̱a causative
nemi̱ ti̱nemi̱ sound tomonemiti̱a you live mo-, -ti̱a causative
ya(bi̱) ti̱ya sound tomobica you go mo-, bica carry instead of ya(bi) go

When the respected second person is the subject of a transitive verb, an applicative is generally used instead of a causative, though some verbs use a causative anyway. If the object is third person singular (and sometimes if it is plural) no object prefix other than mo- is used, but if it is first or second person (and sometimes when it is third plural) the object prefix precedes mo-.

For example:
Stem Non-honorific Honorific Meaning Added morphemes
tequi̱ xi̱ctequi̱ xomotequi̱li̱ Cut it! mo-, -li̱a applicative;
(without c- / qu- it)
tequi̱ xi̱qui̱ntequi̱ sound xi̱qui̱nmotequi̱li̱ Cut them! mo-, -li̱a applicative, qui̱n- (= c- + i̱n-) them
i̱jta ti̱qui̱jta tomojti̱li̱a you see it mo-, -li̱a applicative
(without c- / qu- it)
i̱jta ti̱niechi̱jta sound ti̱niechmojti̱li̱a you see me mo-, -li̱a applicative; niech- me
i̱jtoa ti̱qui̱jtus tomojtalfis you will say it mo-, -lfi̱a applicative; -s future
(without c- / qu- it)
cua xi̱jcua sound xomocualti̱ Eat it! mo-, -lti̱a causative
(without j- = c/qu- it)
mati̱ nenqui̱mati̱a sound nemomachi̱ti̱öya you (pl.) knew it mo-, -ti̱a causative, -ya imperfect
(without c- / qu- it)

When the respected second person is the object of a transitive verb, the same combination of mo- and a causative or applicative is used as if that person were subject, but the object prefix mi̱tz- (for singulars) or nemiech- (for plurals) appears, preceding mo-. (The use of nemiech- prevents using a subject prefix, so where it occurs the subject must be deduced from the context.)

Stem Non-honorific Honorific Meaning Added morphemes
i̱jta ti̱mi̱tzi̱jta ti̱mi̱tzmojti̱li̱a we see you (sg.) mo-, -li̱a applicative, ti- we
i̱jta nemiechi̱jta sound nemiechmojti̱li̱a I/we/he/she/they see you (pl.) mo-, -li̱a applicative,
with no subject prefix
i̱lfi̱a mi̱tzi̱lfis sound mi̱tzmolfi̱lis he/she will tell you mo-, -li̱a applicative, -s future

Since the reflexive prefix mo- is used to mark respect in all these forms, the problem comes up of how to express reflexivity. It is done by utilizing, instead of a causative or applicative, the honorific suffix -tzinoa (a combination of honorific -tzi(n) with the verbalizer -oa), which when combined with mo- means honorific reflexive.

Stem Non-honorific Honorific Meaning Added morphemes
i̱jta ti̱mojta tomojtajtzinoa you see yourself mo-, -tzinoa
i̱lfi̱a ti̱molfis sound ti̱molfi̱jtzinus you will tell yourself mo-, -tzinoa, -s future

Third person honorifics on verbs

When the subject of a verb is a third person who should be spoken of with respect, the verb usually carries an honorific suffix -hua or -lo, or sometimes -o. (These suffixes produced passive verbs in Classical Nahuatl, and there are still traces of that usage in some corners of the Mösiehuali̱ lexicon.) As the examples will illustrate, the vowel appears in its "long" form i when it precedes -hua or -lo, and o similarly appears in its "long" form u when it precedes -lo. Some forms are irregular in other ways.

The hu of -hua is not written when it follows o, even though it is pronounced (as can be heard in the sound file for biloa below.)

Stem Non-honorific Honorific Meaning Added morphemes
pano pano panoa he/she passes -hua
nemi̱ nemi̱ nemoa he/she lives -o-hua
ya(bi̱) iya sound biloa he/she goes (irregular) -lo-hua
tequi̱ qui̱tequi̱ qui̱tequihua he/she cuts it -hua
i̱jta niechi̱jta niechi̱jtalo he/she sees me -lo, niech- me
i̱jtoa qui̱jtus sound qui̱jtulus he/she will say it -lo, -s future
cua qui̱cua sound cualo he/she eats it -lo, without qui̱- it
mati̱ qui̱mati̱a qui̱matihuaya he/she knew it -hua, -ya imperfect

Especially in tenses where plurality is not marked by a suffix, it is normal for plural honorifics to be reduplicated. Thus, for instance, nejnemoa means they (respected ones) live, niechi̱ji̱jtalo means they (respected ones) see me.

In the future, the preterite, and the subjunctive, the third person honorific is sometimes formed with -hua or -lo, with the affixes appropriate to the tense or mood. Nevertheless, it is also usual to use the normal plural non-honorific form, with an honorific singular meaning.

Stem Non-honorific pl. Honorific sg. Meaning Added morphemes
pano panucö panucö he/she (they) should pass -cö subjunctive plural
i̱jtoa qui̱jtusqui̱ sound qui̱jtulus,
he/she (they) will say it -s future, -lo, -qui̱ plural
chihua sound (o)qui̱chijqui̱ sound (o)qui̱chihualuc,
sound (o)qui̱chijqui̱
he/she (they) did it -lo, -c preterite (sg.), -qui̱ plural o- past (optional)

For third person honorific objects special prefixes are used: tie- singular, and tie-in/m- plural. (Tie- comes from the prefix tē- non-specified human object which appears in Classical Nahuatl and in other modern variants, in/m- is the same element that occurs in the non-honorific object prefix qu-i̱n/m- them).

Stem Non-honorific Honorific Meaning Added morphemes
i̱jta ni̱qui̱jta sound ni̱tiei̱jta I see him/her tie-, ni- I
i̱lfi̱a ti̱qui̱mi̱lfisqui̱ sound ti̱tieimi̱lfisqui̱ we will tell them tie-im-, -s future, ti̱- we, -qui̱ plural

Reflexive third person honorifics use the object prefix ne-, which in Classical Nahuatl and other variants means non-specified reflexive/reciprocal human object, and still has traces of that meaning in mösiehuali̱. (E.g. ne-maca, with maca give, doesn't mean (honorable person) give himself/herself (something) but rather sell, that is exchange with someone merchandise for money). Since the subject (like the object) is an honored third person, the appropriate suffix (-lo or -hua) is used.

Stem Non-honorific Honorific Meaning Added morphemes
i̱jta mojta nei̱jtalo he/she sees him/herself ne-, -lo
i̱lfi̱a molfis nei̱lfilus, nei̱lfisqui̱ he/she will tell him/herself ne-, -lo, -s future, -qui̱ plural

Third person extra-honorifics in verbs

Extra-honorific third person forms can be produced according to the same rules as for second person, but without the second person subject prefix ti- or ne(n)-.

Stem Non-honorific Honorific Meaning Added morphemes
pano ti̱mopanulti̱a mopanulti̱a (you hon., he/she extra-hon) pass(es) mo-, -lti̱a causative
nemi̱ nenmonemi̱ti̱a monejnemiti̱a (you pl. hon., they extra hon.) live mo-, -ti̱a causative
ya(bi̱) ti̱mobica mobica (you hon., he/she extra-hon.) go(es) mo-, bica carry instead of ya(bi̱) go

Ultra-honorific forms can be made from combinations of that pattern with -lo. Consider the following examples, built on the stem chiwa do:

Form Meaning Added morphemes
niejchibi̱li̱a he/she (non-hon.) does it to me niech- me, -li̱a applicative
sound niejchibi̱lilo (respected person) does it to me (the same) + -lo
ti̱niechmochibi̱li̱li̱a you (hon.) do it to me + ti̱- 2nd sg. subject, mo- reflexive, -li̱a applicative
niechmochibi̱li̱li̱a (highly respected person) does it to me the same, minus ti̱-
niechmochibi̱li̱lilo (God, or someone else ultra-respected) does it to me the same, plus -lo

Other honorifics


The second and third person independent pronouns have honorific forms. Here they are presented next to the non-honorific forms for easy comparison. It will be noted that the morpheme -tzi(n) honorific, diminutive appears in the honorific forms.

The syllable jua that occurs in these forms could also be (and has sometimes been) written juö; the phonetic difference between a and ö following [w] is very slight.

  Singular Plural
  Non-honorific Honorific Non-honorific Honorific
2nd person taja sound tejuatzi nemejua sound nemejuantzi̱tzi
3rd person yaja sound yejuatzi yejua sound yejuantzi̱tzi

Possessives and postpositional objects

In Mösiehuali̱ (as in Nahuatl generally) the possessive pronouns and the pronominal objects of postpositions are formally identical. The honorific forms are again presented together with the corresponding non-honorifics. Once again -tzi(n) appears in some of the honorifics. (The noun stem cal house is used to illustrate the use of possessives, and the postposition -pan in, on to illustrate the use of postpositional objects.)

  Possessive Object of a postposition
  Non-honorific Honorific Non-honorific Honorific
2nd person sg. mocal
your house
your (hon.) house
in/on you
in/on you hon.
2nd person pl. nemocal
you children's house
you adults' house
in/on you children
in/on you adults
3rd person sg. ical
(child)'s house
(adult)'s house

(highly respected person)'s house
in/on him/her/it (child, thing)
in/on him/her (adult)

in/on him/her (highly respected person)
3rd person pl. incal
(children)'s house
their (adults') house

their (highly respected people's) house
in/on them (children, things)
in/on them (adults)

in/on them (highly respected people)


Some Mösiehuali̱ nouns can take -tzi(n) with an honorific meaning (though on others it will have a diminutive meaning or both). For example, tlöcatl means man, and tlöcatzintli̱ means lord, dignitary, gentleman; teopi̱xqui̱ is priest, and teopi̱xcötzintli̱ is (respected) priest. Some words always take this suffix. For example, you would always say nocultzi my grandfather or nosi̱jtzi my grandmother; *nocul or *nosis would sound terribly rude or uncouth.

For naming adult men one often uses the almost prefixal word ru, which comes from the Spanish don. For instance, sound ru Mönobiel Sir Manuel, Mr. Manuel corresponds to the Spanish don Manuel. The names of adult women (with the exception of one's own wife) normally bear the honorific suffix -tzi(n), for instance sound Xohuanajtzi, from the Spanish (doña) Juana, means Lady Jane.

--David Tuggy

The Mösiehuali̱ speaker whose voice is heard in the examples is Trinidad Ramírez Amaro.


For a more technical and extensive description of the Mösiehuali̱ honorific system, see the article "Nahuatl honorifics" by Richard S. Pittman. Also see the section on honorifics in David Tuggy's grammatical sketch (1979:94-102), and the brief description in Tuggy 1981:516-519.

The Vocabulario Mexicano de Tetelcingo gives a second and a third person honorific form for each verb it lists which takes a human subject. It gives a brief explanation of the honorific system on pages 271-272.

Jane and Kenneth Hill's (1978) article describes honorific usage in Nahuatl-speaking communities near the Malinche volcano (states of Puebla and Tlaxcala.)

See also: