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Honorifics in Mösiehuali

(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:

Honorifics on verbs, including: Other honorifics, including: References

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 -tia or -lia. 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 xipano sonido xomopanulti Come in! (pass) mo-, -ltia causative
nemi tinemi sonido tomonemitia you live mo-, -tia causative
ya(bi) tiya sonido 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
tequi xictequi xomotequili Cut it! mo-, -lia applicative;
(without c- / qu- it)
tequi xiquintequi ;sonido xiquinmotequili Cut them! mo-, -lia applicative, quin- (= c- + in-) them
ijta tiquijta tomojtilia you see it mo-, -lia applicative
(without c- / qu- it)
ijta tiniechijta sonido tiniechmojtilia you see me mo-, -lia applicative; niech- me
ijtoa tiquijtus tomojtalfis you will say it mo-, -lfia applicative; -s future
(without c- / qu- it)
cua xijcua sonido xomocualti Eat it! mo-, -ltia causative
(without j- = c/qu- it)
mati nenquimatia sonido nemomachitiöya you (pl.) knew it mo-, -tia 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 mitz- (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
ijta timitzijta timitzmojtilia we see you (sg.) mo-, -lia applicative, ti- we
ijta nemiechijta sonido nemiechmojtilia I/we/he/she/they see you (pl.) mo-, -lia applicative,
with no subject prefix
ilfia mitzilfis sonido mitzmolfilis he/she will tell you mo-, -lia 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
ijta timojta tomojtajtzinoa you see yourself mo-, -tzinoa
ilfia timolfis sonido timolfijtzinus 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 Mösiehuali lexicon.) As the examples will illustrate, the vowel i 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
nemi nemi nemoa he/she lives -o-hua
ya(bi) iya sonido biloa he/she goes (irregular) -lo-hua
tequi quitequi quitequihua he/she cuts it -hua
ijta niechijta niechijtalo he/she sees me -lo, niech- me
ijtoa quijtus sonido quijtulus he/she will say it -lo, -s future
cua quicua sonido cualo he/she eats it -lo, without qui- it
mati quimatia quimatihuaya 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, niechijijtalo 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
ijtoa quijtusqui sonido quijtulus,
he/she (they) will say it -s future, -lo, -qui plural
chihua sonido (o)quichijqui sonido (o)quichihualuc,
sonido (o)quichijqui
he/she (they) did it -lo, -c preterite (sg.), -qui 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 tê- 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-in/m- them).

Stem Non-honorific Honorific Meaning Added morphemes
ijta niquijta sonido nitieijta I see him/her tie-, ni- I
ilfia tiquimilfisqui sonido titieimilfisqui we will tell them tie-im-, -s future, ti- we, -qui 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 mösiehuali. (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
ijta mojta neijtalo he/she sees him/herself ne-, -lo
ilfia molfis neilfilus, neilfisqui he/she will tell him/herself ne-, -lo, -s future, -qui 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 timopanultia mopanultia (you hon., he/she extra-hon) pass(es) mo-, -ltia causative
nemi nenmonemitia monejnemitia (you pl. hon., they extra hon.) live mo-, -tia causative
ya(bi) timobica mobica (you hon., he/she extra-hon.) go(es) mo-, bica carry instead of ya(bi) 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
niejchibilia he/she (non-hon.) does it to me niech- me, -lia applicative
sonido niejchibililo (respected person) does it to me (the same) + -lo
tiniechmochibililia you (hon.) do it to me + ti- 2nd sg. subject, mo- reflexive, -lia applicative
niechmochibililia (highly respected person) does it to me the same, minus ti-
niechmochibilililo (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 sonido tejuatzi nemejua sonido nemejuantzitzi
3rd person yaja sonido yejuatzi yejua sonido yejuantzitzi

Possessives and postpositional objects

In Mösiehuali (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 Mösiehuali 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 tlöcatzintli means lord, dignitary, gentleman; teopixqui is priest, and teopixcötzintli is (respected) priest. Some words always take this suffix. For example, you would always say nocultzi my grandfather or nosijtzi 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, sonido 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 sonido Xohuanajtzi, from the Spanish (doña) Juana, means Lady Jane.

--David Tuggy

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


For a more technical and extensive description of the Mösiehuali 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:

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Return to David Tuggy's main page