te- & tla- in Patientive verbs

John Schwaller's picture

From: R. Joe Campbell <campbell@indiana.edu>





   A basic piece of knowledge that we need about elements in a

language is: are they the same or different?  If they are judged

to be different, are they still partially the same?


   For example, although "cat" and "cats" are different, the

diffence is only in the "-s" segment; otherwise, they are the



   Consider the 'sameness' of "lay" in the following sentences:


     a) I will lay the books on the table.


     b) I lay on the sand for five minutes before I got up.


   In spite of the fact that "lay" sounds the same in the two

sentences, they are different in that a) has the present tense of

the transitive verb "lay" and b) has the past tense of the

intransitive verb "lie".


   The Spanish "se" presents multiple cases of homophony.  I don't

want to confuse the issue by trying to catalog all of their

functions here, but the contrast of two of them will help provide

perspective on an issue in Nahuatl morphology. Consider the

Spanish sentences:


     c) Susana le lastimo/ la rodilla a Felipe.


     d) Susana se lastimo/ la rodilla en el choque.


   The "le" and the "se" have the same function -- they both refer to

the person with the injured knee.  They are both indirect objects.




     e) Le mandaste el paquete a Felipe?


     f) Se lo mandaste a Felipe?


   Again, the "le" and "se" have the same function -- they both

refer to the recipient of the package.  But THIS "se" does not

have the same function as the "se" in d).  The "se" in d) is

reflexive, but the "se" in f) is projective (i.e., it has an

object outside the subject).  This "se" is what would have been

"le" except for its position before the pronoun "lo" -- it has the

FUNCTION of "le".  One "se" is reflexive and the other "se" is

projective.  The fact that the projective "se" is homophonous with

the reflexive "se" does not convince us to identify it with the

notion of "reflexive".


   Nahuatl has a parallel case:


   Te- and tla- are both non-specific object pronouns.  Their

contrast lies in whether the object of the verb is human or



   te-cua       it eats someone

   tla-cua      it eats something


   te-chihua    he engenders someone

   tla-chihua   he does something, he makes something


   However, the contrast between te- and tla- is neutralized in

patientive nouns:


   tla-acalaquilli      something (or someone) loaded on a boat

    *teacalaquilli is ungrammatical


   tla-ahcoquixtilli    something (or someone) raised on high

    *teahcoquixtilli is ungrammatical


   Human objects are referred to in patientive nouns with tla-:


   tla-ahmollalilli     someone who is bathed

   tla-cactotomalli     someone who is barefoot

   tla-cahualli         someone who is abandoned


   Since the contrast be "te-" and "tla-" is neutralized in

patientive nouns, we should be aware of the fact that their "tla-"

no longer means "non-human".  In the same way that the phonological

contrast between /m/ and /n/ is neutralized in Spanish before a

following consonant and is determined by that following consonant,

the surface nature of the element in question is no evidence for

its identity.


        umpasito        a little step  (space deleted for clarity)

        untaquito       a little taco

        unojito         a little eye


   Since Spanish nasals assimilate to the place of articulation of

a following consonants, their true underlying identity can be

determined only before a vowel.  Likewise, since Nahuatl

non-specific object prefixes neutralize to "tla-", then their

underlying functional identity must be determined by their form in

some related form of the verb, such as a finite form or a

"-liztli" form.


   For purposes of managing the morphological data in an orderly

way, I use the following codes:


        p51     tla- (inanimate)

        p52     te-  (animate)

        p52b    tla- (functioning as te-)


        prefixes are detached and are preceded by '='.


In looking at the following list of examples, it is important to

keep in mind which "tla"s are functioning as "te"s.


        Comments and helpful criticism are welcome.






  ahcomanalli =tla (tlaahcomanalli).  alborotada gente. <p52b-ahco-mani-

    caus09-l1>. 55m-002|


  ahcomantli =tla (tlaahcomantli).  alborotada gente. <p52b-ahco-mani-

    caus09=0-l2>. 71m2-19|


  ahuilquixtilli =tla (tlaahuilquixtilli). afrentado. <p52b-a:huiya-

    delya-l1-qui:za-caus02-l1 +z>x>. 55m-001|


  ahxitl =tla (tlaahxitl).  catiuo; preso. <p52b-ahci-l2 +z>x ;;>. 55m-



  apolactilli =tla (tlaapolactilli).  sumido. <p52b-a:tl1-polaqui-caus02-

    l1 ;;>. 55m-18|


  atecuitl =tla (tlaatecuitl).  capado; o castrado. <p52b-a:tl1-tetl1-

    cui-l2>. 55m-2|


  cahuilli =tla (tlacahuilli).  desamparado assi (assi is desamparar a

    alguno). <p52b-ca:hui-ben-l1 ;;>. 71m1-071|


  calaquilli =atlan tla (atlan tlacalaquilli). sumido. <a:tl1-tlan p52b-

    calaqui-caus08=0-l1 +ret.n +phrase ;;>. 55m-18|



  caltzauctli =tla (tlacaltzauctli).  encarcelado. <p52b-calli-tzacui-

    caus09=0-l2>. 55m-7|


  calzascocopintli =tla (tlacalzascocopintli). descalzado assi  (assi

    is descalzarse las calzas). <p52b-++calzas-dupl-copi:na-l2

    +spanish>. 71m1-071|


  camanalhuilli =tla (tlacamanalhuilli).  enlabiado; enlabiado o

    burlado. <p52b-camana:lli-v05b-l1>. 55m-8|


  caquitilli =tlatla (tlatlacaquitilli).  apercebido assi  (assi is

    apercebir a otra para combite). <p52b-p51-caqui-caus02-l1>. 55m-1|


  cecehuilli =tla (tlacecehuilli).  aplacado assi (assi is aplacar al

    enojado. o apaziguar a los re¤idos); desensa¤ado. <p52b-dupl-ce:tl-

    v11-caus08=0-l1 ;;>. 71m2-20|


  cehuilli =tla (tlacehuilli).  aliuiado; desapassionado assi  (assi is

    desapassionar); desensa¤ado; sosegado. <p52b-ce:tl-v11-caus08=0-l1

    ;;>. 55m-002|


  chiuhtli =tla (tlachiuhtli).  engendrado. <p52b-chi:hua-l2 ;;>. 55m-



  cochitilli =tla (tlacochitilli).  adormecido; dormido assi  (assi is

    dormir hazer a otro). <p52b-cochi-caus02-l1>. 71m2-20|


  cuacoyonilli =tla (tlacuacoyonilli). descalabrado; descalabrado assi

    (assi is descalabrar con otra cosa); descalabrado con piedra o con

    cosa semejante. <p52b-cua:itl-coyo:ni-caus08=0-l1>. 55m-5|


  cualancuitilli =tla (tlacualancuitilli).  enojado assi  (assi is

    enojar a otro); molestado desta manera  (desta manera is molestar

    dando mucho enojo); prouocado a yra; persona prouocada a yra y

    enojo. <p52b-cuala:ni-l2-cui-caus02-l1>. 55m-8|


  cuatzayantli =tla (tlacuatzayantli).  descalabrado assi  (assi is

    descalabrar con otra cosa); descalabrado con palo o con espada. &c.

    hendiendole la cabeza. <p52b-cua:itl-tzaya:ni-caus09=0-l2>. 55m-5|


  huapahualli , tla- (tlauapaualli).  well trained. <p52b-huapa:hua-l1>.

    b.10 f.1 p.3|


  ihcalli =tla (tlaihcalli).  combatido assi  (assi is combatir o

    pelear); guerreado; o combatido. <p52b-ihcali-l1>. 55m-3|


  ihtlacalhuilli =tlatla (tlatla[i]htlacalhuilli). empecido;

    dannificado y ofendido. <p52b-p51-ihtlactli-v03b-caus06-ben-l1>. 55m-



  ihualli =achtopa tla (achtopa tlaihualli). embiado assi  (assi is

    embiar adelante). <achto-pa2 p52b-ihua:-l1 +phrase>. 55m-7|


  ihxilli =tla (tlaihxilli).  apu¤alado. <p52b-ihxili-l1>. 71m1-022|


  ilpilli =tla (tla[i]lpilli) [scribal error: ??check?: 71m2].  cosa

    atada, o a¤udada, o prisionero de otro. <p52b-ilpi-caus08=0-l1 ;;>.



  ilpilli =tla (tla[i]lpilli).  encarcelado; preso; prisionero. <p52b-

    ilpi-caus08=0-l1 ;;>. 55m-7|


  ixmimictilli =tla (tlaixmimictilli).  encandilado; cegado o

    encandilado con la gran lumbre o claridad. <p52b-i:xtli-dupl-miqui-

    caus02-l1>. 55m-7|


  ixtlahuilli =tlatla (tlatlaxtlahuilli).  pagado y satisfecho, o

    gualardonado. <p52b-p51-ixtla:hui-caus09=0-ben-l1>. 71m2-24|



  ixtlaztli =tla (tlaixtlaztli).  confundido assi (assi is confundir

    echar en verguen‡a a otro); disfamado; disfamado y afrentado de

    otros. <p52b-i:xtli-tla:za-l2>. 55m-3|


  izahuilli =tla (tlaizahuilli).  asombrado, atonito, espantado, o

    escandalizado; assombrado; assombrado assi (assi is assombrar a

    otro); espantado assi  (assi is espantar o amedrentar). <p52b-

    i:zahuia:-l1>. 71m2-21|


  iztlacmintli =tla (tla[i]ztlacmintli).  mordido de biuora o de

    escorpion. <p52b-iztlactli-mi:tl-v14=0-caus09=0-l2>. 71m2-25|


  macohualli =tla (tlamacohualli).  ayudado assi (assi is ayudar porque

    me ayude). <p52b-ma:itl-co:hua-l1 +ret.w>. 55m-002|


  manotztli =tla (tlamanotztli).  llamado assi (assi is llamar con la

    mano); llamado assi  (assi is llamar conla mano); llamado con la

    mano. <p52b-ma:itl-no:tza-l2>. 55m-12|


  matontin =tla (tlamatontin).  descasados assi (assi is descasar alos

    casados). <p52b-ma:itl-tomi-caus09=0-l2-plur02 +kin>. 71m1-071|


  matzayantli =tla (tlamatzayantli) [scribal error: check: 71m2].

    descasado o descasada, o cosa diuidida y apartada vna de otra. <p52b-

    ma:itl-tzaya:ni-caus09=0-l2 +kin ;;>. 71m2-21|


  mecanilli =tla (tlamecanilli).  ahorcado. <p52b-mecatl-v14-caus08=0-

    l1>. 55m-002|


  nahuatilli =tla (tlanahuatilli).  citado; mandado; despedido o

    licenciado; despedido; despedido assi  (assi is despedir al criado).

    <p52b-na:huatl-v04-ben=0-l1>. 55m-4|


  nemiliztilli =tla (tlanemiliztilli).  abiuado; doctrinado y ense¤ado.

    <p52b-nemi-liz-v04-caus08=0-l1>. 55m-001|


  nonotzalli , tla- (tlanonotzalli).  well reared. <p52b-dupl-no:tza-

    l1>. b.10 f.1 p.3|


  ohmachtilli =tla (tlaohmachtilli).   <lo mesmo es que tlaoittitilli>;

    encaminado. <p52b-ohtli-mati-caus02-l1 +t>ch>. 71m2-22|


  ohtlaxtli =tla (tlaohtlaxtli).  desencaminado assi  (assi is

    desencaminar a otro, haziendole errar el camino). <p52b-ohtli-tla:za-

    l2 +z>x>. 71m1-072|


  olololli =tla (tlaolololli).  abrigada cosa assi (assi is abrigar

    arropar a otro); abrigado assi  (assi is abrigar o arropar a otro);

    arropado assi  (assi is arropar a otro). <p52b-olo:lli-v03a-caus06-

    l1 ;;>. 55m-001|


  pilolli =tla (tlapilolli).  ahorcado. <p52b-piloa:-l1 ;;>. 55m-002|


  quechcotontli =tla (tlaquechcotontli) [scribal error: check: 71m2].

    descabezado, o degollado, o espiga cogida. <p52b-quechtli-coto:ni-

    caus09=0-l2 ;;>. 71m2-23|


  temmamauhtilli =tla (tlatemamauhtilli). amenazado. <p52b-te:ntli-dupl-

    mahui-caus02-l1>. 71m1-021|


  tenquimilolli =tla (tlatenquimilolli).  atapado assi  (assi is atapar

    la boca a otro). <p52b-te:ntli-quimilli-v03a-caus06-l1>. 71m1-031|


  tentzonxintli =tla (tlatentzonxintli).  afeitado assi  (assi is

    afeitar barua a otro). <p52b-te:ntli-tzontli-xi:ma-l2 +ret.n>. 55m-



  tepozmihuilli =tla (tlatepozmihuilli).  asaeteado. <p52b-tepoztli-

    mi:tl-v05b-l1>. 71m1-031|


  texcalhuilli =tla (tlatexcalhuilli).  despe¤ado. <p52b-texcalli2-v05b-

    l1 ;;>. 55m-6|


  titlantli =tla (tlatitlantli).  embiado mensajero; mensajero. <p52b-

    ti:tlani-l2>. 55m-7|


  tlaocoltilli =tla (tlatlaocoltilli). entristecido; entristecido y

    angustiado de otros. <p52b-tlao:coya-delya-l1-v04-caus08=0-l1>. 55m-



  tlayecteneuhtli (busca alabado (alabado de otros) | tlayecteneuhtli ||

    busca alabado (alabado de otros)).  loado. <p52b-ye:ctli-te:ntli-

  tzahtzililli =tla (tlatzahtzililli).  llamado assi  (assi is llamar a

    bozes); el que es llamado para trabajar &c. <p52b-tzahtzi-ben-l1>.



  tzineuhtli =tla (tlatzineuhtli).  echado assi (assi is echar a alguno

    de cabeza en el agua, o de lugar alto hazia baxo); echado assi

    (assi is echar a otro de cabeza enel agua; o dela ventana abaxo;

    &c). <p52b-tzi:ntli-e:hua-l2 ;;>. 55m-6|


  yacantli =tla (tlayacantli).  adiestrado; adiestrado assi  (assi is

    adiestrar ciego); el que es regido; guiado y gouernado de otro; o el

    ciego que es adiestrado de alguno. <p52b-yacatl-a:na1-l2>. 55m-001|


  yacatectli =tla (tlayacatectli).  desnarigado. <p52b-yacatl-tequi1-

    l2>. 55m-5|


  yacatlaxtli =tla (tlayacatlaxtli).  desnarigado. <p52b-yacatl-tla:za-

    l2 +z>x>. 55m-5|


  yectenehualli =tla (tlayectenehualli).  alabado de otros. <p52b-

    ye:ctli-te:ntli-e:hua-l1>. 71m2-21|


  yolcehuilli =tla (tlayolcehuilli).  aplacado; amansado assi  (assi is

    amansar al yrado); aplacado y amansado de otros; desensa¤ado. <p52b-

    yo:lli-ce:tl-v11-caus08=0-l1>. 55m-1|


  yolpozonaltilli =tla (tlayolpozonaltilli). embrauecido assi  (assi is

    embrauecer a otro); prouocado de otros ayra y enojo. <p52b-yo:lli-

    pozo:ni-caus07-l1>. 55m-7|


  zalolli =tla (tlazalolli).  detenido; detenido assi  (assi is detener

    a otro); parado assi  (assi is parar o estancar alo que anda; de

    cosas animadas); parado assi  (assi is parar o estancar a lo que

    anda; ympedido assi  (assi is ympedir al que se quiere yr o detener

    alo que anda); ympedido assi  (assi is ympedir al que se quiere yr;

    o detener al que anda). <p52b-za:lli-v03a-caus06-l1 ;;>. 55m-6|

Dear Joe:

That was a very interesting, informative, and didactic post (as always). Thank you.

As an aside, Carochi (book 3, chapter 2, first paragraph), in addition to confirming what you mentioned, gives an example of a patientive noun with te:-, where the latter prefix is not a human object, as it might appear at first glance, but an indirect object which takes the position in the word where a direct object would be expected:

"[...] de machtia, enseñar, tlamachti:lli, persona enseñada, que es el discípulo, y si a este machti:lli, se antepone te:, en lugar de tla, significará, te:machti:lli, no persona a quien se enseña, sino cosa que se enseña a personas, como plática, sermón, etc."

"[... ] from machtia, to teach, tlamachti:lli, person who is taught, that is, a pupil. If te: is prefixed to this machti:lli instead of tla, te:machti:lli will signify not a person who is taught, but something that is taught to someone, such as a talk, sermon, etc."

(Adapted from Horacio Carochi, Grammar of the Mexican language with an explanation of its adverbs (1645), James Lockhart, trad. y ed., Stanford/Los Angeles, Stanford University Press/UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 2001, pp. 182-183.)

Yes, there is sort of a paradox when tla-nouns refer to animates while te- ones refer to inanimates, but it is only apparent.
I'm presently far away from home and my data, files and books, but I have written about that in my dissertation, you can find the corresponding pages (997-1019) about what I suggest to call "Object Nouns" at:
along with temachtilli, the same formation occurs on a few verbs like nahuatia, icnelia, tlàpaloa, namiqui, huica. Much more common is the same with ne- (ne-V--l-li or ne-V-tli) which means "what can be used to V oneself" or "situation in which one is when one V-s himself/herself.
There are also (this time) uncommon formations in ne-te, -ne-tla, te-tla derived from ditransitive verbs, and with no prefix from intransitive ones.
Sorry I cannot give you more precisions right now.