|Hñähnü, Hñähño, Hñotho, Hñähü, Hñätho, Yųhų, Yųhmų, Ñųhų, Ñǫthǫ, Ñañhų|
|Spoken in||Mexico: México (state), Puebla, Veracruz, Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Tlaxcala, Michoacán|
|Total speakers||239,850 (2005 Census)|
|Official language in||In Mexico through the General Law of Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples (in Spanish).|
|Regulated by||Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas |
ote – Mezquital Otomi
otl – Tilapa Otomi
otm – Highland Otomi
otn – Tenango Otomi
otq – Querétaro Otomi
ots – Estado de México Otomi
ott – Temoaya Otomi
otx – Texcatepec Otomi
otz – Ixtenco Otomi
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.|
Otomi (English pronunciation: /ˌoʊtəˈmiː/, in Spanish spelling Otomí Spanish: [otoˈmi]) is an Oto-Manguean language and one of the indigenous languages of Mexico, spoken by approximately 240,000 indigenous Otomi people in the central altiplano region of Mexico. The language is spoken in many different dialects, some of which are not mutually intelligible, therefore it is in effect a dialect continuum. The word Hñähñu [hɲɑ̃hɲũ1] has been proposed as an endonym, but since it represents the usage of a single dialect it has not gained wide currency. Linguists have classified the modern dialects into three dialect areas: the Northwestern dialects spoken in Querétaro, Hidalgo and Guanajuato; the Southwestern dialects spoken in the State of Mexico; and the Eastern dialects spoken in the highlands of Veracruz, Puebla, and eastern Hidalgo and in villages in Tlaxcala and Mexico states.
Like all other Oto-Manguean languages, Otomi is a tonal language and most varieties distinguish three tones. Nouns are marked only for possessor (either by prefixes or by proclitics); plural number is marked by the definite article and by a verb suffix, and some dialects maintain the historically existing dual number marking. There is no case marking. Verb morphology is fusional. In verb inflection, infixation, consonant mutation, and apocope are prominent processes, and the number of irregular verbs is large. The grammatical subject in a sentence is cross referenced by highly fusional formatives which also mark for tense, aspect and mood. Depending on the dialect and the investigator, these formatives are reported to be full words, proclitics, or prefixes. Verbs are inflected for either direct object or dative object (but not for both simultaneously) by suffixes. Inclusive 'we' and exclusive 'we' are distinguished (the clusivity distinction). Otomi syntax has the nominative-accusative alignment and the direct object alignment (as opposed to the primary object alignment).[cn 1]
After the Spanish conquest Otomi became a written language when Spanish friars (primarily Franciscan) taught the Otomi to write the language using the Latin alphabet; this language is called Classical Otomi. Several codices and grammars were composed in Classical Otomi. But a negative stereotype of the Otomi promoted by the Nahuas and perpetuated by the Spanish resulted in a loss of stature for the Otomi, who began to abandon their language in favor of Spanish. The attitude of the larger world toward the Otomi language began to change in 2003 when Otomi was granted recognition as a national language under Mexican law together with 61 other indigenous languages.
The name Otomi comes from the Nahuatl otomitl, which is possibly derived from an older word totomitl "shooter of birds". It is not an Otomi endonym; the Otomi refer to themselves as Hñähñú, Hñähño, Hñotho, Hñähü, Hñätho, Yųhų, Yųhmų, Ñųhų, Ñǫthǫ or Ñañhų depending on which dialect of Otomi they speak.[cn 2] Most of the variant forms are composed of two morphemes meaning "speak" and "well" respectively.
The word Otomi entered the Spanish language through Nahuatl and is used to describe the larger Otomi macroethnic group and the dialect continuum. From Spanish the word Otomi has become entrenched in the linguistic and anthropological literature. Among linguists, the suggestion has been made to change the academic designation from Otomi to Hñähñú, the endonym used by the Otomi of the Mezquital valley; however, no common endonym exists for all dialects of the language.
The Otomi language belongs to the Oto-Pamean branch of the Oto-Manguean languages. Within Oto-Pamean it is part of the Otomian subgroup which also includes Mazahua, Matlatzinca and Ocuilteco/Tlahuica.
The Oto-Pamean languages may have split from the other Oto-Manguean languages around 3500 BC. Within the Otomian branch, Proto-Otomi seems to have split from Proto-Mazahua ca. 500 AD. Around 1000 AD, Proto-Otomi began diversifying into the modern Otomi varieties.
Much of central Mexico was inhabited by speakers of the Oto-Pamean languages before the arrival of Nahuatl speakers; beyond this, the geographical distribution of the ancestral stages of most modern indigenous languages of Mexico, and their associations with various civilizations, remain undetermined. It has been proposed that Proto-Otomi-Mazahua most likely was one of the languages spoken in Teotihuacan, the greatest Mesoamerican ceremonial center of the Classic period, whose demise occurred ca. 600 AD.
The Precolumbian Otomi people did not have a proper writing system, but the largely ideographic Aztec writing could be read in Otomi as well as Nahuatl. The Otomi often translated names of places or rulers into Otomi rather than using the Nahuatl names. For example, the Nahuatl place name Tenochtitlān, "place of Opuntia cactus", was rendered as *ʔmpôndo in proto-Otomi, with the same meaning.[cn 3]
At the time of the Spanish conquest of central Mexico, Otomi had a much wider distribution than now, with large Otomi speaking areas existing in the modern states of Jalisco and Michoacan. After the conquest, the Otomi people experienced a period of geographical expansion as the Spaniards employed Otomi warriors in their expeditions of conquest into northern Mexico. During and after the Mixtón rebellion, in which Otomi warriors fought for the Spanish, Otomis settled areas in Querétaro (where they founded the city of Querétaro) and Guanajuato which previously had been inhabited by nomadic Chichimecs. Because Spanish colonial historians such as Bernardino de Sahagún used primarily Nahua speakers as sources for their histories of the colony, the Nahuas' negative image of the Otomi people was perpetuated throughout the colonial period, which contributed to the Otomi gradually abandoning their language.
"Classical Otomi" is the term used to define the Otomi spoken in the early centuries of colonial rule. This historical stage of the language was given Latin orthography and documented by Spanish friars who learned it in order to proselytize the Otomi peoples. Text in Classical Otomi is not readily comprehensible, since the Spanish speaking friars failed to differentiate the varied vowel and consonant sounds of the Otomi language. Friars and monks from the Spanish mendicant orders such as the Franciscans wrote Otomi grammars, the earliest of which is that of Friar Pedro de Cárceres' Arte de la lengua othomí [sic], written perhaps as early as 1580, but not published until 1907 In 1605, Alonso de Urbano wrote a trilingual Spanish-Nahuatl-Otomi dictionary, which also included a small set of grammatical notes about Otomi. The grammarian of Nahuatl, Horacio Carochi is known to have written a grammar of Otomi, but no copies have survived. In the latter half of the eighteenth century, an anonymous Jesuit friar wrote the grammar Luces del Otomi, and Neve y Molina wrote a dictionary and a grammar.
During the colonial period, many Otomis were taught to read and write their language. In consequence, a significant number of documents in Otomi exist from the period, both secular and religious, the most well-known of which are the Codices of Huichapan and Jilotepec.
After the colonial period ended in 1813, the Otomi were no longer recognized as an indigenous group, the Otomi language lost its status as a language of education, and the period of Classical Otomi as a literary language ended.
Otomi is traditionally described as a single language, although its many dialects are not all mutually intelligible. The language classification of the SIL International's Ethnologue considers Otomi to be a cover term for nine separate Otomi languages and assigns a different ISO code to each of these nine varieties. Other linguists however, consider Otomi to be the best name for a dialect continuum that is clearly demarcated from its closest relative, Mazahua. For the purposes of this article, the latter approach will be followed.
Currently Otomi dialects are spoken collectively by circa 239,000 speakers—some 5 to 6 percent of whom are monolingual—in widely scattered districts (see map). The highest concentration of speakers is found in the Valle de Mezquital region of Hidalgo and in the southern portion of Querétaro, where some municipalities have concentrations of Otomi speakers as high as 60–70%. Because of recent migratory patterns, small populations of Otomi speakers can be found in new locations throughout Mexico and in the United States.
Dialectal diversity in Otomi is so great that some dialects are not mutually intelligible. Classification of dialects can be achieved according to two different principles. Linguists usually classify dialects and languages languages genetically (i.e., based on their mutual historical relationships. The Ethnologue classifies Otomi languages according to their degrees of mutual intelligibility.
As to the genetic classification of the modern dialects, at least two accounts have been published. Newman and Weitlaner (1950a: 2) arrived at four divisions, three of which they designated "Northeastern", "Northwestern", and "Southwestern". They deemed the dialect of Ixtenco in Tlaxcala to be a major division in itself. They did not provide a detailed list of dialect assignments. Lastra (2001: 24) arrives at largely the same results. The latter scheme includes a complete list of dialect assignments and introduces only slight modifications to the prior scheme, namely: Ixtenco is included with the Sierra dialects and "Northeastern" is renamed "Eastern"; two dialects of the state of Mexico are transferred from Southwestern to Eastern, these being the dialects of two communities close to the western side of Mexico City, San Jerónimo Acazulco and Santiago Tilapa (Tilapa was explicitly assigned to Southwestern by Newman and Weitlaner); and the southernmost dialect of Queretaro, that of the municipio of Amealco, is transferred from Northwestern to Southwestern. The last revision conflicts with the position of two specialists in this dialect, Hekking and Palancar, who have classified Amealco Otomi in Northwestern, although they too without citing criteria.
|Rest of Mexico||2,537||1.20%|
The assignment of dialects to the three groups is as follows (following Lastra except in regard to the Amealco dialect):
The Ethnologue divides Otomi into nine groups.
Although Otomi is vigorous in some areas, with children acquiring the language through natural transmission (e.g. in the Mezquital valley of Hidalgo and in the Highlands), overall it is an endangered language. Three dialects in particular have reached moribund status: those of Ixtenco (Tlaxcala state), Santiago Tilapa (Mexico state), and Cruz del Palmar (Guanajuato state). In addition, from the 1920s to the 1980s, the use of indigenous Mexican languages in general was eroded by educational policies that encouraged the "Hispanification" of indigenous communities. All schooling was in Spanish only. As a result, today no group of Otomi speakers has attained general literacy in Otomi, while their literacy rate in Spanish remains far below the national average.[cn 5] In some municipalities the level of monolingualism in Otomi is as high as 22.3% (Huehuetla, Hidalgo) or 13.1% (Texcatepec, Veracruz). Monolingualism is normally significantly higher among women than among men.
During the 1990s, however, the Mexican government made a reversal in policies towards indigenous and linguistic rights, prompted by the 1996 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights[cn 6] and domestic social and political agitation by various groups.[cn 7] Decentralized government agencies were created charged with promoting and protecting indigenous communities and languages; these include the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI) and the National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI). In particular, the federal Ley General de Derechos Lingüísticos de los Pueblos Indígenas ("General Law on the Language Rights of the Indigenous Peoples"), promulgated on 13 March 2003, recognizes all of Mexico's indigenous languages, including Otomi, as "national languages", and gives indigenous people the right to speak them in every sphere of public and private life.
The phonemes of Otomi of the Valle del Mezquital, the most widely spoken dialect, are given in the following tables, using what is becoming the conventional orthography for that dialect. In selected cases, the orthographic symbol is accompanied by the IPA symbol for the primary allophone. The use of the diaeresis to indicate nasality and the use of the underscore for the transcription of Otomi, devices used for a few decades, have become more common since the 1990s.
|Glottalized voiced stop||'b|
|Voiced Fricative||b [β]||d [ð]||z||zy [ʒ]||g [ɣ]|
|Voiceless Fricative||f [ɸ]||th [θ]||s||x [ʃ]||j [x]||h|
|Plain Nasal||m||n||ñ [ɲ]|
|Semivowel||u [w]||y [ j ]|
The orthography for the voiced fricatives uses the letters 'b, d, g' that represent voiced stops in IPA. 'f, th, j' are voiceless aspirated stops in other dialects. Some investigators for some dialects (e.g. Andrews for the Mezquital dialect) give phonemic status to a labiovelar series /kʷ, gʷ, jʷ/, where 'jʷ' equals xʷ.
The vowels of the dialect of Valle del Mezquital are given in the following table.
|Close||i||(ï [ ĩ ])||u [ɨ]||u||(ü [ũ])|
|Close-mid||e||o [ɘ]||(ö [õ])|
|Near-open||e [æ]||ë ([æ̃])||a [ɔ]|
The Mezquital dialect has lost the half close back rounded vowel, [o]. The phoneme /e/ requires special comment. In this dialect at least, [æ] is either its major allophone or one of its allophones, yet the symbol traditionally chosen for this phoneme in the linguistic literature is [ɛ]. Three of the nasal vowels have been enclosed in parentheses because the 2004 dictionary of this dialect does not mark them. In the Mezquital dialect the phonemic distinction of orality and nasality is disappearing on the vowels /i, u, æ/, although it remains vigorous in other dialects; the historically nasal vowels /[ĩ], [æ̃]/ are now usually oral. while the historically oral /u/ is now usually nasal.
Since the 1940s there has been a divergence in the published literature as to whether Otomi dialects have ejective and affricate phonemes. Some investigators have maintained that there are instead clusters of stop and glottal stop and clusters of stop and /h/. (In some dialects there is a series of voiceless fricatives corresponding to the "aspirates" or "stop plus /h/ clusters" of other dialects.) Cárceres, Soustelle, late Bartholomew, Smith-Stark, and Palancar are among those who recognize their existence; the investigators publishing between 1940 and 1970 (including Bartholomew), and recently Lastra, are among those who do not. The matter of which "surface contrasts" (phonemic contrasts) to recognize is of course distinct theoretically from the matter of which "base generated phonological units" to recognize (to use more modern terminology). Most investigators have accepted the analysis of Newman and Weitlaner that the aspirates and ejectives of today are the reflexes of consonant clusters in Proto-Otomi.
Newman and Weitlaner proposed the following reconstruction of the Proto-Otomi phoneme inventory: /p t k (kʷ) ʔ b d ɡ t͡s ʃ h z m n w j/, the oral vowels /i ɨ u e ø o ɛ a ɔ/, and the nasal vowels /ĩ ũ ẽ ɑ̃/. Disregarding the aspirate and ejective series, the reconstruction happens to be nearly identical to inventories of the modern dialects, but in fact many of the stop consonants in the modern varieties are not original (i.e., a /b/ today was often not a /b/ in the protolanguage).
Modern dialects have undergone various changes from the common historic phonemic inventory. Most have voiced the reconstructed Proto-Otomian voiceless nonaspirate stops /p t k/ and now have only the voiced series /b d ɡ/. The only dialects to retain all the original voiceless nonaspirate stops are Otomi of Tilapa, the eastern dialect of San Pablito Pahuatlan in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, and Otomi of Santa Ana Hueytlalpan. A voiceless aspirate stop series /pʰ tʰ kʰ/, derived from earlier clusters of stop + [h], occurs in most dialects, but it has become fricative in Mezquital and Guanajuato dialects /ɸ θ x/. Some dialects have innovated a palatal nasal /ɳ/ from earlier sequences of *j and a nasal vowel. In several dialects, the Proto-Otomi clusters *ʔm and *ʔn before oral vowels have become /ʔb/ and /ʔd/, respectively. In most dialects *n has become /ɾ/, as in the singular determiner and the second person possessive marker. The only dialects to preserve /n/ in these words are the Eastern dialects, and in Tilapa these instances of *n have become /d/.
Many dialects have merged the vowels *ɔ and *a into /a/ as in Mezquital Otomi, whereas others such as Ixtenco Otomi have merged *ɔ with *o. The different dialects have between five and three nasal vowels. In addition to the four nasal vowels of proto-Otomi, some dialects have /ǫ/. Ixtenco Otomi has only /ẽ ũ ɑ̃/, whereas Toluca Otomi has /ĩ ũ ɑ̃/. In Otomi of Cruz del Palmar, Guanjuato the nasal vowels are /ĩ ũ õ/, the former *ɑ̃ having changed to /õ/. In the late 20th century, Mezquital Otomi was reported by Bernard to be on the verge of losing the distinction between nasal and oral vowels, as he noted that *ɑ̃ had become /ɔ/, that /ĩ ~ i/ and /ũ ~ u/ were in free variation, and that the only nasal vowel that continued to be distinct from its oral counterpart was /ẽ/. Modern Otomi has borrowed many words from Spanish, in addition to new phonemes that occur only in loan words, such as /l/ apparent in some Otomi dialects instead of the Spanish trilled [r], and /s/, also not present in native Otomi vocabulary.
Otomi is a tonal language, although the exact number of tones claimed to exist varies by dialect and by the phonological analysis that is applied. During the mid-twentieth century, linguists differed regarding the analysis of tones in Otomi. Kenneth Pike, Doris Bartholomew and Eunice Pike preferred an analysis including three tones, but Morris Swadesh and H. Russell Bernard preferred an analysis with only two tones, in which the rising tone was analyzed as two consecutive tones on one long vowel. In fact, Bernard didn't believe that Otomi should be analyzed as being tonal, as he believed instead that tone in Otomi was not lexical, but rather predictable from other phonetic elements.
The three tone analysis became the standard analysis in Otomi phonetics; most Otomi dialects have high, low and rising tones. One variety of the Sierra dialect, that of San Gregorio, has been analyzed as having a fourth, falling tone. In Mezquital Otomi, suffixes are never specified for tone, while in Tenango Otomi, the only syllables not specified for tone are prepause syllables and the last syllable of polysyllabic words.
Stress in Otomi is not phonemic but rather falls predictably on every other syllable, with the first syllable of a root always being stressed.
Phonological words never end in a consonant. A number of initial consonant clusters have developed from the loss of a medial vowel: e.g., the first person continuative prefix, which is dra in most Otomi dialects, developed from an earlier sequence *tana- where the *n became /ɾ/ and the first *a was then lost.[cn 8]
In this article, the orthography of Lastra (various, including 1996, 2006), which marks syllabic tone (see discussion on tone below), is employed. The low tone is unmarked (a), the high level tone is marked with the acute accent (á), and the rising tone with the caron (ǎ). Nasal vowels are marked with a rightward curving hook at the bottom of the vowel letter: į, ę, ą, ų. The letter c denotes [t͡s] and y denotes [j] and palatal sibilant [ʃ] is written with the letter š, and palatal nasal [ɲ] is written ñ. The remaining symbols are from the IPA with their standard values.
Colonial documents in Classical Otomi do not generally capture all the phonological contrasts of the Otomi language. Since the friars who alphabetized the Otomi populations were Spanish speakers, it was difficult for them to perceive correctly any contrasts that were present in Otomi but absent in Spanish, such as nasalisation, tone, the large vowel inventory and aspirated and glottal consonants. Even when they recognized that there were additional phonemic contrasts in Otomi they often had difficulties choosing how to transcribe them and in doing so consistently. No colonial documents include information on tone. The existence of nasalization is noted by Cárceres, but he does not transcribe it. Cárceres used the letter æ for low central unrounded vowel [ʌ] and æ with cedille for the high central unrounded vowel ɨ. He also transcribed glottalized consonants as geminates e.g. ttz for [t͡sʔ]. Cárceres used grave-accented vowels è and ò for [ɛ] and [ɔ]. In the 18th century Neve y Molina used vowels with macron ē and ō for those, and invented extra letters (an e with a tail and a hook and an u with a tail) to represent the central vowels.
Orthographies used to write modern Otomi have been a focus of controversy among field linguists for many years. Particularly contentious is the issue of whether or not to mark tone, and how, in orthographies to be used by native speakers. Many practical orthographies used by Otomi speakers do not include tone marking. Bartholomew has been a leading advocate for the marking of tone, arguing that because tone is an integrated element of the language's grammatical and lexical systems, the failure to indicate it would lead to ambiguity. Bernard, on the other hand, has argued that native speakers prefer a toneless orthography because they can almost always disambiguate using context, and because they are often unaware of the significance of tone in their language, and consequently have difficulty learning to apply the tone diacritics correctly. For Mezquital Otomi, Bernard accordingly created an orthography in which tone was indicated only when necessary to disambiguate between two words and in which the only symbols used were those available on a standard Spanish language typewriter (employing for example the letter c for [ɔ], v for [ʌ], and the symbol + for [ɨ]).
Practical orthographies used to promote Otomi literacy have been designed and published by the Instituto Lingüístico de Verano[cn 9] and later by the national institute for indigenous languages (INALI). Generally they use diareses ë and ö to distinguish the low mid vowels [ɛ] and [ɔ] formt he high mid vowels e and o. High central vowel [ɨ] is generally written ʉ or u, and front mid rounded vowel [ø] is written ø or o. Letter a with diaresis ä is sometimes used both for nasal vowel ą and for low back unrounded vowel [ʌ]. Glottalized consonants are written with apostrophe (e.g. tz' for [t͡sʔ]) and palatal sibilant [ʃ] is written with x.
Most dialects distinguish singular, dual, and plural numbers, but some of the more divergent dialects, such as those of Querétaro and of the Mezquital area, distinguish only singular and plural numbers. Ixtenco dialect distinguishes singular, plural, and mass plural numbers. The personal prefixes distinguish three persons and an inclusive/exclusive distinction in the plural, making for a total of eleven categories of grammatical person in most dialects. The grammatical number of nouns is indicated by the use of articles; the nouns themselves are unmarked for number.
In most dialects, the pronominal system distinguishes four persons: first inclusive and exclusive, second and third and three numbers singular, dual and plural. The system below is from the Toluca dialect.
|1st person Incl.||*||nugóbé 'you and I'||nugóhé 'I and you guys'|
|1st Person Excl.||nugó 'I'||nugówí 'we two (not you)'||nugóhɨ́ 'We all (not you)'|
|2nd Person||nukʔígé 'you'||nukʔígéwí 'you two'||nukʔígégɨ́ 'you guys'|
|3rd Person||gégé 'she/he/it'||nugégéwí 'the two of them'||nugégéhɨ́ 'they'|
The following atypical pronominal system from Tilapa Otomi lacks the inclusive/exclusive distinction in the first person plural and dual/plural distinction in the second person.
|1st person Excl.||*||nyugambe 'we two (not you)'||nyugahɨ́ 'We all (both incl and excl.)'|
|1st Person Incl.||nyugá 'I'||nugawi 'you and I'||*|
|2nd Person||nyukʔe 'you'||nyukʔewi 'you two'||nyukʔehɨ́ 'you guys'|
|3rd Person||nyuaní 'she/he/it'||*||nyuyí 'they' (both dual and plural)|
Otomi nouns are marked only for their possessor; plurality is expressed via pronouns and articles. There is no case marking. The possessive formatives may be prefixes or proclitics, depending on the dialect. The particular pattern of possessive inflection is a widespread trait in the Mesoamerican linguistic area: there is a prefix agreeing in person with the possessor, and if the possessor is plural or dual, then the noun is also marked with a suffix that agrees in number with the possessor. Demonstrated below is the inflectional paradigm for the word /ngų́/ "house" in the dialect of Toluca.
|1st person Excl.||*||mą-ngų́-bé 'Our house (me and him/her)'||mą-ngų́-hé 'Our house (me and them)'|
|1st Person Incl.||mą-ngų́ 'my house'||mą-ngų́-wí 'Our house (me and you)'||mą-ngų́-hɨ́ 'Our house (me and you and them)'|
|2nd Person||ri-ngų́ 'your house'||ri-ngų́-wí 'you two's house'||ri-ngų́-hɨ́ 'you guys' house'|
|3rd Person||rʌ-ngų́ 'her/his/its house'||yʌ-ngų́-wí 'the house of the two of them'||yʌ-ngų́-hɨ́ 'their house'|
Definite articles preceding the noun are the sole grammatical means of expressing plurality in nominal elements, since nouns are invariant for grammatical number (grammatical number is also marked on verbs). Most dialects have rʌ 'the (singular)' and yʌ 'the (dual/plural)'. Example noun phrases:
|rʌ ngų́ 'the house'||yʌ yóho ngų́ 'the two houses'||yʌ ngų́ 'the houses'|
Classical Otomi, as described by Cárceres, distinguished neutral, honorific, and pejorative definite articles: ąn, neutral singular; o, honorific singular; nø̌, pejorative singular; e, neutral and honorific plural; and yo, pejorative plural.
Verb morphology is fusional. In verb inflection, infixation, consonant mutation, and apocope are prominent processes, and the number of irregular verbs is large. Verbs are inflected for either direct object or dative object (but not for both simultaneously) by suffixes. The categories of person of subject, tense, aspect, and mood ("person of subject/T/A/M") are marked simultaneously with a formative which is either a verbal prefix, a proclitic, or a full word, depending perhaps on the dialect and on the analysis of the investigator (they are words in Mezquital, Amealco, and Sierra dialects). The proclitics and words can precede nonverbal predicates. The dialects of Toluca and Ixtenco distinguish the present, preterit, perfect, imperfect, future, pluperfect tenses; the continuative aspect; and the imperative and two subjunctive moods. Mezquital Otomi has additional moods. On transitive verbs, the person of the object is marked by a suffix. If either subject or object is dual or plural, it is shown with a plural suffix following the object suffix.
The structure of the Otomi verb is as follows:
|Person of Subject/T/A/M||Misc. prefix (e.g. adverbial)||Root||Object suffix||Plural/Dual suffix|
The present tense prefixes are di- (1st person), gi- (2nd person), i- (3rd person).
|1st person Excl.||*||di-nú-bé 'we see (me and him/her)'||di-nú-hé 'we see (me and them)'|
|1st Person Incl.||di-nú 'I see'||di-nú-wí 'We see(me and you)'||mdi-nú-hɨ́ 'We see (me and you and them)'|
|2nd Person||gi-nú 'you see'||gi-nú-wí 'You two see'||gi-nú-hɨ́ 'You guys see'|
|3rd Person||i-nú 'she/he/it sees'||i-nú-wí 'the two of them see'||i-nú-hɨ́ 'they see'|
The preterit tense uses the prefixes do-, go-, and bi-; perfect tense uses to-, ko-, ʃi-; imperfect uses dimá, gimá, mi; future uses go-, gi-, and da-; and pluperfect uses tamą-, kimą-, kamą-. All tenses use the same suffixes as the present tense for dual and plural numbers and clusivity. To illustrate, the singular forms will be presented. The difference between preterit and imperfect tense is similar to the distinction between the preterit in Spanish: habló 'he spoke (punctual)', and the imperfect hablaba 'he spoke/He used to speak/he was speaking (non-punctual)'.
In Toluca Otomi, the semantic difference between the two subjunctive forms (A and B) has not yet been clearly understood in the linguistic literature. Sometimes subjunctive B has a meaning that is more recent in time than subjunctive A. Both have the meaning of something counterfactual. In other Otomi dialects, such as Otomi of Ixtenco Tlaxcala, the distinction between the two forms is one of subjunctive as opposed to irrealis. The past and present progressive are similar in meaning to English 'was' and 'is X-ing' respectively. The imperative is for issuing direct orders.
Verbs expressing movement towards the speaker such as ʔįhį 'come' use a different set of prefixes for marking person/T/A/M. These prefixes can also be used with other verbs to express 'to do something while coming this way'. In Toluca Otomi mba- is the third person singular imperfect prefix for movement verbs.
To form predicates from nouns the subject prefixes are simply added to the noun root:
Transitive verbs are inflected for agreement with their objects by means of suffixes, while using the same subject prefixes as the intransitive verbs to agree with their agents. However, in all dialects a few intransitive verbs take the object suffix instead of the subject prefix. Often such intransitive verbs are stative, i.e. describing a state, which has prompted the interpretation that morphosyntactic alignment in Otomi is split between active-stative and accusative systems.
In Toluca Otomi the object suffixes are -gí (first person), -kʔí (second person) and -bi (third person), but the vowel /i/ may harmonize to /e/ when suffix to a root containing /e/. The first person suffix has is realized as -kí after sibilants and after certain verb roots, and -hkí when used with certain other verbs. The second person object suffix may sometimes metathesise to -ʔkí.The third person suffix also has the allomorphs -hpí/-hpé, -pí, -bí, and sometimes third person objects is marked with a zero morpheme.
|1st person object||2nd person object||3rd person object|
|bi-ñús-kí 'he wrote me'||bi-ñús-kʔí 'he wrote you'||bi-kré-bi 'he believed it'|
|bi-nú-gí 'he saw me'||bi-nú-kʔí 'he saw you'||bi-hkwáhti-bí 'she/he hit him/her'|
Object number (dual or plural) is marked by the same suffixes as are used for the subject, which can lead to ambiguity about the respective numbers of subject and object. With object suffixes of the first or second person, the verbal root sometimes changes, often by the deletion of the final vowel. Note the following examples:
|dual object/subject||plural object/subject|
|bi-ñaš-kʔí-wí 'the two of them cut your hair' or
'he cut the hair of the two of you'
|bi-ñaš-kí-hɨ́ 'they cut my hair' or 'he cut our hair'|
A word class that describes properties or states has been described either as adjectives or as stative verbs. The members of this class have a meaning of attributing a property to an entity, e.g. "the man is tall", "the house is old". Within this class some roots use the normal subject/T/A/M prefixes, while others always use the object suffixes to encode the person of the patient/subject. The fact that roots in the latter group encode the patient/subject of the predicate using the same suffixes as transitive verbs use to encode the patient/object has been interpreted as a trait of Split intransitivity, and is apparent in all Otomi dialects; but which specific stative verbs take the object prefixes, and the number of prefixes they take, varies between dialects. In Toluca Otomi, most stative verbs are conjugated using a set of suffixes similar to the object/patient suffixes and a third person subject prefix, while only a few use the present continuative subject prefixes. The following are examples of the two kinds of stative verb conjugation in Toluca Otomi:
|with patient/object suffix||with subject/agent prefix|
|rʌ-nǒ-hkʔí 'I am fat'||drʌ-dǒtʔî 'I am short'|
Some dialects have SVO as the most frequent word order, for example Otomi of Toluca and of San Ildefonso, Querétaro, but other dialects such as Mezquital Otomi have VSO as the basic, pragmatically unmarked word order. Proto-Otomi is also thought to have had VSO order as Verb initial order is the most frequent basic word order in other Oto-Manguean languages. It has been reported that some Otomi dialects are shifting from verb initial to a subject initial basic word order under influence from Spanish.
Lastra (1997:49–69) describes the clause types in Ixtenco Otomi. The four basic clause types are indicative, negative, interrogative and imperative. These four types can either be simple, conjunct or complex (with a subordinate clause). Predicative clauses can be verbal or non-verbal. Non-verbal predicative clauses are usually equational (with the meaning X is Y). In a non-vebal predicative clause the subject precedes the predicate, except in focus constructions where the order is reversed. The negation particle precedes the predicate.
Equational clauses can also be complex:
Clauses with a verb can be intransitive or transitive – in Ixtenco Otomi, if a transitive verb has two arguments represented as free noun phrases, usually the subject precedes the verb and the object follows it.
This order also is the norm in clauses where only one constituent is expressed as a free noun phrase. In Ixtenco Otomi verb final word order is used to express focus on the object, and verb initial word order is used to focus on the predicate.
Subordinate clauses usually begin with one of the subordinators such as khandi 'in order to', habɨ 'where', khati 'even though', mba 'when', ngege 'because'. Frequently the future tense is used in the subordinate clause. Relative clauses are normally unheaded, expressed by simple juxtaposition. Different negation particles are used for the verbs "to have", "to be (in a place)" and for imperative clauses.
Interrogative clauses are usually expressed by intonation, but there is also a question particle ši. Information questions use an interrogative pronoun before the predicate.
There are also considerable lexical differences between the Otomi dialects. Often terms will be shared between the eastern and southwestern dialects, while the northwestern dialects tend toward more innovative forms. The following table is based on data from Lastra (2006: 43–62).
|money||bokhą́||bokhǫ́||domi[cn 11]||mbɛhti||tʔophó||tʔophó[cn 12]|
Like all other languages of the Mesoamerican linguistic area, Otomi has a vigesimal number system. The following numerals are from Classical Otomi as described by Cárceres. The e prefixed to all numerals except one is the plural nominal determiner (the a associated with -nʔda being the singular determiner).
Otomi languages have borrowed words from both Spanish and Nahuatl. The phonological structure of loanwords is assimilated to Otomi phonology. Since Otomi lacks the trill /r/, this sound is normally altered to [l], as in lódá from Spanish ruda 'rue (medicinal herb)', while Spanish /l/ can be borrowed as the tap /ɾ/ as in baromaʃi 'dove' from Spanish 'paloma'. Spanish unvoiced stops /p, t, k/ are usually borrowed as their voiced counterparts as in bádú 'duck' from Spanish pato 'duck'. Loanwords from Spanish with stress on the first syllable are usually borrowed with high tone on all syllables as in: sábáná 'blanket' from Spanish sábana 'bedsheet'. Nahuatl loanwords include ndɛ̌nt͡su 'goat' from Nahuatl teːnt͡soneʔ 'goat' (literally "beard possessor").
Among the Aztecs the Otomi were well-known for their songs, and a specific genre of Nahuatl songs called otoncuicatl "Otomi Song" are believed to be translations or reinterpretations of songs originally composed in Otomi. None of the songs written in Otomi during the colonial period have survived; however, beginning in the early 20th century, anthropologists have collected songs performed by modern Otomi singers. The anthropologists Roberto Weitlaner and Jacques Soustelle collected Otomi songs during the 1930s, and a study of Otomi musical styles was conducted by Vicente T Mendoza. Mendoza found two distinct musical traditions: a religious, and a profane. The religious tradition of songs, with Spanish lyrics, dates to the 16th century, when missionaries such as Pedro de Gante taught Indians how to construct European style instruments to be used for singing religious hymns. The profane tradition, with Otomi lyrics, possibly dates to pre-Columbian times, and consists of lullabies, joking songs, songs of romance or ballads, and songs involving animals. The following example of an Otomi song about the brevity of life was recollected by Ángel María Garibay K. in the mid-twentieth century:[cn 13]