María Elena Villegas Molina, The relative clauses in the otomi – Spanish language of Santiago Mexquititlán, Mexico, INAH (Cinética, 473), 2005.

DA390701This book presents an original research based on the handling and analysis of new data. It brings to the field of contact between languages, focusing on the analysis of essays written in Spanish by high school students, native speakers of the Otomi tongue. These students are part of the “video high school” program, of the community of Santiago Mexquititlán, municipality of Amealco, Queretaro; wrote narratives of their community, completing the data for this analysis. As Maria Elena Villegas said: “the translation of the stories (“La brujería”, “Las campanas” and “El águila”) written in Spanish, shows great information on structural changes between the Spanish speakers of indigenous languages and native Spanish speakers”.

All the above-mentioned stories were examined with special emphasis on the structures of the relative clauses whose morphosyntax (ie, the formation of words and their sequence in the sentence) differ from those of native Spanish handled as majority language.

The interference of Spanish in indigenous languages has been widely reported, especially for its phonological and lexicon characteristics, for example, in the work of Franz Boas1, William Bright2 or E.P. Dossier3; three authors mentioned by Paulette Levy4; the lexicon interference has been frequently related to a descriptive approach, or as the basis for a sociolinguistic or historical analysis.

Interference in the syntactic has received less attention. Levy mentions some important works5 including Jorge A. Suárez6, Lyle Campbell7 and hers, which state: “The problem that arises in Suarez’ thesis is that the use of Spanish grammar (and of subordinating conjunctions) have resulted in a change of syntactic (from parataxis to hypostasis). While Campbell’s article presents a broader range of syntactic changes in Pipil a Yucoazteca language (from Nahuatl) from El Salvador. Five, out of the six types of changes he describes, are a result of the contact with Spanish. He mentions, for example, comparative constructions adopted from Spanish using mas, and que, pero, ni, sin, y, among others. And relative clauses with ke (from que, used in the relative construction in Spanish), in addition to changes of the basic order of words in sentences from VSO to VOS, for the contact with its neighbors in Central America, speakers of Mayan and Xinca (basic order VOS). Levy presents a case of what appears to be a syntactic of Spanish in Totonaco. The hypothesis of her work is that the mark of the object comes from a carbon copy of the Spanish sentences clitic from which they were translated.

Less studied is the variant of Spanish spoken by speakers of indigenous language. In Mexico, where there are over 60 indigenous languages, many speakers have acquired Spanish as a second language. For many young indigenous, mother tongue is now Spanish, with a passive knowledge of the traditional language of their group. Our job as linguists and educators is to find out if there is a variant of spoken and written Spanish within these groups, with specific features, different from the norm and from the Spanish spoken in the countryside.

The study of Maria Elena Villegas sheds light to a field rarely studied: the use of Spanish as a second language for speakers of indigenous languages. Two previous studies on the subject in otopames languages are the thesis of Beatriz Arias Alvarez8, and an article by Yolanda Lastra9. The study by Beatriz Arias10 is based on interference errors: 1. Absence of gender and number 2. Lack of consistency; 3. Omission of Article; 4. Uncertainty in selecting personal pronouns; 5. Confusion in the use of the reflexive pronoun; 6. Periphrasis omissions in the future tense, 7. Use of the co preterit tense instead of present tense verb estar (to be) 8. Preference in the use of indicative tense; 9. Confusion between the verbs ser and estar 10. Unnecessary use of some adverbs (ya) 11. Omission of the conjunctive adverb cuando.

While the two aforementioned studies deal with the spoken language, the investigation of Maria Villegas focuses on the Spanish written by the high-school students, native speakers of Otomi. Her analysis is extremely important for several reasons. It addresses a multitude of relevant topics, the contact between languages, the concept of “interference”, syntax, functional grammar and the notion of “indigenous Spanish”.

Villegas builds up systematically the subject matter of the book in the Introduction, while a theoretical framework is discussed in chapter 2; contact between Spanish and Otomi is represented in Chapter 3, and chapter 4 is dedicated to the structure of the clauses. She then addresses the methodology and techniques applied to conduct the study, the structural analysis, and present her findings in Chapter 6. The appendix contains primary data and information about the students (interviews/consultants) who supported the research with their texts.

Linguists around the world will be very pleased with the discussion and handling of traditional grammar, functional grammar of Dik11,Givon’s12 typological approach, and Hekking’s13 studies. However, I believe that two of Villega’s bigger contributions are in the first place, the recognition of the indigenous Spanish in education (in the design of teaching materials and teaching methods); and the acknowledgment of the diversity and change, consequences of the process of contact between languages in situations of inequality.

Author: Martha Muntzel, Linguistics, INAH.
Translation by Carmen Martí Cotarelo.

  1. Franz Boas, “Spanish Elements in Modern Nahuatl”, in Todd Memorial Volumes, Philological Studies, vol. 1, New York, 1930, 85-89. []
  2. William Bright, “Notes on Hispanisms”, in International Journal of American Linguistics (IJAL), nbr. 45, 1979, 267-271. []
  3. E.P. Dossier, “Two Examples of Linguistic Acculuration. The Yaqui of Sonora and the Tewa of New Mexico”, in Language, nbr. 32, 1956, 146-157. []
  4. Paulette Levy, “El caso de interferencia sintática del español en totonaco”, in Violeta Demonte and Beatriz Garza Cuarón (eds.), Estudios de Lingüística de España y México, México, UNAM/Colmex, 1990, 551-560. []
  5. Idem. []
  6. Jorge A. Suárez, “La influencia del español en la estructura gramatical del náhuatl”, in anuario de letras, México, UNAM, nbr. 15, 1977, 115-164. []
  7. Lyle Campbell, “Syntactic Change in Pipil”, in International Journal of American Linguistics (IJAL), nbr. 53, 1987, 253-280. []
  8. Beatriz Arias Alvarez, “Deformaciones del español en hablantes mazahuas y posibles causas que las originan”, México, degree thesis, FFYL-UNAM, 1985. []
  9. Yolanda Lastra, “Acerca del español de los otomíes de Toluca” in Violeta Demonte and Beatriz Garza Cuarón, op.cit., 561-570. []
  10. Beatriz Arias Álvarez, op.cit., 147. []
  11. Simon C. Dik, The Theory of Functional Grammar, Part I. Structure of the Clause, Berlín, Kees Hengevled, 1997. []
  12. T. Givón, Syntax. A functional Typological Introduction, vol II, Ámsterdam/Filadelfia, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1990. []
  13. Ewald Hekking, El otomí de Santiago Mexquititlán: desplazamiento lingüístico, préstamos y cambios gramaticales, Ámsterdam, University of Amsterdam, 1995. []

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