If you are a beginner, start with this lesson, and keep in mind that I am discussing Early Modern Nahuatl from the Valley of Mexico, other dialects will vary. Subsequent lessons will build upon this lesson.
What is a noun?
A noun is a word that can be the subject of a clause, or the object (indirect or direct) of a verb. In simple terms, it is a person, place, or thing.
In Nahuatl, there is one important way to identify nouns, four absolutive suffixes, which are:
You will be able to locate absolutive suffixes at the end of a noun, such as
Calli – House
Cihuatl – Woman
Michin – Fish
Ichpochtli – Daughter
Though these nouns, and most others, appear to be simple words in their absolutive forms, they are not. In future lessons, we will learn subjective prefixes, but for now, we will see how nouns have the third person built-in by default. If you would like to see a chart of the prefixes, click here.
Nahuatl is a gender-neutral language meaning that words are not ascribed gender, and you do not have to harmonize verbs or other particles to match the noun. Moreover, the third person singular and plural are silent, they are not written, nor spoken. Thus, grammatically the third person is expressed with the marker “(-)”.
Calli, is technically, (-)calli, which means, it/she/he is a house. In this particular case, because you will likely not be calling a person a house, it is safe to use “it.” Thus, (-)calli would be, it is a house.
Cihuatl, would be, (-)cihuatl, meaning, she is a woman. For some nouns, it is impossible to know if it masculine or feminine, however, in the instance of a woman, we can assume feminine pronouns would be used. A bonus example here is the word “coatl” which means serpent, or twin. Thus, it would be (-)coatl, he/she is a twin, or it is a serpent. Since the gender of the coatl is unknown, we would need more context to flesh that out.
Michin, would be, (-)michin. Which translates as, it is a fish. In the English language, we typically refer to an object, and non-human animals, as “it.”
You should always remember that words have the third person built in, and keep that in mind when translating. This will be particularly useful when you begin to translate more complex sentences. Also, look for the absolutive suffix, it will guide you. In future lessons, we will see that the absolutive suffix plays a key role in identifying possessed nouns.
Here are some examples so you can practice, scroll to the bottom to see the answers:
Tletl – Fire
Cihuapilli – girl
Calcatl -inhabitant, resident
Oquichpilli – boy
Oquichtli – a man
Use the word bank to translate the following, also, underline the absolutive suffix:
- tletl – It is a fire
- Oquichpilli – He is a boy
- oquichtli – He is a man
- cihuapilli – She is a girl
- Calcatl – He/She is a resident
Make sure you underline the absolutive stem!