Archive for the ‘MacZ Vocabulary’ Category


Maybe Some Day

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It seems like every trip to Oaxaca, some particular Zapotec word or phrase stands out and becomes the Official Word of the Trip.  In 2000, it was gwendi ‘a lot’ which can often be shifted to the front of the sentence.  In 2001, it was scanna, akin to rhetorical ‘pues’ and ‘then’, which hangs out at the end of the sentence.  In the winter of 2004-05 (I think), I picked up on eu?, a response my wife suddenly began saying when her name was called, and which I noticed others doing, too.  On that one, I’m not sure if it is a Zapotec or Spanish thing.

This trip there hasn’t been a clear-cut winner, but I have suddenly had several serendipitous encounters with =ttsa’, a clitic adverb meaning ‘sometime’.  For something I am currently working on, I asked one of my sisters-in-law to use the word eguittia ‘will play again’ in a sentence, and she came up with the following:

  • Gwayu’uttsa’laasayà’ eguittiayà’.  

I was momentarily stumped.  Although I didn’t immediately realize it, I knew the verb gwayu’ulaasayà’ ‘I would like’, but  the =ttsa’ in the middle of it was throwing me off.  Then, she explained it to me: it’s ‘sometime’.  The sentence means ‘I would like to play again sometime.’ Ttsa’ is an adverb, and like other adverbs (=ru ‘more/still’, =ní ‘fast’, =gwa ‘also’, etc.) it follows the verb, before the subject pronoun (=yà’ ‘I’ in this case).  And when there is a compound verb, with an incorporated noun like laasa, which is something like ‘heart/self’, the adverb may, and often does, come before it, immediately after the verb root.  Yay!  Problem solved.

And just to prove the point, she turned around and used =ttsa’ a different way in her next sentence:

  • Gwayu’uttsa’laasa’yà’ eyecchayà’ attsa’ tari’á. ‘I would like to return to the US another time.’

Here, =ttsa’ is attached to or fused with a- or attu, which means ‘another’.

Then, just last night, my other sister-in-law, hit me with another instance of =ttsa’ completely out of the blue (she hadn’t been there when we previously discussing it).  I told her xiaba ‘maybe’ in response to something, and she told me that if I wanted to make the possibility seem very remote, I could say xiattsa’ba!  I was ready this time.  That’s =ttsa’ attached to =xia ‘maybe’, itself another adverb, and before =ba, an emphatic element, required for xiaba to stand as an independent word, not attached to the verb.  And the combined xiattsa’ba would be something like ‘maybe sometime’ or perhaps even better in English would ‘maybe some day’, as in Xiattsa’ba iteeliintè’ ttu ttu tiisa’ què’ xtiisa’cayé, ‘Maybe some day I will understand every word of their language.’


Are They Brothers?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

An enlightening conversation showing where Benjamin is in his (re)acquisition of Spanish:

Margarita:  ¿Son hermanos?

Benjamin:  No, because Chucho is a boy and Jaquelina is a girl.

Me:  Are they brother and sister?

Benjamin:  Yes.

Clearly, he understood the Spanish question, but filtered through an English mindset, where hermanos equals brothers but not the brother-sister relationship.

This got me to thinking about the Zapotec sibling terms and how in a way they are closer to the English than the Spanish.  In both English and Zapotec, distinctions are made between brothers, brother and sister, and sisters.  Spanish collapses the first two groups, as shown below:

Zapotec English Spanish
male-male ¿Naacanà bettsi’? Are they brothers? ¿Son hermanos?
male-female ¿Naacanà daana? Are they brother and sister? ¿Son hermanos?
female-female ¿Naacanà yhiila? Are they sisters? ¿Son hermanas?

Zapotec and English keep these three relationships distinct (in certain contexts).  But while English has to rely on the circumlocution brother and sister, Zapotec is more efficient using a single word, daana, to encode the brother-sister relationship.  And because it has that term, it generally keeps the brother-sister relationship distinct.  So a man may talk about ca bettsi’nì ‘his brothers’ and a woman about ca yhiilanì ‘her sisters’, but he talks about ca daananì ‘his sisters’, and she talks about ca daananì ‘her brothers’.


A New Flavor of Bug

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I found out about chapulines, edible grasshoppers, right away when I started my work on Zapotec and probably even ate them first in the US.  (Can’t say I much cared for what I got there–seemed like stale popcorn with legs that had a bad habit of getting caught in your throat.)  Somehow, though, the existence of another edible insect in Oaxaca–chicatanas–had escaped my notice for more than 14 years. Thankfully, this gap in my knowledge has now been remedied.

My sister-in-law brought a bag of 20 or so of them home the other day, still alive.  They are leaf cutter ant queens, which appear in number during the rainy summer to fly off and start a new colony.  Wikipedia describes the process thusly:

Once a year, a colony, consisting of one queen and many thousands of workers, produces reproductive individuals called alates which have a different morphology, including wings for flight. After these individuals leave the nest of the parent colony, mating occurs high in the air with each female mating with between three and eight males (Wirth, et al., 2003). Colonies in close proximity conduct nuptial flights at close to the same time, increasing outbreeding. Males die after the mating flight. The queens then store the sperm acquired from the males in spermathecae, which they will use to found a new colony. Mortality for queens during mating is estimated to be as high as 52% (Wirth, et al., 2003).

After a few days, the ants had died.  My sister-in-law removed the abdomens from the ants, the rest of the ant body apparently having too strong a taste to eat.  (A little unsettling to think what may make the abdomens more palatable in light of the above description.)  Then, she toasted the abdomens and ground up with some chiles to make a salsa.  The ants infused the salsa with their strong, earthy taste (edit 6/22/12: the MacZ word for an earthy taste is idiá’).  Not bad really.  I see there are other ways to eat them–a whole taco full?–I wouldn’t mind trying it.  Might be a bit expensive though.  Someone else said her son collects them and can sell them for a peso each.  That could result in a very expensive taco, though I’m not really sure you would need that many.  It seems a little goes a long way.

Apparently, there’s no word for these things in Macuiltianguis Zapotec; it’s too cold for them there.  I’ll have to check to see what the words might be for them in other, warmer areas.

Now, it leaves me wondering what other edible bugs are out there.  If nothing else, maybe I should give chapulines another try.


B-Ball for Benito

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This weekend and next, there is a basketball tournament going on in honor of Benito Juárez, who was President of Mexico and the country’s version of Abraham Lincoln.  He was a Zapotec, from the Sierra, and the basketball tournament is being held in his hometown of Guelatao [Ellato’].  The tournament concludes next Saturday, the 21st of March, his birthday.  Margarita, Benjamin, and her brother-in-law have gone today to watch the early rounds.


Macuiltianguis in 3-D

Friday, March 13, 2009

While going through my photos of our recent trip to Macuil for Carnaval, I noticed that I had accidentally managed to take two almost identical photos of [I’ya Periicu], a distinctive peak visible from Macuil and bordering the town of Luvina [Debiina].  The two photos are similar enough, yet distinct enough, that they make an excellent stereoscopic pair (click on the thumbnail below for a full size view):

I'ya Periicu San Pablo Macuiltianguis 20090224

If you cross your eyes right, or have your own stereoscopic viewer, the details of I’ya Periicu to the south of Macuil (the peak with the saddle-like shape on top) comes out quite nicely.  Some of the houses of Macuil leading down into Margarita’s barrio are visible on the right of the photo.  And beyond the tree, on the mountain behind I’ya Periicu is the town of Abejones [Eyhu’ni], although I’m not sure you can really make out any details of it in the photos.  Enjoy!


Hey Rocky, Watch me as I…Rocky?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

While I was in the Sierra for Carnaval, I saw something I hadn’t seen before here:  smoked squirrel.  I had had squirrel [beriida’] before when I had visited Macuil on an earlier trip.  No big deal, but I hadn’t thought about it being smoked (I don’t think what I had eaten had been).  But while we were visiting someone during the last trip, I had noticed that along with the regular strips of beef smoking over the hearth, that there was also a whole, small animal hanging over the bar above the fire.  I asked if it was what I thought, and sure enough, they told me it was a squirrel.  Unfortunately, nobody offered me any (I don’t know if it was ready), so I will have to wait to try smoked squirrel some other day.


The Official Drink of Carnaval

Friday, February 20, 2009

By the time we reached Luvina [Debiina’], the party had already started. There was a fenced off area that was set up in front of the agencia [yuulagwi’], and people were already there in costume, dancing:

First Day of Carnaval in Luvina 2009

First Day of Carnaval in Luvina 2009

We watched for a little while, and then we were invited upstairs to visit with some members of the cabildo. We were offered sodas and/or beer while we visited with them. Of course, alcohol is an important part of Carnaval with lots of beer and mezcal consumption, but the traditional drink of Carnaval is tepache [nuppi’] or [nuppi’ yattsi]. It’s an alcoholic drink made from pulque [nuppi’ sittsi], the liquid from the center of the maguey plant [tu’a].

After we had finished our sodas and beer, they brought in some tepache for us. It’s a brownish yellow color (hence the name nuppi’ yattsi, yattsi is the word for yellow), fairly sweet, and stronger than I had thought. It’s offered for free during Carnaval to revelers and spectators alike (and the cabildo assured us they had enough for the 5 days of Carnaval in Luvina). So with that, why not dance a little?