Tlapanec (also called Me'phaa) is a small language family within the Tlapanec-Manguean branch of Oto-Manguean. The family consists of four to eight different languages which are very similar to each other in structural terms. Malinaltepec Tlapanec is spoken by about 35,000 people (INALI census of 2000) in and around the village of Malinaltepec.
Suárez, Jorge A. 1983. La Lengua Tlapaneca de Malinaltepec. México: Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
Malinaltepec Tlapanec has a very complex tonal system, but tone is only treated superficially in the database. The notation is 1 for Low, 2 for Mid, and 3 for High.
Tlapanec verbal inflection is very complex. Here we will only superficially consider three aspects of Tlapanec verbal inflection, namely: inflectional classes by person suffixes, inflectional classes by 2nd person prefix, and tonal classes. For more information, see Suárez (1988).
Intransitive verbs in Tlapanec may take person suffixes to mark the person of subject. For transitive verbs, those which take a human argument as object (marked as "an" in the database), use the same endings to mark the person of the object; those which take an inanimate object (marked as "inan") select the same endings to mark subject. This is illustrated by the following three verbs, which all take the same endings:
|Animacy of object||1SG||2SG||3SG||1PL/2PL||3PL||Suarez's class|
For the intransitive verb ga²-mi²yu:n²³ ‘have cramp’ and the transitive verb grwi³gu:n²³ ‘drop’, the endings are used to index person of subject, but for the transitive verb ndu²u:n³ ‘deceive’, as it has an animate object, the endings are used to index the person of the object. In Suárez's classification, although the three verbs select the same set of endings, they are treated as if they belonged to different inflectional classes, called 1 and 10.
Verbs fall into at least 7 main classes attending to the suffix sets they select. This information is given in the database.
|1 (also 10)||-u:n||-a:n||-a:||-a:n||-i:n|
|2 (also 8)||-u:n||-i:n||-i:||-a:n||-i:n|
|3 (also 9)||-u:n||-i:n||-i:||-a:n||-u:n|
|4 (also 11)||-uʔ||-a:ʔ||-u:||-a:||-u:n|
|12 (very similar to 4 & 11)||-uʔ||-a:ʔ||-a:||-a:||-u:n|
|7 (Invariable, i.e. no endings)||_||_||_||_||_|
Some of the suffixes involve nasal vowels, but at times, this nasal feature is overridden by the nasality inherent in the stem; this is exemplified in Class 4 where the form would not end up having a nasal suffix, but it does if the stem has a nasal component. Sometimes, with a nasal stem, an inherently nasal suffix for the 1st person gets denasalized. This information is given in the database under "nasality effects on the suffix".
Many verbs in Tlapanec receive a prefix indexing an agentive 2nd person. While the default is to find the prefix selected by transitive verbs pointing to the agent (i.e. ergative), it is also found in a handful of intransitive verbs. Except for two cases which are difficult to interpret (i.e. this may reflect a typographical error), the prefix is found on all transitive verbs which have an animate object. As for verbs with an inanimate object, the prefix is found on most of them, but there are many others which do not select the prefix.
The prefix has several allomorphs: ta-, t-, tha-, ra-, and tra-. While phonology of the stem plays a major role in the selection of these allomorphs, it is not at all clear that it accounts for all the instances of their distribution. Therefore, the database provides information as to whether a verb takes the prefix and when it does, which allomorph is selected.
The source data we use gives information about the tonal inflection of about 150 verbs. For the remaining verbs information is not provided.
From the data available in Suárez (1988), intransitive verbs and transitive verbs with an inanimate object fall into at least 18 different tonal classes (which includes a class of invariable verbs) attending to the tone pattern they select for the encoding of the person of the subject. Plural subjects are always treated the same, regardless of person.
The tonal inflection of transitive verbs with an animate or personal object is even more complex because there are tonal changes associated with the type of relation. For example, the form realizing a 1st person singular subject acting on a 2nd person singular object (1sg>2sg) may receive a different tonal melody to the one encoding a 2nd person singular subject acting on a 1st person singular object (2sg>1sg), etc. and the value of the tone is not related in a straightforward way with the type of suffix the verb takes.
Suárez (1988) has information about 24 such verbs, and the verbs display 20 different inflectional classes. It is difficult to know how to interpret this. It seems to us that Suárez selected these verbs, and no others, in a random fashion. He was only guided by their meaning, selecting them as their semantics proved useful in yielding natural scenarios for the elicitation of interpersonal relations, so there is nothing in principle that would indicate they are irregular. To date, we are unfortunately far from reaching a full understanding of the intricacies of Tlapanec tonal inflection.