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Grammaticalization of tense/aspect/ mood marking in Yucatec Maya


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Maybe the most pervasive among the changes analyzable as cases of grammaticalization in the languages of the Yucatecan branch of the Mayan stock is the formation of auxiliaries that allow finer tense/aspect/mood distinctions than the status suffixes inherited from Proto-Maya. It has been continually productive since colonial times. While this amounts to a replacement of the status system, it follows strictly language-internal patterns. And while the source constructions form a rather heterogeneous set, they converge onto a common TAM auxiliary pattern in Modern Yucatecan.
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Grammaticalization of tense/aspect/mood marking in
Yucatec Maya
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Symposium on Grammaticalization, Universität Mainz, 12 – 15
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Grammaticalization of tense/aspect/mood marking
in Yucatec Maya
Christian Lehmann
Maybe the most pervasive among the changes analyzable as cases of grammaticalization in the
languages of the Yucatecan branch of the Mayan stock is the formation of auxiliaries that allow
finer tense/aspect/mood distinctions than the status suffixes inherited from Proto-Maya. It has
been continually productive since colonial times. While this amounts to a replacement of the
status system, it follows strictly language-internal patterns. And while the source constructions
form a rather heterogeneous set, they converge onto a common TAM auxiliary pattern in Mod-
ern Yucatecan.
grammaticalization, periphrastic aspect, auxiliary, motion-cum-pur-
pose construction, focused progressive
1 Introduction
This study is devoted to the grammaticalization of auxiliaries in Yucatec Maya, whose functional
side is the formation of a complex tense/aspect/mood (TAM) system. In this, it aims at fulfilling
several purposes at once. It is, in the first place, a contribution to a historical grammar of Yucatec
Maya. To this end, it brings together a large set of data, contextualized in their historical situation. A
side effect of this enterprise is a diachronic perspective on the system of present-day Yucatec Maya,
which may, as usual, open an additional, viz. dynamic, dimension of understanding it. On the other
hand, the analysis tries to systematize the facts in terms of a theory of grammaticalization so that
they may become comparable with relevant facts of other languages. To secure understanding for
the non-specialist, some elements of Mayan grammar will be explained in §3.
Some of the data used are actually in a diachronic relationship, viz. data from the history of
Yucatec Maya. Most of the data of other Mayan languages belong to recent stages of their evolu-
tion. Following established methodology, they will be projected onto the diachronic axis and be
taken to represent stages of a development.
A word is necessary on the orthography. Yucatec Maya has had distinctive vowel length and
tone at least for the period of its documented history, although it does not share tone with any of its
sisters. Moreover, the glottal stop and /h/ are phonemes, and both can form a syllable coda. Since all
of this is alien to Spanish, the orthography of the Colonial Yucatec Mayan (CYM) sources hides
important phonological information. These phonological properties have been marked consistently
in the orthography only from the second half of the twentieth century on. For this reason and in
order to facilitate diachronic comparison to the non-specialist, examples from Colonial Yucatec
Maya are first quoted literally from the sources and then coupled with a representation in contempo-
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 2
rary scientific orthography (which is, alas, not the one adopted currently by Mexican authori-
ties; s. Lehmann 2015).
2 Prehistory and history of Yucatec Maya
The Mayan languages of today are spoken in a culture area called Meso-America. Some of
the Mayan languages are so dissimilar that they may have branched off from the common
stock as early as 2000 BC. The Yucatecan branch was the second to separate from the rest of
the Mayan family. This took place during preclassical times in terms of Mayan history, at the
latest about 1000 BC. Both genetically and geographically, the closest neighbor is the branch
of the Ch'olan languages, which are clearly mutually unintelligible with the Yucatecan lan-
guages. The Yucatecan languages are spoken on the peninsula of Yucatan and in more
southern regions of the lowland in Belize, the Petén region of Guatemala and the Mexican
state of Chiapas. The internal subdivision of this branch is relatively recent. It has the form
shown in Diagram 1.
Diagram 1 The Yucatecan branch of the Mayan languages
Mopán on the one hand and the other Yucatecan varieties are hardly mutually intelligible and
are commonly regarded as different languages. The latter three varieties do not differ more
from each other than British and American English. The period of their separation does not
exceed a few hundred years and is, thus, far shorter than the period of separation of the
dialects of German, British English or Italian. They are mutually intelligible and should be
regarded as dialects of one language rather than as distinct languages.
Mopán split off at the end of the first millennium AD. The Itzá people apparently emi-
grated from the peninsula to the Petén in the fourteenth century, although keeping contact
with Yucatec Mayas. The Lacandón people, too, are Mayas of Yucatán who retreated from the
peninsula into the woods of Chiapas in order to avoid contact with the Mexican civilization.
The closest relative of Yucatec is (Southern) Lacandón. It is a dialect that split off the main
variety in the 18th cent. and preserves some archaic traits. The periods of the history of
Yucatec Maya itself may be depicted as in Diagram 2.
Diagram 2 Periods of Yucatec language history
Maya Proto-Yucatecan Pre-Columbian Yucatec Colonial
-1500 -1000 -500 0 500 1000 1500 2000
The inscriptions and codices of the Pre-Columbian Mayan culture span a period from roughly
250 to 1500 AD. They represent some Ch'olan language and are therefore relatively close to
Pre-Columbian Yucatec. However, the glyphic writing as it has been deciphered up to now
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 3
does not represent the morphology of the language very well, so that for our purposes, written
documentation of the language starts with the Spanish conquest.
Yucatec Maya has been historically well attested since the early times of Spanish colo-
nization.1 This period of the language history is called Colonial Yucatec Maya, often also
Classical Yucatec Maya. Apart from having a longer documented history than most
Amerindian languages, Yucatec Maya also boasts a set of early grammars and dictionaries as
shown in Diagram 3.
Diagram 3 Colonial grammars and dictionaries of Yucatec Maya
Spanish conquest of
Diccionario de
San Buenaventura
Beltrán de Santa
1500 1550 1600 1650 1700 1750 1800
The earliest source is the Diccionario de Motul2, which some assume to be compiled around
1577.3 The earliest grammarsand still among the earliest sources of data for Yucatec Maya
are Coronel 16204 and San Buenaventura 1684. In the course of the eighteenth century,
Colonial Yucatec Maya passed into Modern Yucatec Maya (MYM). Beltrán 1746 is assumed
to mark the transition between the two stages (Smailus 1989:4).
Thus, the documented history of Yucatec Maya begins with colonial documents of the 16th
century. Its prehistory is indirectly represented in Mayan hieroglyphic writing and may be
accessed by internal reconstruction and historical comparison with cognate languages. Data
from the other Yucatecan languages are from the second half of the 20th century. Lacandón
preserves some archaic traits, lending thus additional support to reconstructions.
Given all this, reconstruction of Proto-Yucatecan is in a comparatively favorable method-
ological situation. Not only can we reconstruct the diachrony by comparing four languages
1 While most of the hieroglyphic texts appear to represent the Ch'olan branch, one or another of the
surviving codices, which probably stem from the fifteenth century AD, may be in Yucatec.
2 The Diccionario or Calepino de Motul was first published in Martínez Hernández 1929. In the
examples, it is referred to as Motul.
3 Since its first published edition, the manuscript of the Diccionario de Motul has been attributed to
Fray Antonio de Ciudad Real (1551-1617) and been dated to 1577. Now he may well be the author, the
more so as he is known to have worked on Mayan language and culture until his death. However, he
started living in Mérida only in 1573; and in 1577 he was 26 years old. Consequently, he either is not
the author (but only a compiler of material gathered by others), or the year of completion must be
much later. Hanks (2010:164-168) discusses the problem extensively and essentially pleads agnostic.
4 In quotations, I use Martínez Hernández 1929 for the page numbering, as it reproduces the pagina-
tion of the original edition; but I quote the text from the (more reliable, but unpaginated) online edition
of (The critical edition of Coronel 1998 was not
available to me.)
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 4
which are related closely enough to elucidate each other but different enough to provide varia-
tion which may be projected onto the diachronic axis. We also have 450 years of documented
history in the case of Yucatec, which can substantiate or falsify our diachronic hypotheses to
some extent. Thirdly, grammarians have described different stages of the history for the same
period, sometimes even noting explicitly grammaticalization phenomena observable at their
time. Under such circumstances, responsible diachronic analysis may reach back approx.
1,000 years, which is about the point where Proto-Yucatecan began to split up.
3 Typological sketch of Yucatecan languages5
All Mayan languages are very much alike in their morphological and syntactic structure, with
some of the more principled differences being taken up below. The lexemes and the grammat-
ical morphemes filling the structural slots are generally cognate within each of the
subfamilies, while there are great differences among the subfamilies in this respect. Con-
sequently, while the Yucatecan languages form a homogeneous group, this subgroup differs
from other subgroups of the Mayan family chiefly in the individual lexical and grammatical
morphemes and, to a lesser extent, in grammatical structure. We will here focus on the gram-
matical structure of the Yucatecan subfamily and mention deviations from Proto-Mayan suo
Apart from numeral classifiers, the typologically notable features of the word-class sys-
tem are limited to the subclassification of the major classes. Both nouns and verbs are
subclassified according to relationality: absolute and relational nouns differ in morphology
and syntax similarly as do intransitive and transitive verbs. If the valency of a stem includes a
place for such an additional actant, then there is a pronominal index for it. If a clause lacks
such an actant (no matter whether represented by an NP), the base must be derelationalized.
And vice versa for an absolute or monovalent base. Moreover, besides pure verbs, there is a
closed class of verboids which share all morphological and syntactic properties with verbs
except that they do not inflect for status (§4.4) and therefore do not combine with an auxiliary
Mayan languages lack the category of case throughout. They do have a productive cate-
gory of prepositions – most of them denominal in origin – but very few primary prepositions;
and the Yucatecan languages have only one fully grammaticalized preposition, ti’ LOC, which
marks the indirect object (as in E41, E42b and E53 below), local and other concrete relations.6
Under these conditions, structural relations of modification are underdeveloped; the syntax is
characterized by government. All dependency constructions are head-marking: indices cross-
reference the subject and direct object of a verb, the possessor in a nominal construction and
the complement of a preposition. The index is obligatory, the nominal dependent is optional.
The verb with its cross-reference indices, possibly preceded by an auxiliary (s. §4.2), consti-
tutes a full clause. No nominal or pronominal constituents are necessary.
Alignment of fundamental syntactic relations was ergative in Proto-Mayan. Some Mayan
subfamilies have preserved this alignment to a large extent. The Yucatecan languages show
traces of syntactic ergativity in focus constructions (Bricker 1981); but otherwise ergativity is
restricted to a split in the index paradigm of the intransitive predicate conditioned by status, to
which we return in § 4.1.
5 A recent typological overview of the Mayan family is in Grinevald & Peake 2012.
6 corresponding both etymologically and functionally to Ch'olan tyi
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 5
The morphology is characterized by a medium degree of synthesis. Most affixes are suf-
fixes. Most of the morphology is agglutinative; still, there are, especially in Yucatec Maya,
several internal modifications. While declension is comparatively simple, verbs inflect for
many conjugation categories. One of these must be singled out from start as it plays an impor-
tant role in subsequent sections: The first morpheme after the (simple or derived) verb stem is
a so-called status suffix, which comprises the subcategories of dependent status proper, aspect
and mood. It is illustrated by the dependent incompletive suffix in E3 below. Word formation
includes compounding and derivation, both in the nominal and in the verbal sphere. The entire
verb derivation is based on transitivity: every stem is either transitive or intransitive; and this
determines the allomorphy of conjugation categories, esp. of the status morphemes.
Mayan languages lack a copula.7 The word order must have been left-branching in some
remote pre-historic epoch. This is the environment in which the morphological categories
marked by verb suffixes (s. §4.4), and possibly the phrase-initial nominal determiners and
modifiers, too, originated. The proto-language then switched to right-branching syntax; proto-
Maya was right-branching. To this day, Mayan languages are left-branching or juxtapositive
only in the nominal syntax, as shown in Table 2; the rest of the syntax is right-branching, as
detailed in Table 1.
Table 1 Right-branching constructions
predicate subject
verb actant
verbal complex adjunct
auxiliary clause core
nominal group relative clause
nominal group nominal possessor
preposition complement NP
conjunction clause
Table 2 Non-right-branching constructions
short adverb verb
adjective attribute noun
numeral numeral classifier
numeral complex nominal group
determiner nominal group
(The vague wording of the Table 2 heading reflects the fact that some dependency relations
inside the NP (or DP) are less than clear.) One might add to Table 2 the clitic pronominal
index preceding a verb or a possessed nominal and cross-referencing the subject or the pos-
sessor, resp. (i.e. the “Set A” index of §4.1).
Marked information structure provides for two sentence-initial positions to be occupied
by main constituents, viz. the position of left-dislocated topical constituents and the focus
position. The maximum configuration was dubbed LIPOC (language-independent preferred
order of constituents) in Dik 1981:189ff and may be represented by Diagram 4. E1 is an
Diagram 4 Extended sentence structure
[ left-dislocated topic [ focus extrafocal clause ] ]
7 CYM features a suffix -h COP, exemplified in E22, which verbalizes nominal predicates.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 6
E1 le chaan lak he'l=a'
MYM DEM little bowl PRSV=R1
in kiik síih-mah-il ten
A.1.SGelder.sister me
‘this little clay bowl, my elder sister gave it to me’ (ACC_0039)
The left-dislocated constituent is marked by a referential enclitic, R1 in E1. The paradigm
contains an element (R3) which functions as a topicalizer if the deixis is neutral.8 The focus
itself (in kiik in E1) is not marked, but the extrafocal clause is marked by a dependent status
suffix, -il in E1 (s. § 4.4).
4 Verbal categories
In this section, we will pursue the fate of some categories in the functional domain of
tense/aspect/mood in the Yucatecan languages. The starting point will be Colonial Yucatec
Maya as documented in the sources enumerated in §2.
4.1 Pronominal indices
All Mayan languages have at least three sets of personal pronominal formatives. All but one
of these paradigms are clitic or bound and function as cross-reference indices; the last is a set
of independent personal pronouns. The main paradigms of bound indices are called Set A and
Set B in Mayan linguistics. The functions of the pronominal sets are as follows:
Indices of Set A cross-reference the possessor of a nominal group and the actor of the
transitive verb. Moreover, in the split-subject marking languages including those of the
Yucatecan branch, they cross-reference the subject of an intransitive verb in some verbal
statuses (§4.4). Thus, the syntactic function alignment based on the distribution of set A
is accusative.
Indices of Set B cross-reference the subject of a non-verbal clause and the undergoer of
the transitive verb. In the split-subject marking languages, Set B also cross-references the
intransitive subject in the complementary subset of statuses. Thus, the syntactic function
alignment based on the distribution of Set B is ergative.
The free pronouns are reinforced forms of Set B forms. They appear as the complement of
a preposition, as left-dislocated topic and in focus position. Some languages including
Yucatec Maya have enclitic variants which function as indirect object, as does ten in E1.
The labels ‘Set A and ‘Set B’ originate in the times of American structuralism. They are
deliberately obscure and mnemonically unhelpful. We will nevertheless have to use them
because the functions which might provide more practical labels are heterogeneous. At any
rate, it may be helpful to bear in mind the following equivalences with more familiar labels of
interlinear glossing:
•B = ABS.
8 The Yucatecan languages differ in the details. Itzá continues Pre-Columbian grammar in allowing
the topicalizer -e'/-eh to follow directly or at a distance the deictic clitics (Hofling 1991:14f).
Lacandón lacks the entire paradigm of referential clitics, including the topicalizer.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 7
Table 3 shows the Modern Yucatec forms of sets A and B. For 1st ps. pl., the exclusive
form is given. All of these pronominal elements are free forms at the stage of Proto-Maya.
The parenthesized glides are conditioned by a vowel-initial host of the pronominal index.
Table 3 Pronominal paradigms in MYM
sg. 1 in (w-) -en
2 a (w-) -ech
3 u (y-)
pl. 1 k(a) -o’n
2 a (w-)… -e’x -e’x
3 u (y-)…-o’b -o’b
In all Mayan languages, the Set A index precedes the possessed nominal, cross-referencing the
possessor. E2 provides representative examples of the indices with verbs:
E2 a. h bin-ech
‘you went’
b. t=u t'an-ech
PFV=A.3 call(CMPL)-B.2.SG
‘he called you’
The examples are in the completive status, which triggers ergative marking in all Mayan lan-
guages. The Set A index immediately precedes the transitive verb. The Set B index is a suffix
to the verb.
In the Yucatecan languages, Set A forms belong to a species of enclitics which are not
banned from initial position. If they follow a word in the same phrase, they form a phonologi -
cal unit with it. Since they syntactically depend on what they precede, they cliticize to what is,
in grammatical terms, the wrong side. In the examples, clisis of Set A forms is marked by an
equal sign (although some of the sources mistakenly write them as prefixes).
4.2 Verbal clause structure
Tense, aspect and mood are verbal categories and therefore possible only in verbal clauses.
Other kinds of predicates have to be verbalized if these categories are to be specified. There-
fore, we can narrow down the analysis to the verbal clause. With some simplification, the
verbal complex has the structure shown in Diagram 5. E3 is a transitive finite verbal complex.
Diagram 5 Transitive verbal complex
verbal complex
finite verb
index A verb stem -status -index B
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 8
E3 u ppaticech
CYM u p’at-ik-ech
A.3 leave-DEP.INCMPL-B.2.SG
‘(that) he leaves you’ (Motul s.v. Hun chilbac)
The basic clause structure is ‘predicate subject’. If it is a verbal predicate, the verbal com-
plex of Diagram 5 comes first, then follow the free complements and adjuncts. The most
elementary independent verbal clause at the stage of Colonial Yucatec consists of a verbal
complex in completive status and its dependents, as in E4.
E4 u kamah nicte in mehen
CYM u k'am-ah-nikte' in mehen
A.3 get-CMPL-B.3.SG flower A.1.SGson
‘my son got the flower (i.e. got married)’ (Motul s.v. kamnicte)
Already in Colonial Yucatec, many verbal clauses are introduced by a formative which codes
tense, aspect or mood and which we will call an auxiliary (s. §4.5 for discussion of the appro-
priateness of this term). In Modern Yucatec, this is the default for independent verbal clauses.
At this stage, the verbal complex with its dependents as illustrated by E4 only forms a clause
core, while an independent declarative verbal clause generally (except in perfect status)
requires an auxiliary in front of it. Diagram 6 formalizes this construction. The second clause
of E5 illustrates it with the recent past auxiliary.
Diagram 6 Verbal clause
verbal clause
verbal clause core
verbal complex
finite verb
auxiliary index A verb stem -status -index B dependents referential clitic
E5 In watan=e' mina'n way=e';
MYM A.1.SG wife=TOP NEG.EXIST(B.3.SG) here=R3
táant =u bin=e'.
‘My wife isn't here; she just left.’ (BVS_05-01-36.2)
The last element in Diagram 6 is the referential clitic conditioned by some of the auxiliaries,
the recent past auxiliary being one of these.
4.3 Nominalization
Mayan languages generally lack an infinitive. The verb has a set of non-finite forms, some
with nominal (including adjectival), some with adverbial function. Here we are concerned
only with bare deverbal nouns, so-called action nouns, and with the processes which do no
more than convert a verbal into a nominal constituent.
From intransitive verb bases, action nouns are formed by two such processes. For agen-
tive intransitive verbs, the verb stem also serves as an action noun stem, as in óok’ot ‘dance’
and meyah ‘work’. For inactive intransitive verbs, an action noun, or rather a process noun, is
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 9
formed by suffixing a morpheme -Vl to the verb root, where V is a copy of the root vowel, as
in wen-el ‘sleep (n.)’ and kóoh-ol ‘arrival’. Action nouns of intransitive bases are optionally
possessed by their underlying subject, as in in meyah ‘my work’ and u wenel ‘his sleep’. E6
provides examples of intransitive action nouns. E6a, with an agentive stem, lacks an index,
while #b and #c show a Set A index in genitivus subjectivus function.
E6 a. ti canan
CYM ti’ kanáan
‘for watching’ (San Buenaventura 1684:14v)
b. et hazac ech ti in hanal
ethas-ak-ech ti’ =in han-al LOC=A.1.SG eat-DEP
‘you arrived just in time (to meet me) at having my meal’ (Beltrán 1746, §299, p.
c. in káti a benel
in k’áat-ih a ben-el
A.1.SGwant-CFP A.2 go-DEP
‘I want you to go’ (Coronel 1620:51)
E7 a. v kin ocçah
CYM u k’iin ook-s-ah
A.3 day enter-CAUS-INTROV
‘(it is) the sowing season’ (Coronel 1620:56)
b. in káti a cámbeçic in mehén
in k’áat-ih a kanbes-ik-in mehen
A.1.SGwant-CFP A.2 teach-DEP-B.3.SG A.1.SGson
‘I want you to teach my son’ (Coronel 1620:50)
If the verbal base is transitive, there are two possibilities. The first consists in introverting the
base, i.e. detransitivizing it by suppressing the direct object position. Once this is done, the
stem is nominalized like an agentive intransitive verb stem, which means that the introversive
stem also serves as an action noun. Examples based on transitive roots are xok ‘read’ – xook
(read\INTROV) ‘reading, study’ and k’ay ‘sing’ – k’aay ‘singing, song’. For derived transitive
stems, introversion is marked by the suffix -ah: kambes ‘teach’ – kambes-ah (teach-INTROV)
‘teaching’ (as in E74 below), hets’kun ‘settle’ – hets’kunah ‘settlement’. Such a form also
appears in E7a. The other possibility of nominalizing a transitive base consists in providing it
with the dependent status suffix -ik and accompanying it by the Set A and Set B indices for
subject and object. This is shown in E7b.
The two nominalizing suffixes -Vl and -ik are glossed as dependent status in E6f. They
will become incompletive suffixes on their way to Modern Yucatec. The appearance of the Set
A index in front of the nominalized verb is conditioned by rules of syntax which will not be
detailed here. It suffices to note the following: In MYM, this element is missing (under coref-
erence) from the purpose part of the motion-cum-purpose construction if its verb is
intransitive, and occasionally also if it is transitive. This will be taken up in §4.8. In Lacan-
dón, incompletive verbal complexes without a Set A index are widely used in nominalizations,
as in E8.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 10
E8 Ten ti’ met-ik baalche’, Yum-eh.
‘I am for making honey beer, my lord.’ (Bruce S. 1974:28)
The subordination of the nominalized verbal construction by the all-purpose preposition ti’
illustrated by E6 and E8 deserves special attention. If the clause thus subordinated follows the
main clause, it may be a purpose clause. This is still so in Modern Yucatec and Lacandón, wit-
ness E9f.
E9 Meet hum-p'éel léech ti' =k léech-t-ik le haaleh=a'!
MYM make(IMP) one-CL.INAN trap LOC=A.1.PL trap-TRR-INCMPL DEM paca=R1
‘Make a trap for us to trap this paca!’ (RMC_1993)
E10 ts'a' ten t=in wil-ik
'give it to me for me to see' (Bruce S. 1968:63)
If, however, the subordinate clause precedes the main clause, the same preposition instead
conveys simultaneity of the situation of the main clause with the background situation of the
subordinate clause. This is illustrated by E11 with an intransitive nominalized verb. E12, with
a transitive one, shows that this reading also occurs if the nominalized clause is postposed.
E11 hach bin t=u t'úub-ul k'iin=e'
MYM really QUOT LOC=A.3submerge\DEAG-INCMPL sun/day=TOP
táan y-isíins-a'l =u yatan yuum ahaw
PROG A.3-bathe-INCMPL.PASS =A.3 wife master/father chief
‘Exactly at sunset, the chief's wife was washed’ (hk'an_502)
E12 Ki'mak wáah bin y-óol yuum ahaw t=u yil-ik!
MYM happy INT QUOT A.3-mind master/father chief LOC=A.3see-INCMPL(B.3.SG)
‘How happy was the king to see him!’ (hk'an_527)
We will meet this construction again at the genesis of the progressive aspect (§4.7.3).
4.4 Status
In all Mayan languages, the verb has a suffixal slot for a category called status, which com-
prises the subcategories of dependent status proper, aspect and mood. These suffixes belong to
the earliest layer of the diachrony (they must antedate the introduction of right-branching
word order in Proto-Mayan) and are completely grammaticalized. This implies that they
mostly lack a clear semantic function and are instead conditioned by the construction. While
the category of status itself and most of its subcategories are shared among Mayan languages,
there is a great deal of heteromorphy among them, just as most statuses display a complicated
allomorphy within each language.
All of verbal morphology and syntax depends on transitivity. Every verb stem is either
transitive or intransitive, and this can only be changed by derivational means.9 Transitivity is
the major factor in conditioning allomorphy in status morphemes. The core of the paradigm of
status morphemes for finite forms is shown in Table 4, which presents the forms in colonial
orthography. For lack of relevance to our discussion, Table 4 omits the imperative, the perfect
9 Already Beltrán (1746, §§107 and 150-158) is quite explicit about this (cf. E42 below), although his
orthography represents neither tone nor the glottal stop, both of which play an important role in the
morphological processes manipulating transitivity distinctions.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 11
(only available for transitive verbs, anyway) and some intransitive conjugation classes. ‘V’
represents a copy of the root vowel; ‘/’ and parentheses indicate allomorphy.
Table 4 Status conjugation of Colonial Yucatec Maya
stem class intransitive transitive
status aspect/mood basic derived basic derived
plain subjunctive -Vc -n-ac -Vb (-e)
completive (-i) -n(-ah)(-i) -ah
dependent subjunctive -ebal -ic
completive -ci -n-ici -(i)ci / -i10
incompletive -Vl -ic
Transitive finite forms are preceded by Set A clitics and followed by Set B suffixes as shown
in Diagram 5. Intransitive verbs, instead, take Set B suffixes in the plain forms, but Set A cli-
tics in dependent forms. The finite verb forms in Table 5 illustrate the status conjugation of
Table 4 for an intransitive and a transitive example verb.11
Table 5 Examples of finite verb complexes in Colonial Yucatec Maya
stem class intransitive
(derived)status aspect/mood
plain subjunctive cim-ic-en
‘(that) I die’
in cambes-ech
‘(that) I teach you’
completive cim(-i)-en
‘I died’
in cambes-ah-ech
‘I taught you’
dependent subjunctive in cim-ebal
‘(that) I may die’
in cambes-ic-ech
‘(that) I may teach you’
completive in cim-ci
‘(that) I died’
in cambes-ic-i-ech
‘(that) I taught you’
incompletive in cim-il
‘(that) I die’
in cambes-ic-ech
‘(that) I teach you’
In the Yucatecan languages, aspect plays a more important role than tense. In Colonial
Yucatec, there is one grammaticalized tense, the suffixal perfect (illustrated by E1 above).
Past time is optionally marked by the adverb cuchi (i.e. kuchih) ‘formerly’ (MYM ka’ch-il),
but is otherwise implied by most occurrences of the completive aspect (as in E4), which is
essentially perfective.12 Future is one of the senses of subjunctive status and optionally coded
by auxiliaries which we will come to in subsequent subsections.
Dependent status is used in the extrafocal clause of a cleft-sentence (as in E18 below) and
in certain complement clauses, examples of which may be seen in E47f.b. Dependent status
is, in fact, more frequent in the texts than plain status, especially in the incompletive. It
appears every time that the full verb is preceded by another main constituent or by an auxil-
10 The allomorph -i appears if the subject is the focus constituent of a cleft-construction.
11 The sources do not provide examples for all persons, so that some of the forms entered in Table 5
are constructed by the grammarians’ rules rather than primary data.
12 Traditional terminology in Mayan linguistics designates as completive vs. incompletive what could
also be called perfective vs. imperfective, were it not for the auxiliaries to be mentioned below, which
go under the latter terms. S. Vinogradov 2016 for an attempt at semantically characterizing these two
values of the status category.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 12
iary. Among the dependent statuses, the default is the incompletive. As a matter of fact, the
incompletive dependent morphemes are nothing else than the nominalizers for intransitive and
transitive verbs already reviewed in §4.3. These are the forms that we will meet most fre-
quently in the periphrastic constructions to be analyzed below. The completive and
subjunctive dependent forms involve a high degree of syncretism, hardly occur in the texts,
and even the colonial grammarians are not sure about their form and function. Some of the
forms fossilize, but the two subcategories themselves disappear as the status category reaches
the stage of the modern Yucatecan languages. In other words, (apart from the perfect) the val-
ues of the status category in Modern Yucatec are ‘subjunctive’ and ‘completive’ (erstwhile:
plain) and ‘incompletive’ (erstwhile: dependent).
There are more respects in which the paradigm of Table 4 is unstable. Its basic form, and
the only form that a simple declarative sentence can be based on, is the plain completive.13 All
the other status forms occur in extended or complex or non-declarative sentences. The plain
status obviously lacks the incompletive subcategory. This means that any kind of imperfective
aspect – and as we shall see, much semantic differentiation is possible here requires mark-
ing beyond the paradigm of Table 4, which entails complex constructions involving dependent
statuses. The situation is similar in the other Mayan languages. All of them have an incomple-
tive or imperfective aspect. There is, however, great heteromorphy; and mostly the syntactic
conditions are as in the Yucatecan branch, viz. an auxiliary is needed in addition to the status
morpheme (Vinogradov 2014).
Colonial grammars start the description of verbal morphology with a category called
present which involves incompletive status. It will be analyzed extensively in §4.9. It is a
rather complex periphrastic construction which is not at all basic to the system. It figures so
prominently in the grammars essentially on account of a methodological mistake on the part
of the grammarians (s. p. 34). The first to recognize this is Beltrán (1746, §§60, 172). He ten-
tatively adduces as present a cleft-construction again containing the incompletive dependent
status, which we must forego here.
The status paradigm is alive to this day, but given its high degree of grammaticalization, it
is fragile. Several endings appear only in pausa and are syncopated otherwise (Beltrán 1746,
§§135-147). Some of the allomorphy is utterly complicated, syncretistic and constantly
exposed to variation. For instance, while the subjunctive of root transitives ends in -Vb for
San Buenaventura 1684, Beltran 1746, §112 says that this is now out of use, and the ending is
-e (as it used to be for derived transitives).
4.5 Periphrastic aspects
There is a small set of syntagmatic positions at the left clause boundary, i.e. following any
left-dislocated topic as shown in Diagram 4 and immediately preceding the clause core. These
positions may be plotted as in Diagram 7:14
13 It seems that Mayan languages are among those in which perfective aspect is the default aspect for
verbal clauses. Coon (2010[C], ch.
14 The left-dislocated topic of Diagram 4 precedes (all the positions shown in) Diagram 7. The rest of
Diagram 4 is a cleft-construction. However, a focused constituent may also precede a full clause, as
shown in Diagram 7.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 13
Diagram 7 Clause-initial syntagmatic positions
a b c
Conjunction Focus Auxiliary Verbal Clause Core
Superordinate Predicate
a) The Conjunction slot may be occupied by conjunctions and other sentence-initial parti-
cles, as the conjunction in E16b and the negator of E20b and E41.
b) The Focus slot may be occupied by focused constituents, as in E18.
c) The Auxiliary slot may be occupied by grammaticalized auxiliaries, such as E28.
d) Instead of all of this, a verbal clause core may be preceded by a superordinate predicate
like the phase verb in E47, the modal verboid in E23 and one of the non-grammaticalized
auxiliaries to be analyzed in §4.7. While the positional relation between any of the ele-
ments of #a #c and the verbal clause core appears to be the same as the positional
relation between such a superordinate predicate and the verbal clause core, the syntactic
relation is different, since the superordinate predicate is not, of course, a constituent of the
clause in question, but rather takes the clause core as a dependent, as shown in Diagram 9
Distributional relations between elements of the three classes shown in Diagram 7 are
complex, involving several conditions of mutual exclusion. In any case, none of the three slots
is occupied obligatorily, and most frequently only one of them is occupied. As a consequence,
any of the four kinds of elements mentioned in #a – #d may form a binary construction with
an ensuing clause core. This is a structural pattern apparently inherited from Proto-Maya. It is
an important presupposition for a reanalysis by which any such element may be reinterpreted
as an auxiliary. As we will see, elements occupying slots #b #d are, in fact, frequently so
Since the material ending up in the Auxiliary position of Diagram 7 is so heterogeneous,
its relation to the rest of the clause differs accordingly, and consequently the constructions
with slot fillers of the four above kinds are syntactically different. The differences are
reflected morphologically on the full verb, which depending on the construction is in the
dependent incompletive, the completive or the subjunctive status. As we will be concentrating
on such constructions in which the element in question gets grammaticalized to an auxiliary,
the result is that the auxiliary conditions the status. Diagram 8 takes up Diagram 6 and in
addition visualizes this dependency.
15 In terms of Bisang 1991, esp. 511-513 and 535f, the auxiliary position of Diagram 7 is an “attractor
position”, that is, a position which acts as a melting-pot for material recruited from different sources
and grammaticalized in this position.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 14
Diagram 8 Syntagmatic relation between auxiliary and status
verbal clause
verbal clause core
verbal complex
finite verb
auxiliary index A verb stem -status -index B dependents referential clitic
└─── conditions ──────┴──────── ────────────┘
The first thing to be noted about Diagram 8 is that the full verb is finite. This is a peculiarity
of Yucatecan periphrastic constructions whose diachronic explanation will become clear in the
following sections. As already shown in Diagram 6, in the Yucatecan languages, the pronomi-
nal indices do not combine with the auxiliary, but with the full verb. Thus, the auxiliary
deserves its name only insofar as it carries tense/aspect/mood information. Person and num-
ber, however, are marked on the full verb, and consequently it is indeed finite. The discussion
of the applicability of the auxiliary concept to this class of formatives will be taken up in
There is in Yucatec a large variety of tenses, aspects and moods that are coded in the ini-
tial position of Diagram 8.16 None of the colonial grammars provides a systematic account of
them. There are at least two reasons for this. Firstly, these grammars depend on the model of
Latin grammar, which almost totally lacks auxiliaries, conjugation being essentially synthetic.
Secondly, virtually none of the auxiliaries of CYM is inherited and, thus, firmly entrenched in
the system. While the clause-initial auxiliary is a Pan-Mayan category, practically all of the
extant formatives of this category emerge at the time of the first colonial grammarians. With
the exception of the auxiliary described in §4.9, none of the incipient auxiliaries made its way
into their conjugation paradigms; instead, they throw those that they are aware of into the bas-
ket of particles. They do, however, use them in their examples.
The following subsections will pursue the grammaticalization of the subset of the
tense/aspect/mood auxiliaries of Yucatec Maya shown in Table 6.
Table 6 Some Yucatec tense/aspect/mood auxiliaries
form function status conditioned
t-/h- perfective completive
k- imperfective
táan progressive
ts'o'k terminative
yan debitive/future
bíin predictive future subjunctive
bin … ka'h immediate future incompletive/subjunctive
This is less than half of the auxiliaries actually in use. Among the ones missing from Table 6
are three past time auxiliaries (recent [illustrated by E5], relative and remote past), the obliga-
16 An extensive list of relevant markers appears in Briceño Chel 2006, ch. 1.2f.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 15
tive, potential and volitive moods illustrated below in E23 and a commissive or assurative
future. For a subset of these, the origin is unknown. None of the auxiliaries to be discussed
here triggers the final referential clitic mentioned in §4.2, so it will be left out of considera-
tion. The last column of Table 6 indicates the status that the auxiliaries trigger on the full verb.
By this criterion, there are four structural subclasses of auxiliaries and four different auxiliary
constructions, each illustrated by one example in E13.
E13 a. h lúub-en
‘I fell’
b. k=in lúub-ul
‘I fall’
c. bíin lúub-uk-en
FUT fall-SUBJ-B.1.SG
‘I will fall’
d. bin =in ka’h lúub-ul
IMM.FUT =A.1.SG do fall-INCMPL
‘I am going to fall’
From this presentation, it appears that the categories in question are coded twice, both by the
introductory auxiliary and by the status morpheme. The question naturally arises why each
auxiliary goes with a different status. This problem will be analyzed in the following subsec-
tions. We will see that all the auxiliation constructions come about by grammaticalization, but
that they originate from different sources.
Another difference between the statuses strikes the eye: Some of them have the intransi-
tive subject represented by a Set A index, while others have it represented by a Set B index.
This is the alignment split already mentioned in §3. Although it is not the main object of the
ensuing analyses, these will nevertheless contribute to its understanding.
An item of methodology in the analysis of the grammaticalization of these auxiliaries is to
be introduced here. At the point when an item is recruited to fill the clause-initial syntactic
position, it is a word or even a phrase. Continuing grammaticalization then reduces auxiliaries
to bound morphemes (illustrated by E13a and b). There are two tests for the structural status
of an auxiliary. First, as in many languages, the answer to a polar interrogative in Mayan
involves repeating the main predicate with positive or negative polarity. From this we can
derive a test to determine the main predicate of a sentence. In principle, in a configuration like
Diagram 8, either the auxiliary or the finite full verb may be the main predicate. The auxiliary,
however, can be the main predicate only if it is a word. As we shall see, at the beginning of
the process, the auxiliary does indeed constitute the answer to a polar question, while with
advanced grammaticalization, this is no longer possible, and a short version of the verbal
clause appears instead. The second test on the status of the auxiliary involves the placement of
enclitic particles. Some of them occupy Wackernagel’s position. They may therefore immedi-
ately follow the auxiliary if this is a word; and otherwise they must follow the full verb. One
might think that the Set A indices, which are enclitic to the auxiliary, already provide this test.
However, these coalesce with the auxiliary once this forfeits its word status and therefore
become useless for the test.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 16
4.6 Auxiliation based on modification:
from hodiernal past to perfective
As explained in §4.4 and illustrated by E4, the CYM completive status is the only one that a
simple independent declarative clause may be based on (i.e. without the need for an auxil-
iary).17 This means, at the same time, that such clauses have little marking in comparison with
all other tense/aspect/mood categories appearing in independent sentences. Moreover, the
completive has zero allomorphs in several contexts. These may be the result of a phonological
process, viz. syncope of the vowels appearing in the completive line of Table 4 if this suffix is
followed by a vowel; or else the overt allomorphs may be grammatically restricted to the posi-
tion in pausa.18 Thus, the transitive completive suffix of E14 and E20b would be zero in
informal speech (as it would be in a MYM version of these examples); and likewise the
intransitive completive suffix appearing in E24 would normally be zero, as it is in E42 from
CYM, in E13a from MYM and in E15.
E14 u chabtahon Dios
CYM u ch’ab-t-ah-o’n dios
A.3 create-TRR-CMPL-B.1.PL god
‘god created us’ (Motul s.v. chab.tah.t)
E15 Ka' lub’(-ih) ah tikin che'-eh ...
ITZÁ then fall-CMPL(B.3.SG) Mdry wood-TOP
’Then the dry tree fell ...’ (Hofling 1991, 12:30)
Anyway, the result is that many completive verbal complexes occurring in texts reduce to
verb stems provided with indices. One might expect that such a formally weak category is
ripe for reinforcement or renewal. This expectation will be only partially fulfilled.
In CYM, the completive clause can be marked for hodiernal completive.19 This is
achieved by the particle ti' ‘there’ (or its prevocalic bound allomorph t-), which may start out
in the Focus position of Diagram 7, but anyhow ends up in the auxiliary position. E16 shows
the simple plain completive for an intransitive (#a) and a transitive (#b) verb. The two parts
form minimal pairs with the #a and #b sentences of E17, which show the hodiernal comple-
E16 a. Bini Fiscal ti yotoch ku,
CYM bin-ih fiscal ti’ y-otoch k’uh
go-CMPL(B.3.SG) inspector LOCA.3-house god
‘The inspector went to the church’
b. ca vha ah ɔpalalob
káa =u hats’-ah paal-alo’b
CONJ =A.3 beat-CMPL child-PL
‘and beat the children’ (San Buenaventura 1684:23r-v)
17 Of course, imperative sentences lack an auxiliary, too.
18 The completive endings are absent before a following vowel in Lacandón, too. Coon (2010[R],
§3.3) reports similar facts about Ch'ol.
19 It is hodiernal past according to Coronel 1620:41f and San Buenaventura 1684:35r, although in
Smailus 1989:41 it is characterized as remote or anterior past. The treatment in Coronel is part of the
section on dependent status. The first examples of hodiernal past in plain status are in San Buenaven-
tura l.c.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 17
E17 a. ti bini padre
CYM ti’ bin-ih padre
HOD go-CMPL(B.3.SG) father
‘the father (reverend) went today / has gone’
b. tin ha ahɔpaal
t=in hats'-ah paal
HOD=A.1.SG beat-CMPL child
‘I beat the child today / have beaten the child’ (San Buenaventura 1684:35r)
Two facts should be noted: First, the ti’ functioning as auxiliary here is based on the word ti’,
which is syntactically ambiguous between an adverb and a preposition. The adverb is a deicti-
cally neutral local demonstrative meaning ‘there’. The preposition ti’ LOC appears in E16a and
is seen to subordinate a nominalized verbal complex in E6a and E8 (§3). The word occurs in
both of these functions in E58 below. While the preposition governs the constituent following
it and therefore presupposes dependent status on it if it is based on a verbal construction, the
ti’ presently at stake does not do this. The completive morph in the verbal clause core remains
unaffected by the addition of the auxiliary in clause-initial position. Consequently, this auxil-
iary is based on the adverb, not on the preposition. The semantic shift from ‘there’ to
HODIERNAL is obviously a metaphor from space to time. Second, the auxiliary is the same for
intransitive and transitive verbs.20
The specification of hodiernal past is possible in dependent status, too:21 the #a sentence
of E18 illustrates simple completive, the #b sentence is its hodiernal counterpart. Here, too,
the completive morph is the same in both cases.22
E18 a. bal v chun a há ci?ɔ
CYM ba'l =u chuun =a hats'-k-ih
what=A.3 ground =A.2 beat-DEP-CMPL(B.3.SG)
‘why did you beat her?’
b. bal v chun ta há ci?ɔ
ba'l =u chuun t=a hats'-k-ih
what=A.3 ground HOD=A.2 beat-DEP-CMPL(B.3.SG)
‘why have you beaten her’ (Coronel 1620:42)
The hodiernal completive is already highly grammaticalized in Colonial Yucatec Maya.23
Already in Coronel 1620, some completive examples introduced by ti’ are translated as sim-
ple past. For instance, E19 is translated as “Quien vino?”
E19 Macx ti tali?
CYM makx ti’ taal-ih
who HOD come-CMPL(B.3.SG)
‘Who has come?’ (Coronel 1620:48)
20 In Ch'ol, the perfective auxiliary is tyi (with an allomorph tsa’) both for transitive and intransitive
verbs. It is assumed to be a Yucatecan loan in Law et al. 2006: 442.
21 San Buenaventura 1684:17r contends that the hodiernal past may trigger dependent status, and
gives two examples of it. These are probably due to conditions as obtain in E18b.
22 Coronel (1620:41) postulates a contrast between dependent status suffixes for simple and hodiernal
completive; but this finds no support elsewhere.
23 In translating it into English, one has the choice of either rendering the specific semantics and con-
sequently using today or else rendering the degree of grammaticity and thus using the perfect.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 18
In Beltrán's (1746) examples – e.g. §§264f (t) luben – the completive aspect appears variously
with and without the aspect auxiliary t-, with the same Spanish translation caí ‘I fell’ and no
comment on any semantic difference. In §36, he admits that, in front of intransitive verbs, the
t is “semipronunciada”, and establishes the variation taken up below. Apparently, the hodier-
nal component has disappeared, and what we now have is a perfective auxiliary, reduced to
the phoneme t, as in E63 below, and therefore regularly univerbated with the following
enclitic Set A index, as evidenced by E17b and E18b. In Modern Yucatec, the perfective auxil-
iary has become obligatory with transitive verbs in completive status.
As for the tests for word status of this auxiliary, it cannot be host to an enclitic particle
and cannot constitute the answer to a polar question. The latter may be inferred from E20,
where the answer has to contain the full verb.
E20 a. ti kamchijnech ua. l. ta kamah ua a chij.
CYM ti' k'am-chi'-n-ech wáa o: t=a k'amah wáa =a chi'
HOD get-mouth-CMPL-B.2.SG INT or: HOD=A.2 get-CMPL INT =A.2mouth
‘Have you had breakfast?’
b. Ma tin kamah in chi.
ma t=in k'am-ah =in chi'
NEGHOD=A.1.SG get-CMPL =A.1.SG mouth
l. ma ti kamchijnen.
o: ma' ti’ k'am-chi'-n-en
or: NEG HOD get-mouth-CMPL-B.1.SG
‘I have not had breakfast’ (Motul s.v. kamchij)
If ti’ did start out in the Focus position of Diagram 7, anyhow it has lost focus function by the
start of the documented history of Yucatec Maya, witness such examples as E18b, where it
follows the focus constituent. This is, then, the only auxiliary which has already lost word sta-
tus at the stage of Colonial Yucatec and become a bound morpheme.
Intransitive completive verbs get a Set B index suffixed, as seen, i.a., in E19. The mono-
phonematic auxiliary therefore hits directly on the verb, which may start with a consonant, as
in E63. Yucatec has a phonological rule which converts /t/ into /h/ in front of /t/. An extended
version of this rule may have applied to the perfective auxiliary. At any rate, this auxiliary has
an allomorph h with intransitive verbs. A preconsonantal /h/, however, generally disappears in
Yucatecan. The h to be seen in E13a is optional both in speaking and in writing, but is mostly
absent, as it is in E15 and E16a. One may speculate that what manifests itself in such cases is
an uninterrupted continuation of the plain completive of CYM. This may be hard to settle. At
any rate, since the hodiernal feature present at the beginning disappears, the result of the
entire grammaticalization process is a weak reinforcement of the inherited completive status.
The picture of the Yucatecan languages with regard to this auxiliary is heterogeneous.
Mopán shows no trace of a perfective auxiliary, which may reflect the original situation illus-
trated by E16. Lacandón has independent declarative clauses in completive status with and
without an auxiliary. The latter is illustrated by E21 (from the epic style).
E21 K=u yen-s-ik =u yok lu’m Hachäkyum y-a’l-ah:
LACANDÓN IPFV=A.3 lower-CAUS-INCMPL =A.3 foot earth Hachäkyum A.3-say-CMPL
‘When Hachakyum set his foot onto the land, he said:’ (Bruce S. 1968:111 ~
No process is known by which the perfective aspect auxiliary would reduce to zero in such a
context. Consequently, this may be a functional opposition like the one illustrated by E16f. In
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 19
Itzá, the completive only appears to be used with the perfective auxiliary. In both of these lat-
ter languages, the distribution of the allomorphs is essentially the same as in Yucatec, except
that the allomorph for intransitive verbs is always zero.24
The perfective is the only tense/aspect/mood auxiliary of the Yucatecan branch that cooc-
curs with completive status. The internal syntax of the hodiernal completive construction
which is its source differs from all the other auxiliary constructions. The clause core does not
depend on the auxiliary, but is, instead, modified by it (likewise Coon 2010[C]:38 et pass.).
There are, of course, many more adverbs which occupy the focus position of Diagram 7 and
which, being mere modifiers, do not trigger any changes on the verb. However, in a language
whose syntax is heavily based on government, a modifying construction is not a productive
source for the grammaticalization of auxiliaries. The perfective remains a loner as regards
both the source of the auxiliary and the status conditioned (or rather, conserved) by it on the
verb. However, as we shall see, the more recent grammaticalization paths converge with it
into a common paradigm.
4.7 Auxiliation based on complementation
4.7.1 Basics
Given that any dependents follow the verb, the subordinate clause follows the main clause. Of
importance for complex syntax and especially for auxiliation is a kind of complex construc-
tion consisting of a main clause core and a complement clause core. The main predicate may
be a nominal or verbal one. It is in any case monovalent and therefore has no dependents
beside the complement clause. The latter functions as the subject of a verbal, and as the (“pos-
sessive”) complement of a nominal main predicate. This presupposes its nominalization, and
therefore it is in incompletive dependent status. Given the categorial polymorphy of the main
predicate, this is simply categorized by its destination, viz. as an auxiliary to come, in Dia-
gram 9. This is construction #d of the set enumerated in §4.5 which shares a syntactic slot in
front of the clause core. It is illustrated by E22.
Diagram 9 Subject complementation
main predicate sub ject
auxiliary to come dependent clause core
E22 çebhi in canic maya than
CYM séeb-h-ih =in kan-ik maaya t’aan
fast=COP-CMPL =A.1.SG learn-INCMPLMaya speech
‘I learnt Maya quickly’ (lit.: ‘it was quick that I learnt Maya’) (Coronel 1620:52)
From an SAE point of view, the full verb in the dependent clause core may appear to be the
main predicate, which several SAE languages would modify by such peripheral concepts as
the fastness of E22. A language like Maya, generally averse to modification, prefers the alter-
24 Lacandón has a subordinator combining with completive aspect, viz. kahin ‘when’ (Bruce S.
1968:100), corresponding to Yucatec (le) ka’h. While the Yucatec subordinator combines with the per-
fective auxiliary, the Lacandón one apparently does not.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 20
native of having the peripheral predicate govern the central predication (cf. Lehmann 1990 for
this typological relationship). E23 illustrates the construction with modal verboids.
E23 a. v nah a benél
CYM u nah =a ben-el
A.3 decorum25=A.2 go-INCMPL
‘you ought to go’ (Coronel 1620:69)
b. Vchuc inbeelticlo
uuchuk =in beelt-ik =lo'
possible =A.1.SG make-INCMPL=R2
‘I can do that’ (San Buenaventura 1684:18v)
c. tac in xee
taak =in xeeh
prompted =A.1.SG vomit\INTROV(INCMPL)
‘I have/want to vomit’ (Beltrán 1746, §299, p. 146)
As already indicated in §4.5, the complement construction resembles the cleft construction in
having the main constituent in the same clause-initial position. An important difference
between the two constructions consists in the fact that the subordinate clause of the former is
just a nominalized clause. Its status marking is the incompletive dependent status, with non-
past reference. The extrafocal clause, instead, may be in any dependent status and thus have
any time reference.
As the following subsections will show, this construction is the model for a number of
auxiliaries. The clause-initial slot attracts not only intransitive verbs, but also verboids, nouns
and denominal adverbs. The construction, however, remains essentially the same: in all the
constructions of §4.7, the clause core depends on the initial element.
4.7.2 From habitual to imperfective aspect
The inherited imperfective was renewed in Colonial Yucatec Maya.26 At the beginning of this
process, there is a set of words, apparently denominal in origin, which compete for the auxil-
iary position. Three of these appear in E24, listed as synonymous in the colonial grammar.
The first is lic(il), which has a variant lac and must be a root with the meaning ‘this time
span’, although it is no longer found in the texts as such. The second of these auxiliaries is
tamuk, a preposition and conjunction meaning ‘during, while’. The third is ualac ‘this time’.
Both lik and walak survive in present-day Yucatec in a form adverbialized by the suffix -il.27
25 lit. ‘what befits you / your obligation’, Span. conviene
26 All Mayan languages have an imperfective auxiliary, but the forms are very different. For instance,
Ch'ol has muk’, shortened to mi; Q’eqchi’ has nak-; and so on. S. Vinogradov 2014.
27 The form licil is treated extensively in Coronel 1620, and on p. 46 he does assign it a habitual
meaning. Otherwise, licil subordinates a clause similar in function to an oblique relative clause. Mod-
ern successors are Yucatec ka’likil ‘at the time, while’ and Itzá kil ‘when’ (Hofling 1991:26). Acatec
Maya has chi < ki.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 21
E24 cimçabi in yum
CYM kim-s-a’b-ih =in yuum
die-CAUS-PASS-CMPL(B.3.SG) =A.1.SG master/father
tilic / tamuk / ti válac v hanál
ti’ lik / tamuk’/ ti’ walak =u han-al
LOCthis.span / while / LOCthis.time =A.3 eat-INCMPL
‘my father was killed while eating’ (Coronel 1620:57)
In Yucatec, the competition among the three formatives will be won by lic. The preposition ti
subordinating it can already be omitted, as in E25.
E25 lic u dzocol a hanal ca tacech uaye
CYM lik =u ts'o’kol =a han-al káa tal-ak-ech way=e'
span =A.3 end-INCMPL =A.2 eat-INCMPL CONJ come-SUBJ-B.2.SGhere=R3
‘when you have eaten, you should come here’ (Motul s.v. ca6)
The clause introduced by lic may also be independent; then the originally temporal construc-
tion may have a habitual sense (cf. Coronel 1620:67), clearly visible in E26.
E26 lic in uenel tamuk in hanal
CYM lik =in wen-el tamuk' =in han-al
HAB =A.1.SG sleep-INCMPLwhile =A.1.SG eat-INCMPL
‘I usually fall asleep while eating’ (Motul s.v. lic2)
By further grammaticalization, the morpheme functions as a mere imperfective auxiliary, as in
E27 lic bin a ha icɔa paalil tu men u tuz.
CYM lik=bin =a hats’-ik =a paal-il tumen =u tuus
IPFV=QUOT =A.2 beat-INCMPL =A.2 child-REL because =A.3 lie\INTROV
‘They say you (habitually) beat your boy because he lies.’
lic. lici.
‘Yes.’ (Motul s.v. lici lic)
It may be noted that the two occurrences of the particle in E27 fulfill the conditions of the two
tests for word status introduced in §4.5: the particle is, at this stage, syntactically independent.
However, there already exists a shortened variant c(i), apparently in free variation, as in the
dialogue of E28:
E28 a. bal ca uoktic?
CYM ba’l k=a wook’-t-ik
whatIPFV=A.2 weep-TRR-INCMPL
‘What are you crying for?’
b. in kéban lic uoktic.
in k’eban lik w-ook’-t-ik
‘It is for my sins that I am crying.’ (Coronel 1620:67)
One and a half centuries later, lic is still found in the same contexts, as shown in E29f.28
28 Beltrán (1746, §299, p.140) also mentions liclili (likil-ili’) with the meaning ‘customarily, so it is
always’, which is a reinforcement of the same particle by the identifying suffix –ili’.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 22
E29 tilic ú tzicic Dios Pedroe,
CYM ti’-lik =u tsik-ik dios Pedro=e’
LOC-span =A.3 obey-INCMPL god Peter=R3
bin ú chuc olt dzabilah
bíin =u chuk-óol-t ts’abilah
FUT =A.3 attain-mind-TRR(SUBJ) grace
‘as long as Peter obeys god, he will attain grace’ (Beltrán 1746, §261)
E30 Lic ua ú hanal kohane? – Lic.
CYM lik wáah =u han-al k’oha’n=e’ lik
‘Does the sick person eat? – He does.’ (Beltrán 1746, §299, p.140)
As E30 proves, at this stage, lic still stands both of the tests of syntactic independence. How-
ever, the status of its shortened variant c(i), ‘very common’ according to Beltrán 1746, §101,
is already ambivalent.29 It can still serve as host to a following enclitic, as in the #a version of
the variants offered in E31.
E31 a. ci bin in yacuntic
CYM ki bin =in yáakunt-ik
b. cin yacuntic bin
k=in yáakunt-ik bin
‘it is said that I love him’ (Beltrán 1746, §246)
On the other hand, the particle already optionally univerbates with the enclitic A index, as evi-
denced by the #b version (separate combinations of ci in/a/u in Beltrán 1746, §131). Beltrán
uses the reduced auxiliary c(i) in his own examples when aspect is not at stake, thus, in order
to choose unmarked aspect (as in E31 et pass.). This is already today’s situation: The auxiliary
only survives in its one-phoneme form k, obligatorily univerbates with the Set A index and
carries aspectual information only in contrast with more specific auxiliaries.
Thus, the imperfective auxiliary becomes a bound monophonematic form just like the
older perfective auxiliary seen in §4.6. The opposition between perfective and imperfective
aspect emerges as a minimal one both in formal and in functional terms. It becomes the core
of the extensive TAM auxiliary paradigm indicated in Table 6.
We come to the imperfective auxiliaries of the other Yucatecan languages. Both in Itzá
and in Lacandón, imperfective aspect is marked by the same formative k as in Yucatec.30
However, Lacandón shows more variation. On the one hand, the formative is optional (Bruce
S. 1968:62), imperfective aspect then being marked only by the incompletive status suffix, as
in E32. Especially in Chan K’in Viejo’s terse epic style, an incompletive verbal complex often
constitutes an independent sentence, as in E33.
E32 K’ayyum =u häts’-ik Cham-Bol
LACANDÓN K’ayyum =A.3 beat-INCMPL Chan-Bor
‘Kayum beats Chan Bor’ (Bruce S. 1968:105)
29 Beltrán dedicates a section (95) to lic(il), attributing a habitual function to it, and another section
(101) to ci, attributing present tense function to it, without noting any connection between the two.
30 Its analysis as a future marker in Bruce S. 1968:61 must be due to a confusion with the future sub-
ordinator k(en).
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 23
E33 In want-ik-ech Yum-eh.
‘I (will) help you, my lord.’ (Bruce S. 1974:26)
The most plausible analysis of this construction is that the auxiliary has been reduced to
zero.31 This is, then, an example of complete grammaticalization within half a millennium.
On the other hand, there is a formative k(ah) which functions as a temporal conjunction. It
may be illustrated by E21, repeated here as E34.
E34 K=u yen-s-ik =u yok lu’m Hachäkyum y-a’l-ah:
LACANDÓN IPFV=A.3 lower-CAUS-INCMPL =A.3 foot earth Hachäkyum A.3-say-CMPL
‘When Hachakyum set his foot onto the land, he said:’ (Bruce S. 1968:111 ~
The initial k is glossed as ‘imperfective’. It might as well be glossed as ‘when’.32 The Yucate-
can languages have a rather large set of subordinating formatives which start with or at least
contain a /k/. Occupying the position indicated in Diagram 7 of §4.5, some of them allow a
following auxiliary. Recall that the CYM formative lik(il), which yields the Yucatec imperfec-
tive auxiliary, is first mostly found in temporal clauses. The exact relationship between the
imperfective auxiliaries and these conjunctions remains to be sorted out.
In Mopán, the alternate auxiliary walak was chosen, which appears in E35.
E35 walak =ti ad-ik
‘we always say it’ (Danziger 2011:129)
As may be seen, this is less grammaticalized, both functionally and formally, than its original
competitors in the sister languages.
4.7.3 Progressive aspect
The progressive itself is a Proto-Mayan category. In Colonial Yucatec Maya, it is based on the
relational noun tan (táan),33 illustrated in E36f in its lexical meaning ‘front, middle’.
E36 tan cah
CMY táan kah
middle village
‘(in) the village center’ (Beltrán 1746, §299, p.147)
E37 tutan Dios
CYM t=u táan dios
LOC=A.3 frontgod
‘in front of god’ (San Buenaventura 1684:39v)
31 An alternative, and less plausible, account would be to assume that Lacandón uses the nominalized
constructions of §4.3 as independent sentences, in which case the change would instantiate insubordi-
nation. Note that this is not analogous to the Lacandón use of the completive without auxiliary,
discussed in §4.6, since the completive construction at its origin was independent without an auxiliary.
32 This is actually the gloss provided by Bruce S. l.c.
33 The progressive function of this morpheme may be inherited from Proto-Maya; some languages,
including Kaqchiquel, have plausible cognates.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 24
E37 shows the regular syntactic construction which is natural for a noun designating a spatial
region, viz. preceded by a possessive Set A clitic34 and governed by the default preposition ti’
LOC. The same configuration is also at the source of its aspectual use. The full form tután is
only mentioned in Coronel 1620:47, but not illustrated in the sources. The earliest evidence
lacks the preposition. E38f illustrate the incipient progressive function for intransitive and
transitive verbs, resp. E38 is obviously a variant of E24.
E38 vtán v hanál in yum,
CYM u táan =u han-al =in yuum
A.3 middle =A.3 eat-INCMPL =A.1.SG master/father
ca cimçabi
káa kim-s-a’b-ih
‘my father was in the middle of eating when he was killed’ or: ‘while my father
was eating, he was killed’ (Coronel 1620:57)
E39 Vtan incambecic paal,
CYM u táan =in kambes-ik paal
A.3 middle =A.1.SG teach-DEP.INCMPL child
ca xolhi tu pix.
káa xol-hih t=u píix
CONJ kneel-CMPL(B.3.SG) LOC=A.3 knee
‘While I was teaching the child, he knelt down.’ (San Buenaventura 1684:9Br)
The original construction with the subordinating ti’ and its further evolution are, at any rate,
completely analogous to the imperfective ti’ lik seen in E24: It follows the pattern of Diagram
9, where the full verb of the complement clause is in the incompletive dependent status. Ini-
tially, the new auxiliary is typically used in complex sentences, where the progressive clause
provides the background for the event of the main clause, as clearly shown by E38f. However,
and again like the imperfective, the progressive also appears in monoclausal sentences as
E40f. E41 features, already at Coronel’s time, a further reduced form of the auxiliary, where
the original possessive clitic preceding táan is no longer there.35
E40 U tan in beeltic
CYM u táan =in beel-t-ik
‘I am (in the middle of) doing it’ (San Buenaventura 1684:37r)
E41 ma tan a túbul ten
CYM ma’ táan =a tu’b-ul ten
NEGPROG =A.2 escape-INCMPL me
‘I am not going to forget you’ (Coronel 1620:34)
Beltrán (1746, §261) includes utan in the list of particles adopted from his predecessors, but
in his own examples he only uses the reduced form tan. Seeking to render the Spanish pro-
34 The only Set A index ever attested in this construction is u A.3. This leads to the interpretation
made explicit in the literal translation of E38 and to the gloss 'middle'. If the clitic could have been of
first person, then the other meaning of táan, viz. 'front', would appear to underlie the construction: 'in
front of me/us, P is happening'.
35 Since CYM, there has been a complex form ma’táan of the negator ma’, which according to Coro-
nel (1620:83) triggers the incompletive of intransitive and the subjunctive of transitive verbs. It is
certainly present in E41. It is not clear whether it contains the morpheme táan presently at stake.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 25
gressive (“gerundio”) in Maya, he offers, among other alternatives, the pair of examples in
E42, which illustrates, at the same time, the morphological correlates of the transitivity con-
E42 a. tan in tzeec, ca lub kuna
CYM táan =in tse’k káa lúub k’u-nah
PROG =A.1.SG preach(INCMPL) CONJ fall(CMPL) god-house
‘I was preaching, there the church collapsed’
b. tan in tzeectic ú than Dios tiob,
táan =in tse’k-t-ik =u t’aan dios ti’-o’b
PROG =A.1.SG preach-TRR-INCMPL =A.3 word god LOC-3.PL
ca cim Joan
káa kim Juan
CONJ die(CMPL) John
‘I was preaching god’s word to them, there John died’ (Beltrán 1746, §262)
As may be seen, this is now just a progressive aspect. E43 illustrates the test on susceptibility
of serving as the host to a clitic particle, with positive result for contemporary Yucatec Maya.
E43 Táan wáah =a bin?
‘Are you going (leaving)?’ (Hnazario_406)
In its further development, and again in analogy with the development of the imperfective
auxiliary as illustrated by E31b above, the progressive auxiliary coalesces with the Set A
index which regularly follows it. The full form of the auxiliary survives essentially in writing
and, in the oral mode, in cases like E43. The coalescence is a process in two phases. At first,
the product of the merger of táan with the three singular indices in, a, u is tíin, táan, túun, as
illustrated by E44.
E44 Túun tsikbal.
‘He was talking.’ (Monforte et al. 2011:48)
This is, however, just a transitional stage rarely represented in writing. In the end, these forms
are shortened to tin, ta, tu (cf. Briceño Chel 2006:24f), as in E45.
E45 T=u sáas-tal
káa h téek líik' y-ich hun-túul le peek'=o'
CONJ PFV for.a.moment rise(CMPL) A.3-eye one-CL.AN DEM dog=R2
‘It was dawning when one of the dogs suddenly rose his glance’ (hts'oon_310.1)
In the syntactic configuration illustrated by E45, the progressive clause specifies a situation
holding in the background simultaneously with the event described by the following clause.
This is functionally equivalent with the combination described in §4.3 (cf. E6b and E11f),
where a nominalized clause subordinated by ti’ serves as background information for the main
clause. In fact, since the products of the merger of the preposition and of the progressive aux-
iliary with the following Set A index are homonymous, the two constructions are not easily
distinguished. It may be assumed that the (much older) model of the nominalized construction
played a role in the rather radical reduction of the auxiliary complex.
By the same token, the reduced variant of the progressive auxiliary becomes homony-
mous with the perfective auxiliary. The two aspects, however, do not thereby become
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 26
homonymous, since the progressive conditions incompletive status, while the perfective con-
ditions completive status; and these two are distinct for all verbs (cf. Lehmann 2014, §3.4.2).
This convergence of two aspectual auxiliaries constitutes an important contribution to the
maintenance of the status category, which otherwise might have been grammaticalized to zero
(cf. §4.4).
It remains to note that the progressive with tan is a Pan-Yucatecan construction; s. Bruce
1968:93, 97 for Lacandón, Hofling 1991:30 for Itzá and Danziger 2011:125 for Mopán. In
Itzá and Lacandón, the reduced forms are as the above-mentioned intermediate forms of
Yucatec (E44). The full form tan in wilik is in free variation with the reduced form of E46
(Bruce S. 1968:61, 97).
E46 tin wilik
LACANDÓN tan=in wil-ik
“I am seeing it” (Bruce S. 1968:34)
Thus, the progressive auxiliary becomes a bound monophonematic form just like the imper-
fective auxiliary seen in §4.7.2.
4.7.4 Terminative aspect
The first constituent of Diagram 9 is filled by a noun in the cases reviewed in the two preced-
ing sections. This is, however, not the most fertile grammaticalization path for auxiliaries.
Apart from modal verboids, the most important subclass of intransitive predicators to fill this
position are phase verbs. The central Yucatec phase verbs are ho'p' ‘start’ and a set of verbs
including ch'en, ts'o'k, haw, nik all meaning ‘end’. They are normally impersonal (s. already
Coronel 1620:34f). Personal use is possible with a few of them, but does not generate auxil-
iaries. In the impersonal construction, actancy is coded on the dependent verb; with some
marginal exceptions, there is in Yucatecan no “raising”.36 E47 and E48 illustrate the construc-
tion for ho'p' ‘start’ and ts'o'k ‘finish’, respectively. Whether or not the main clause is clefted
(#a vs. #b examples), the dependent verb is in the incompletive dependent status.37
E47 a. hoppi in beeltic
CYM ho'p'-ih =in beel-t-ik
start-CMPL(B.3.SG) =A.1.SG make-TRR-DEP.INCMPL
‘I have begun to do it’ (Coronel 1620:53)
b. çamal v hoppol in ibticɔ
sáamal =u ho'p'-ol =in ts'íib-t-ik
tomorrow =A.3 start-INCMPL =A.1.SG write-TRR-DEP.INCMPL
‘tomorrow I will start writing it’ (Coronel 1620:35)
E48 a. ɔoci incanic
CYM ts'o'k-ih =in kan-ik
end-CMPL(B.3.SG) =A.1.SG learn-DEP.INCMPL
‘I finished learning / have learnt it’ (San Buenaventura 1684:17r)
36 Ch'ol has the same construction; s. Aulie & Aulie 1998:239. According to Coon 2010[R], §5.2, the
Ch’ol auxiliaries which trigger incompletive status do allow raising of the absolutive enclitic.
37 Smailus (1989:89) claims it to be in the subjunctive. However, although crucial evidence, with an
intransitive dependent verb, appears to be rare, Coronel 1620:35 does have maytoh ts'o'kok in menyali'
‘I have not yet finished working’, with menyal in the incompletive.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 27
b. çamal v ócolɔin canic
sáamal =u ts'o'k-ol =in kan-ik
tomorrow =A.3 end-INCMPL =A.1.SG learn-DEP.INCMPL
‘tomorrow I will finish learning it’ (Coronel 1620:35)
The phase verb ts’o’k ‘finish’ shown in E48 combines with aspect auxiliaries just like any full
lexical verb, e.g. in E25. It continues this life up to the present day. In E49, it regularly goes
into the subjunctive required by the construction, and only the translation suggests its auxil-
iary function.
E49 le kéen ts'o'k-ok =u pa't-al=e'
k=u ts'a'bal píib ...
IMPF=A.3 put/give:INCMPL.PASS underground.oven
‘When they have been formed, they are put into the earth-oven ...’ (chaak_028)
E50 beey túun ts'o'k-ol =u kuxtal le p'us-o'b=o'
MYM thus then finish-INCMPL =A.3 life DEM hunchback-PL=R2
‘This then was the end of the life of the P'uz.’ (chem_ppuzoob_011)
E50 displays a symptom of grammaticalization: the phase verb is in the incompletive, but it
lacks both the introductory imperfective auxiliary and the Set A index. This suggests that even
in the construction at hand, where the main clause comprises more than just the phase verb,
the latter fulfills an auxiliary function, with the form kuxtal in its subject not just being an
abstract noun, but rather the verbal predicate of the dependent clause core (a case of the zero
nominalization described in §4.3).
This grammaticalization process starts in the colonial period. The seventeenth century
grammars adduce the phase verbs ocɔ ‘finish’ and hopp ‘begin’ only in order to mention their
regular impersonal or personal construction as illustrated by E25 and E47f above. It is in the
eighteenth century that the ongoing grammaticalization of the third person completive form
ts’o’k38 could no longer escape a critical linguist’s ear. Beltrán, writing his grammar in Mérida
in 1742, observes the expansion of the use of ts’o’k as auxiliary in vogue at his time (§§85f),
notes that it is a partial competitor to the (firmly established) perfective, quotes some
periphrastic forms which are actually in use up to today and opposes violently both to this
fashion and to the idea that ts’o’k means ‘already’ (which it does in its function as terminative
auxiliary). His verdict is that the perfective is formed without auxiliary or “better” with the
auxiliary t- (of §4.6 above), while ts’o’k means ‘finish’ and nothing else.
The form of this verb which occupies the clause-initial position, becoming, thus, a com-
ponent of the grammaticalization path, is the completive form triggered by perfective aspect,
as in E51 (where meyah just like kuxtal in E50 can be an intransitive verb with the zero
allomorph of the incompletive or an abstract noun).
E51 (h) ts’o’k =in meyah
MYM PFV finish(CMPL:B.3.SG) =A.1.SG work
‘my work ended = I finished working = I have already worked’ (Briceño Chel
In the sequel, the perfective auxiliary is omitted. In fact, by the evidence of E48, the grammat-
icalization of ts’o’k probably started at a time when the completive alone could make a
38 The grammaticalization of ho'p' to an auxiliary will not be described here. Both in Yucatec and in
Itzá (Hofling 1991:105), it is common in narratives and reports to mark a new situation.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 28
perfective clause. Otherwise, however, the new auxiliary can maintain its full form even in the
colloquial style. It passes the two tests on word status up to the present day, as evidenced by
E52 a. Ts'o'k wáah =in bo'l-t-ik =in p'aax?
MYM finish(CMPL:B.3.SG) INT =A.1.SG pay-TRR-INCMPL =A.1.SG debt
‘Have I paid my debt?’
b. Ma' ts'o'k-ok=i'.
‘No (you haven't).’ (hnazario_375f)
There is, however, a reduced form in addition to the full form, although not as widely used as
the reduced form of the progressive auxiliary. The auxiliary is then reduced to its initial con-
sonant and coalesces with the Set A clitic, as shown by E53 (cf. Briceño Chel 2000[t]:87f).
E53 ts'=in w-a'l-ik te'x
MYM TERM=A.1.SG 0-say-INCMPL you.all
‘I have told it to you’ (muuch_340)
The terminative is a kind of perfect and therefore in partial competition with the inherited suf-
fixal perfect. They share the semantic component that the situation designated is finished at
topic time. Their semantic difference lies in the implication of this fact. The Yucatec perfect
implies that the agent has the result of his action at his disposal, while the terminative focuses
on the crossing of the end boundary of the situation, which may be counter to expectations.39
Like the progressive, ts’o’k is a Pan-Yucatecan auxiliary. Its Lacandón form is ts’ok;40
E54 is an example.
E54 Ts’ok =u me(n)t-i(k) k’ax, ...
‘He had made the woods, …’ (Bruce S. 1974:24)
Likewise in Itzá, tz'o'k is used in terminative function, as shown by E55:
E55 Tz’o’k-i(h) =u man ka’-p’eel k’in, ...
ITZÁ TERM-CMPL(B.3.SG) =A.3 pass two-CL.INAN day
‘Two days had passed, ...’ (Hofling 2006, 12:39)
Besides this, Itzá has grammaticalized another phase verb to a terminative auxiliary, viz. the
verb ho'm (Hofling 1991:25, 65), whose original meaning is ‘wane, abate’.
As an aside, it may be mentioned that the phase verb ts’o’k in the imperfective aspect is
also the grammaticalization source of a paratactic conjunction that is very widely used in the
colloquial register of MYM, as witnessed by the monotonous repetition in E56.
E56 K=u ts'o'k-ol=e' k=in p'o'-ik;
‘Then I wash it;’
39 Terminative aspect is incompatible with a temporal adverb in the same clause; s. Briceño Chel
40 According to Bruce S. 1968:81, 93, 99, the function is immediate past.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 29
k=u ts'o'k-ol=e'
k=in ts'a'-ik t=eh k'áak'=o’ ...
IPFV=A.1.SG put/give-INCMPL LOC=DEM fire=R2
‘then I put it on fire ...’ (chakwaah_03f)
The phrase ku ts’o’kole’ is commonly reduced to ts’o’(h)le’, the loss of the auxiliary complex
being due to grammaticalization, while the shrinking of the verb form follows regular phono-
logical processes.
4.7.5 From existential via debitive to future tense
The existential predicate in the Yucatecan languages during their entire documented history is
the intransitive verboid yaan, illustrated by E57.
E57 yan cutz
CYM yaan kuts
EXIST turkey
'there are turkeys' (Beltrán 1746, §199)
Apart from predicating sheer existence, yaan is also the locational copula, as in E58.
E58 tij yan ti yotoch
CYM ti' yaan ti' y-otoch
there EXIST LOCA.3-home
'there he is at his home' (San Buenaventura 1684:35v)
Furthermore, the canonical construction coding ascription of possession is obtained by substi-
tuting a possessed nominal for the central actant of yaan, as in E59.41
E59 yaan =in nah-il
'I have got a house' (muuch_274)
Once a nominalized verbal complex is substituted for the possessum of the ascription of pos-
session, a debitive construction results. Just as the possessum is ascribed to its possessor in
E59, so the obligation is ascribed to the actor of the nominalized verbal complex in E60.
E60 ba'l=e' yan =a bo'l-t-ik-en
MYM however=TOP DEB=A.2 pay-TRR-INCMPL-B.1.SG
'however, you must pay me' (hala'ch_084)
This use is not found in the colonial sources and is documented only in the modern Yucatecan
languages. In Itzá, the construction is the same as in Yucatec (Hofling 1991:25). In Lacandón,
the dependent clause core is introduced by the subordinator ti’, as shown by E61.
E61 yan ti' =a kaxt-ik =u hel
LACANDÓN DEB LOC=A.2 search-INCMPL =A.3 replacive
‘you have to look for another one’ (Bruce S. 1968:81)
41 Interestingly, Beltrán 1746, §199 makes the not unreasonable claim that the verboid yaan lacks the
first and second persons in the existential and possessive uses. However, the first example offered by
the Diccionario de Motul s.v. yan features just the second person in the existential use.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 30
The most recent development, first documented in the 20th century oral register, is a pure
future without debitive connotations, as in E62, where the speaker articulates what he thinks
will certainly happen.
E62 yan =u kaxt-ik-ech =a taatah
MYM DEB=A.3 search-INCMPL-B.2.SG =A.2 father
'your father will search you' (hnazario_402.1)
This construction is currently ousting the (much older) predictive future (§4.8), which gets
pushed back into the formal register.
4.8 Auxiliation based on motion cum purpose:
predictive future
The motion-cum-purpose construction is a regular syntactic construction in the Yucatecan
branch. It is a complex clause core starting with an oriented motion verb followed by a verbal
clause core in the subjunctive, the latter coding the purpose. As long as nothing precedes the
motion verb, the core verb is in plain status subjunctive, as in E63.42
E63 t binén in cimez uacax
CYM t bin-en =in kim-es wakax
PFV go(CMPL)-B.1.SG =A.1.SG die-CAUS(SUBJ) cow
‘I went to kill cows’ (Beltrán 1746, §110)
The central verbs of oriented motion (‘go’, ‘come’, ‘pass’) become irregular in their conjuga-
tion on their way to Modern Yucatec. Specifically, they lose the -Vl suffix which marks their
nominalization and would be expected in their incompletive status (see also E81 below).
Moreover, the verb ben ‘go’ becomes bin in Yucatec, while in the other Yucatecan languages it
becomes bel. The changed forms appear both with their lexical meaning ‘go’ and as auxil-
The motion-cum-purpose construction with bin as motion verb is grammaticalized to a
future in the Yucatecan branch. Coronel (1620) already calls it “futuro” and provides exam-
ples of it. Beltrán (1746, §299, p. 128) lists bin as ‘partícula de futuro’, giving examples E64f
for the intransitive and transitive construction, resp. (E29 is another example; see Table 4 for
the allomorphs).
E64 bin bolnacén dzedzetàc
CYM bíin bo’l-nak-en ts’e’ts’etak
‘I shall pay little by little’ (Beltrán 1746, §299, p. 149)
E65 caix u tancoch in hanale,
CYM kayx =u táankoch =in haanal=e’
although =A.3 half =A.1.SG meal=R3
bin in ziib tech
bíin =in síih-ib tech
FUT =A.1.SG present-SUBJ(B.3.SG) you
‘although it is half of my meal, I’ll give it to you’ (Beltrán 1746, §299, p.129)
42 If the future clause as introduced by bin is an extrafocal clause, as in E67 and E69, the full verb
goes into dependent = incompletive status.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 31
The core verb keeps the subjunctive of the source construction.43 The motion verb complex
has been reduced to the root of the motion verb. This becomes impersonal like all the other
auxiliaries and, in Yucatec and Lacandón, undergoes an idiosyncratic phonological change:
the vowel of the auxiliary bin (not of the lexical verb!) is lengthened and gets high tone in
Yucatec. This may be due to analogy with the progressive auxiliary táan, but may also be
regarded as the expression counterpart of the grammatical change. At any rate, the imperson-
alization and morphological impoverishment of the auxiliary comes under
paradigmaticization and may be ascribed to analogical pressure from the older auxiliation
constructions analyzed in §4.7.44 E66 illustrates the construction for both an intransitive and a
transitive verb.
E66 Bíin suu-nak yéetel bíin =in wil-eh.
MYM FUT return-SUBJ(B.3.SG) and FUT =A.1.SG see-SUBJ(B.3.SG)
‘He will come back and I will see him.' (xipaal_032)
This future construction finds its place in the tense/aspect/mood paradigm at the side of three
other futures, viz. the debitive future4.7.5), the immediate future (§4.9) and an assurative
future not analyzed here. It does not become an immediate future, as so many futures based
on the motion-cum-purpose construction do in other languages. Neither does it contrast with
the immediate future on the time axis, as can be inferred from examples like E65. Instead, it
bears a feature of neutral, objective prediction, which may be related to the impersonality of
its auxiliary and which opposes it to the other three futures. Since this semantic component
matters less in what is going to happen next, time reference is often to a remote future. But
this is only a favorable circumstance, not a condition for the appropriateness of a prediction.
We find the predictive future at an intermediate stage of grammaticalization. On the one
hand, the reduction process mentioned above proves that it is grammaticalized to some extent
already at the stage of CYM. E67 provides evidence in the same sense, as it shows that the
construction is compatible with an additional, preceding focus constituent.
E67 bay bin v cíbic Dios teex
CYM bay bíin =u kib-ik Dios te’x
thus go =A.3 do-DEP.INCMPLgod you.PL
‘thus will god do with you’ (Coronel 1620:72 = San Buenaventura 1684:24r)
On the other hand, the predictive future auxiliary stands the clitic placement test to this day:
E68 bíin wáah p'áat-ak-en hun-p'éel k'iin he'bix-ech=a'
MYM FUT INT stay-SUBJ-B.1.SG one-CL.INAN sun/day ever:how-B.2.SG=R1
‘will I become like you one day?’ (xipaal_092)
The predictive future construction is, again, Pan-Yucatecan. Lacandón conserves a variant of
it which is structurally identical to the motion-cum-purpose construction, to be seen in E69.
E69 way k=u bin p’at-al t=in meyah
LACANDÓN here IPFV=A.3 go stay-INCMPL LOC=A.1.SG work
‘it will stay here for my work’ (Bruce S. 1974:42)
However, it also has the reduced auxiliary construction like Yucatec, as in E70.
43 In MYM, the motion-cum-purpose construction itself diverges from its source by having the intran-
sitive verb in the incompletive instead of the subjunctive status.
44 Ch'orti' (a Ch'olan language, thus closely affiliated to Yucatecan) has the same impersonal construc-
tion with an etymologically unrelated verb meaning 'go'.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 32
E70 b’ihn a-kihn-s- -een
LACANDÓN bíin =a kíin-s-en
FUT =A.2 die-CAUS(SUBJ)-B.1.SG
‘you will kill me’ (Bergqvist 2011:247)
Itzá again has the full motion-cum-purpose construction with future function, to be seen in
E71 way=e’ k=in b’el =in pak’-t-eech
ITZÁ here=R3 IPFV=A.1.SG go=A.1.SG wait-TRR(SUBJ)-B.2.SG
‘here I’m going to await you’ (Hofling 1991, 15:126)
The origin of the predictive future construction is the motion-cum-purpose construction. It
differs from the other tense/aspect/mood auxiliaries analyzed in §§4.6f in that the emerging
marker the verb 'go' grammaticalized to a future marker does not originally occupy the
clause-initial position described at the beginning of §4.5 and instead is the remnant of a com-
plete superordinate clause. However, the canonical model for an auxiliary construction is
Diagram 6: the auxiliary is monomorphematic, impersonal and occupies the clause-initial
position. In its grammaticalization, the motion-cum-purpose construction is forced into the
Procrustean bed of the verbal clause expanded by an initial position, which is the template for
the auxiliary construction. This is, thus, a clear example of grammaticalization guided by
4.9 Auxiliation based on focused progressive:
immediate future
As noted in §4.5, the clause-initial position is a melting-pot for constituents of very different
kinds, among them the focus. We now come to an auxiliation strategy originating in a focus
construction, more specifically, in a verb-focus construction. From there, we get to the imme-
diate future in two steps: First, on the basis of the verb 'go' in focus, a focused progressive is
formed. Second, this strategy applies to the 'go' verb of the motion-cum-purpose construction
to form the immediate future of its purpose component.
Putting the lexical main verb of a clause into its focus position requires filling the gap that
it leaves in the extrafocal clause by a verb meaning ‘do’.45 For this purpose, CYM used a verb
cib ‘do’ which is totally irregular and defective. Table 7 presents the forms adduced in Coro-
nel 1620:71f.
Table 7 Partial paradigm of CYM cib ‘do’
category form
[fossilized status] cah
completive cibah
subjunctive cib (not cibib!)
incompletive dependent cibic
Already Beltrán (1746, §§209f) doubts this paradigm and contends that the verb is defective,
being reduced to a “present” form cah. The verb is rarely found in a simple transitive clause
45 S. Lehmann 2008, §4.3 for a comprehensive account of the underlying information structure and
the Yucatec development.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 33
to code the meaning ‘do, make’;46 the lexicon offers other verbs with this meaning. Instead, it
is used almost exclusively in focus constructions. A relatively straightforward one appears in
E72 balamil u cah pedro
CYM balam-il =u ka'h Pedro
tiger-ADVR =A.3 do Peter
‘Peter makes the tiger / Peter is like a tiger’ (lit.: ‘tiger-like is what Peter does’;
Motul s.v. cah3)
At the stage of Colonial Yucatec, the verb is indispensable as a pro-verb in the verb focus con-
struction. The paradigm shown in Table 7 is illustrated by E73.
E73 a. hanál v cah
CYM han-al =u ka'h
eat-INCMPL =A.3 do
‘he is eating’
b. hanál v cibah
han-al =u kib-ah
eat-INCMPL =A.3 do-CMPL
‘he was eating’
c. hanal bin v cib
han-al bíin =u kib
eat-INCMPL go =A.3 do(SUBJ)
‘he is going to eat’ (Coronel 1620:71; cf. San Buenaventura 1684:23v)
d. lúbul tu cibah
lúub-ul t=u kib-ah
‘he fell (earlier today)’ (Coronel 1620:71)
As suggested by the translations of E73a-c, the same construction functions as a progressive
in Colonial Yucatec Maya. As a matter of fact, it figures much more prominently in colonial
grammars than the simpler progressive with the auxiliary táan (§4.7.3). All of them start their
account of the conjugation with the periphrastic construction based on ka’h, calling it the
“presente”. E74 completes the example series with a transitive verb.
E74 cámbeçah in cah ti pálalob
CYM kambes-ah =in ka'h ti' paal-alo'b
teach-INTROV(INCMPL) =A.1.SG do LOC child-PL
‘I am teaching the children’ (Coronel 1620:72)
While all of the examples E72 – E74 are focus constructions, there are a number of peculiari-
ties. First, if these were standard cleft sentences, the pro-verb of the extrafocal clause would
have to be in dependent status. While this is hard to know for the irregular forms ka’h (E73a)
and bíin (E73c), the forms of E73b and d appear to be forms of the plain status. Second, while
any constituent can be focused without its form being thereby affected in any way, a finite
verb cannot; it must be nominalized. Therefore, the focused verbs in E73f show the nominal-
izing suffixes introduced in §4.3, identical with incompletive (dependent) status. Third, the
process is relatively unproblematic with intransitive verbs, as in E73, as their only actant is
identical with the subject of ka’h and may thus safely be suppressed by the nominalization.
46 One of the rare examples is E67 above, featuring dependent incompletive status.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 34
Things are more complicated with transitive focused verbs, as in E74. The purpose of the
verb-focus construction is to put the verb into focus. Consequently, its dependents remain in
the extrafocal clause. Therefore, the verb is detransitivized before it is nominalized. The inter-
nal syntax of the extrafocal clause is adapted, too: what was the direct object of the focused
verb becomes a prepositional object (Beltrán 1746, §172). The verb focus construction is,
consequently, marked with plurivalent verbs.
The progressive aspect views what the verb designates as an ongoing situation that the
referent of the subject is in. Consequently, the functional locus of the progressive aspect is in
intransitive verbs.47 The verb focus construction is therefore well suited to get grammatical-
ized into a progressive aspect.48 The resulting construction may be dubbed focused
progressive (as in Lehmann 2008). Two symptoms of the grammaticalization of the focused
progressive construction in CYM will be mentioned: First, its susceptibility to nominalization
by coercion, i.e. by having it depend on the preposition ti’, as in E75.
E75 ti cimil in cah
CYM ti’ kim-il =in ka’h
LOCdie-INCMPL =A.1.SG do
‘at/by my being ill’ (Coronel 1620:58)
Second, since the action feature of the basic meaning of kib is lost, it combines even with pas-
sive verbs, as in E76:
E76 tzicil in cah
CYM tsi’k-il =in ka’h
obey\PASS-INCMPL =A.1.SG do
‘I am (being) obeyed’ (San Buenaventura 1684:11v)
MYM has a verb-focus construction, too, but it is not as central to the conjugation paradigm
as the focused progressive appears to be in the grammars of CYM. This has two totally unre-
lated reasons. The first is that the CYM construction is much more grammaticalized than is
the MYM verb focus construction, which was renewed with the lexical verb beet/meent
‘make’ (seen in E40 above). The modern counterpart to E73d would consequently be E77.
E77 lúub-ul t=u meet-ah
‘fall was what he did’ (~ ‘all of a sudden, he fell’)
The CYM construction is clearly a kind of progressive aspect, which the MYM construction
is not; it is rather more of a thetic construction fit for all-new-utterances. The second reason
for its prominence in the colonial grammars is a methodological one: The category is not
nearly as frequent in the texts as it is in the grammars. The explanation is not hard to find: The
grammarians needed to fill up the conjugation paradigms presupposed by Latin grammar
(Hanks 2010:214f). If one looks for a present tense in CYM, the closest analog would appear
to be the imperfective aspect described in §4.7.2. This, however, originates in complex sen-
tences, whereas here an isolated verb form was needed. In a decontextualized sentence
reduced to a finite verb, all of the emphasis is on the finite verb. Which provokes a verb-focus
47 Evidence for this is provided, inter alia, by the documented history of the evolution of the progres-
sive aspect in English and in substandard German; see Lehmann 1991, §3.2.
48 The progressive aspect of other languages has a similar origin; cf., e.g., Güldemann 2003 for Bantu.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 35
On its way into the modern Yucatecan languages, the pro-verb cib is further fossilized;
only the form cah/ka’h occurs in a couple of contexts. This is ousted from its function as a
pro-verb in verb-focus constructions by the lexical verb beet/meent illustrated in E77. Ka’h
survives in this function only in the formulaic pattern illustrated by E78.
E78 Chéen uk’ul =u ka’h.
MYM only drink:INTROV(INCMPL) =A.3 do
‘drinking is all he does / he only drinks (all the time)’ (Briceño Chel 1998:77)
Neither is the focused progressive with ka’h further grammaticalized to a plain progressive.
As we have seen in §4.7.3, the progressive construction which gets established involves a dif-
ferent auxiliary. Instead, verb focusing is applied to the motion-cum-purpose construction
analyzed in §4.8. What is put into focus position is the verb benel/binel/bin ‘go’, while the
purpose part of the construction is left behind in the extrafocal clause core. The resultant spe-
cific construction is, thus, a merger of the focused progressive with the motion-cum-purpose
construction. E79f illustrate it with an intransitive and transitive full verb, resp.
E79 benel in cah ti hanal
CYM ben-el =in ka’h ti’ han-al
‘I am going to eat’ (Coronel 1620:50)
E80 Binel in cah incambez palalob.
CYM bin-el =in ka’h =in kan-bes paal-alo’b
go-INCMPL=A.1.SG do =A.1.SG learn-CAUS(SUBJ) child-PL
‘I am going to teach the children.’ (San Buenaventura 1684:9Br)
As already observed above (fn. 43), on its way to MYM, the motion-cum-purpose construc-
tion develops an asymmetry conditioned by the transitivity of the full verb which persists into
the focused progressive: a transitive full verb (E80) is in the subjunctive motivated by the
motion-cum-purpose construction, while the status of an intransitive full verb (E79) is the
incompletive, which is diachronically the pure nominalized form (§4.3). This is in consonance
with the latter being subordinated by the preposition ti.49 Again at the stage of CYM, the
binary contrast between bin ‘go’ and tal ‘come’ is yet maintained in their grammaticalization,
as proved by E81. Observe, by the way, the third person on the pro-verb, obviously in analogy
to the third person in the phase verb construction of §4.7.1.
E81 a. tal(el) v cah in botic in ppax
CYM tal(-el) =u ka’h =in bo’t-ik =in p’aax
come-INCMPL =A.3 do =A.1.SG pay-INCMPL =A.1.SG debt
‘I would like to pay my debt’ (Coronel 1620:69)
Further reduction of the paradigm, however, leads to the consequence that the only verb possi-
ble in the MYM focused motion-cum-purpose construction is bin, and the construction only
survives in the modern immediate future, illustrated by the intransitive and transitive sen-
tences of E82.
E82 a. bin =in ka'h xíimbal ti' le chaan kaah ...=e'
MYM IMM.FUT =A.1.SG do walk(INCMPL) LOCDEM little village =R3
‘I am going to walk to that little village’ (hts'on_016)
49 The documentary situation is such that this latter change appears earlier in the focused progressive
than in the motion-cum-purpose construction proper.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 36
b. bin =in ka'h =in xíimba-t yuum ahaw
IMM.FUT =A.1.SG do =A.1.SG walk-TRR(SUBJ) master/father chief
‘I am going to visit the chief’ (hts'on_020)
The preposition ti’ no longer shows up in this construction in MYM. And as in the focused
progressive (E76), the full verb does not need to be an agentive verb, as shown by E83f.
E83 bin =in ka'h kíim-il
‘I am going to die’ (FCP 395)
E84 bin =u ka'h-o'b suut ba'ba'l-il-o'b
MYM IMM.FUT =A.3 do-3.PL turn\INTROV demon-ADVR-PL
‘they were becoming demons’ (hnazario_415.5)
By desemanticization, the semantic component of motion has disappeared, and what remains
is only the direct tie between present topic time and future event time. Bin ka’h is now a
complex auxiliary with the value of immediate future.
E85 can serve for the clitic placement test:
E85 Behe'la'=e' bin =in ka'h wáah túun=in kíins-ech?
MYM today=R3 IMM.FUT =A.1.SG do INT then =A.1.SG kill-B.2.SG
‘And now I shall kill you?’ (hk'an_610)
It shows that in contrast with the bíin of the predictive future the first component of the
discontinuous auxiliary cannot be host to a clitic, but the second component can. This is in
consonance with the reduction processes to be analyzed in a moment and argues for the struc-
tural unity of the discontinuous auxiliary.
The structure of this auxiliation is peculiar within the grammar of Yucatec Maya in sev-
eral respects. First, this is the only auxiliary which conditions different statuses on the full
verb depending on the latter’s transitivity, as is shown by E82. This is a reflection of the
blending of two different constructions at its origin: The subjunctive on the transitive verb is a
reflection of the motion-cum-purpose construction, which requires this status for the purpose
verb. The incompletive on the intransitive verb is its nominalized form, which in turn is
required by the preposition which originally governed this verbal core. It only remains to find
out why the intransitive morphology reflects the verb-focus construction, while the transitive
morphology reflects the motion-cum-purpose construction.
Secondly, bin ka’h is the only discontinuous auxiliary of the language. What is more,
the real auxiliary in the construction is the component ka’h. This, however, does not occupy
the clause-initial position taken by all the other auxiliaries of the language. This position is,
instead, taken by a verb which has the role of a full verb in the source construction. Thirdly,
while bin is impersonal like all the other auxiliaries, ka’h is the only one with personal inflec-
tion. As a consequence, with transitive full verbs, the subject is cross-referenced twice
(Briceño Chel 1998:82), as is apparent from examples like E82b. There is, consequently,
much redundancy in this auxiliation. In the colloquial register of Modern Yucatec, the full
forms are rarely used. They are normally reduced in phonologically irregular ways, and there
is currently much variation in this respect. Briceño Chel (1998:82, 2000[i]:88f, 2006, §§1.2,
1.3) notes the fusion of bin in/a/u ka’h into nika’h/naka’h/nuka’h, as in E86a. If the full verb
is transitive and therefore preceded by a Set A index, the ka’h of the auxiliary coalesces with
it, as in #b.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 37
E86 a. Ni-ka’h meyah t=in kool.
MYM IMM.FUT\A.1.SG-do work LOC=A.1.SG milpa
‘I am going to work on my cornfield.’ (Briceño Chel 2000[i]:88)
b. Ni-k=in hant bak’
IMM.FUT\A.1.SG-do=A.1.SG eat:TRR(SUBJ) meat
‘I am going to eat meat’ (Briceño Chel 2000[i]:99)
Other idiosyncratic mergers occur in a variant of the construction in which the ka’h compo-
nent takes Set B indices. Using this variant with a transitive verb leads to cross-referencing
the subject three times. The reduction processes applied in this context disguise this to a cer-
tain extent. Thus, the first syllable of the complex auxiliary in E87 contains the vowel of the
1st ps. sing. set A clitic.
E87 mi-ka'h-en =in wa'l te'x ...
MYM IMM.FUT\A.1.SG-do-B.1.SG =A.1.SG say(SUBJ) you.PL
‘I’m going to tell you ...’ (FCP_043)
However, contractions with clitics of other persons may also contain an i, so that the interim
result of these changes is an auxiliary which takes Set B suffixes to cross-reference the subject
of the clause core. In cases like E87 it leads to doubling, quite untypical of the language. The
only comment one may make on the situation is that before a construction becomes a fixed
grammaticalized inflected form, much variation occurs.
The other Yucatecan languages, too, have developed an immediate future on the basis of a
focused progressive of the motion-cum-purpose construction involving their cognates of
Yucatec bin ‘go’. E88 shows the focused progressive with the defective pro-verb in Lacandón,
which here already assumes an imminent future function (Bruce S. 1968:80, 101):
E88 ok’ol =u kah
‘he is about to cry’ (Bruce S. 1968:80)
Applying this to the motion verb of the motion-cum-purpose construction already illustrated
by E69 yields the Lacandón immediate future. Just as in Yucatec, reduction of the immediate
future construction involves merger of the Set A index preceding the transitive full verb with
the auxiliary kah immediately preceding it. Thus, kah=in/a/u yields kin/ka/ku (Bruce S.
1968:95, 101), as in E89 (where kah must be a variant of k=a [do=A.2]) and E90a.
E89 Bin =a kah päy-e lu’um-o’,
LACANDÓN go =A.2 do carry-SUBJ earthling-PL
‘You are going to take the earthlings with you,’ (Bruce S. 1974:76)
As an alternative to the construction of E69, an intransitive purpose clause may be introduced
by the preposition ti, as in E90b. This may be seen as a direct continuation of the Colonial
construction represented by E79 and is furthermore in analogy with the debitive construction
illustrated by E61.
E90 a. bin =in k=in wuk’-ik
‘I am going to drink it’
b. bin =in kah t=in wuk’-ul
IMM.FUT =A.1.SG do LOC=A.1.SG drink-INCMPL
‘I am going to drink’ (Bruce S. 1968:101)
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 38
In E91 from Itzá, the verb b’el ‘go’ is the full verb occupying the focus position in a simple
verb-focus construction.
E91 (B’el) =u ka’a ich =u kool.
ITZÁ go(INCMPL) =A.3 do/go in =A.3 milpa
‘He is going to his cornfield.’ (Briceño Chel 2000[i]:90f)
If b’el is the motion verb of a motion-cum-purpose construction, an intransitive verb in the
purpose clause is subordinated by the preposition ti, as in E92, while a transitive verb, as in
E93, is in the subjunctive.
E92 (B’el) =u ka’a ti han-al.
ITZÁ go =A.3 do/go LOC eat-INCMPL
‘He is going to eat.’ (Briceño Chel 2000[i]:91)
E93 U-ka'ah =u b’et-eh =u yotoch
ITZÁ A.3-do/go =A.3 make-SUBJ =A.3 home
'He is going to make his home' (Hofling 1991, 1:5)
The peculiarity here is that since occurrence of the defective verb ka’a is all but limited to the
construction with b’el in focus,50 it assumes the sense of ‘go’ by syntagmatically mediated
coding (Lehmann 2014). Consequently, b’el becomes redundant and may be omitted. This is
true not only for the immediate future developed from the motion-cum-purpose construction,
but also for the simple verb-focus construction of E91.51
The facts of Mopán, finally, are similar. E94 illustrates the simple verb-focus construc-
E94 T’an =in-ka’aj.
MOPAN speak =A.1.SG-do
‘I am speaking.’ (Hofling 2011:154)
E95 shows the immediate future construction with an intransitive full verb in the second per-
son (cf. Hofling 2011:153). The #a and #b examples represent the full and reduced variants,
resp. The same relationship holds between E96a and b, where the pronominal enclitic preced-
ing the transitive verb is involved in the contraction, too. As may be seen, contraction of the
auxiliary with the Set A index works similarly as in the Yucatec E86. Moreover, the intransi-
tive verb of E95 is in the incompletive status and subordinated by ti, while the transitive verb
of E96 is in the subjunctive.
E95 a. Bel =a ka’a ti wäy-el.
‘You are going to sleep.’
b. B=a-ka’a ti wäy-el.
go=A.2-do LOCsleep-INCMPL
‘You’re going to sleep.’
E96 a. Bel =in ka’a =in koykin =a nene’e
MOPÁN IMM.FUT =A.1.SG do =A.1.SG lay.down(SUBJ) =DEM baby
‘I am going to lay the baby to sleep’
50 Hofling 1991:17 does present an example with ka’a as the main verb meaning ‘do’. A similar con-
struction in Ch'ol employs the cognate verb cha’l ‘do’ (Coon 2010[R], §3.1).
51 This is mentioned in Briceño Chel 2000[i], but not in Hofling 1991.
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 39
b. B=i(n)-k=in koykin =a nene’e
IMM.FUT=A.1.SG-do=A.1.SG lay.down(SUBJ) =DEM baby
‘I’m going to lay the baby to sleep’ (Briceño Chel 2000[i]:95)
The languages of the Yucatecan branch share all the essential properties of the immediate
future auxiliation: the discontinuous auxiliary, the multiple cross-reference to the subject and
the asymmetry of status marking of the full verb conditioned by its transitivity, which reflects
the contamination of two different syntactic constructions operative at the origin of this auxili-
ation. All four languages reduce this complex auxiliary construction; but as the processes
operative here are not phonologically regular, they also differ among the languages.
The grammaticalization of the construction is a process in two main phases:
(a) verb focus construction > focused progressive
(b) focused progressive of auxiliary ‘go’ > (simple) immediate future.
More in detail, the following minimal steps compose the process:
The motion verb bin ‘go’ is semantically bleached; the movement component disappears.
The incompletive or subjunctive verb remaining in the extrafocal clause is reinterpreted
as the main verb.
The internal structure of the complexbin set_A_index ka’h’ is blurred. By being forced
into the Procrustean bed of the initial position, it is reanalyzed as a discontinuous immedi-
ate future auxiliary with internal inflection.
The whole sentence ceases to be complex; it is reinterpreted as a single clause.
Whatever may have remained of the focal emphasis on the initial verb vanishes; the con-
struction becomes open to different information structures that may be superimposed.
The model of this complex reanalysis is the structure of the simple fully finite clause of Dia-
gram 6, in which the initial auxiliary combines with the enclitic subject pronoun and is
followed by the verbal complex (as, e.g., in E17b). The result of the change conforms to that
model to the extent possible for a discontinuous auxiliary.
4.10 Auxiliation in Yucatecan languages
The inherited suffixal system, where a minimum aspect system is coded as part of the status
category, is renewed, in the period from Proto-Yucatecan to Modern Yucatec, by a large para-
digm of aspectual auxiliaries. The sources of these auxiliaries are of different categories and
form different syntactic constructions with the clause core. This explains the different status
categories that they condition on the full verb. Conditioning them, they render them largely
redundant. The new categories mark relatively fine distinctions not only of aspectual, but also
of temporal and modal categories.
4.10.1 Syntactic relations
The new set of auxiliaries is structurally completely different from the inherited suffixal sta-
tus-aspect-mood system. Since it owes its origin essentially to grammaticalization, it is based
on syntactic rules operative at the time of its formation. There are four syntactic constructions
at work:
a) an adverb modifying the verbal clause (core) following it and leaving its status marking
Christian Lehmann, Grammaticalization of TAM marking in Yucatec Maya 40
b) complementation, where a relational noun, an impersonal phase verb or modal verboid
takes a verbal clause core in the dependent (subsequently incompletive) status as its com-
c) the motion cum purpose construction, where a verb of directed motion is followed by its
purpose complement, represented by a verbal clause core in the subjunctive
d) the verb-focus construction, which puts the main verb of the clause into focus position,
leaving behind in the extrafocal clause a pro-verb with all the dependents of the focused
The primary structural division of this set contrasts construction #a with constructions #b
– #d. Construction #a is mono-clausal from the beginning. The auxiliary to-be bears a modify-
ing relation to the clause core, which is syntactically independent. Constructions #b #d
transcend the simple clause; #b and #c are biclausal, #d is clefted. In these, the auxiliary to-be
constitutes the main clause, while the clause core depends on it. As a consequence, auxiliation
strategy #a leaves the syntactic relations in the clause core intact, while strategies #b #d
require some degree of nominalization of the clause core.
This difference has consequences for the configuration of basic syntactic relations in the
clause core. These do not concern the transitive subject. Since Proto-Maya, this has been
cross-referenced in all Mayan languages by the same Set A indices which also cross-reference
the possessor. This produces the ergative pattern of alignment shown by the cross-reference
indices. Since it appears primarily in completive status, which is semantically perfective, one
may plausibly assume that assignment of possessive marking to the transitive subject stems,
in its turn, from a pre-historic nominalization process. Be that as it may, the subordination of
the clause core with auxiliation strategies #b#d again requires nominalization of the clause
core. Since the underlying transitive subject is already marked by a possessive relation, the
intransitive subject now remains to be affected. This is why, in all tenses and aspects except
the perfective, and also excepting subjunctive mood, it is marked by Set A indices. The result
is a rather peculiar form of aspect-conditioned split subject marking, which occurs in intransi-
tive, not in transitive clauses.52
4.10.2 Grammaticalization of the auxiliary
Although the four constructions are clearly distinct, they share a clause-initial position which
becomes the melting-pot for the aspectual and modal formatives recruited from different
sources. Paths #a, #c and #d have been followed only once each in history; path #b has been
the most prolific one.
Since the process of renewal and grammaticalization of auxiliaries has not finished, the
paradigm is open and heterogeneous both in functional and in structural terms. In contempo-
rary Yucatec, while all of the auxiliaries occupy the same structural position, the older ones
are bound while the more recent ones are independent. And although several of them stem
from verbs, they share the property of leaving conjugation categories to the full verb while
remaining uninflected themselves. This is true with the single exception of the immediate
future auxiliary, which is idiosyncratic in many respects.
The grammaticalization of auxiliaries evidences a process of clause union: it shrinks an
original biclausal construction into a monoclausal one. This is perhaps clearer in Mayan lan-
guages, with their preference for verb-initial position and for impersonal