Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Stephen A. Marlett


Huastec is a Mayan language spoken in east-central Mexico. It is considered important in Mayan studies since it alone represents a distinct branch within the Mayan family of languages; however, there is, in fact, relatively little published work on Huastec, especially on Huastec syntax. This thesis fills in some of this lacuna with a description of several aspects of Huastec clause structure.

A general overview of Huastec grammar is presented in chapter 2, followed by several chapters each of which focuses on a separate topic of Huastec clause structure. The analyses in these chapters are presented within the theoretical frameworks of relational grammar and arc pair grammar. This theoretical perspective allows for a lucid account of the various structures considered.

Huastec has clauses which involve several distinct types of structure found in other Mayan languages —passive, antipassive, indirect object advancement (dative shift), instrument advancement, possessor ascension (possessor dative), and others. Some of these have been identified in other descriptions of Huastec; however, this thesis provides a more detailed account of such structures in Huastec, some of which have remained unnoticed in other descriptions, and makes sharp distinctions between various ones which have previously been confused.

While providing a descriptive account of interest to Mayanists, certain issues of theoretical interest are also raised. Many European languages have been found to include morphosyntactic devices reflecting syntactic structures that involve, as a minimal characteristic, the presence of a nominal which is both a subject and a direct object; one well-documented example is the use of essere as an auxiliary in Italian (cf. Perlmutter 1978, Rosen 1981). (The labels middle voice and medio-passive are often associated with such devices.) These devices and the exact constraints upon them vary greatly among these languages, yet the clauses in which they occur are generally limited to certain reflexive, passive, and unaccusative clauses. This thesis provides an account of similar clauses from a non-Indo-European language. In addition, the prediction is made that some language which has such a morphosyntactic device should also allow the same device in certain antipassive clauses; it is argued that this situation holds in Huastec. This, in turn, provides new and novel evidence, in favour the universal characterization of antipassives proposed by Postal (1977).

A novel account of possessor ascension has been proposed by Rosen (1987); however, it is shown that this analysis is not viable for Huastec. Rather, it is argued that possessor ascension clauses in Huastec involve the raising of a possessor specifically to indirect object.


One chapter was subsequently published in the Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session, vol. 33 (1989) and can be found here.

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