The term "substance" in Western metaphysics is commonly used to indicate the permanence of a substratum, whether extended or non-extended, which underlies and constitutes reality. Its extension is manifest in the appearances of the physical world, and its non-extension may refer to its coming to be and passing out of existence, i.e. the concept of change. Other terms which may be intimated in a discussion of substance may include but not be limited to "matter", "time", "space", "being", "cause and effect", etc. This synopsis of substance may seem to be overly generalized (actually, it is), but is intended here simply to illustrate a dichotomy in Western thought which is not intrinsically appropriate to the study of the Native Americans, except perhaps by contrast, and more particularly to the study of Native American languages, which have no means of expressing the distinction between, for lack of better terms, "spiritual" and "non-spiritual" matter
In the Zuni language, the noun /a means "stone" or "rock" (the "/" represents a glottal stop). As a transitive verb, /a refers to "being depressions in rocks", but as Newman noted, /a belongs to a class of verbs "which are statics referring to the existence of an entity or quality" and "English translation fails to demonstrate convincingly that a verb of this type is transitive". Thus, "being depressions in rocks" could be translated as "a depression is", or "there is a depression", or "it has a depression". This may predispose one to interpret an apparent confusion of the substantive and predicative (Cushing noted this in Zuni Fetishes). As an intransitive verb the meaning of /a is a demonstrative "be prone", or "be laying", indicating location, and belongs to the same class of verbs denoting static entities where the direct object of the verb becomes indefinitized.
The term /a has also been translated as "stone" when it appears as a prefix in the transitive verb -po/ya, a term which means "to cover". In Zuni Ceremonialism Bunzel translates /a -po/yanne as "stone cover" (meaning "sky"), a term which Newman translates as simply "sky". The suffix -nne means singularity.
This same term was translated by Cushing as a verb meaning "all covering" in reference to Apoyan Tatcu, which means "Father Sky". Cushing's intention was "all-covering Father". This later use is in accord with the presence of /a in the form of the inflectional prefix /a.w-, a verbal pronominal prefix for a plural absolutive, where .w- is dropped when appearing before a consonant. This use of inflection is also correct in referring to nominal particles indicating kinship terms, names of animals, demonstratives, numbers, and indefinites, and the presense of /a in this use is that of a word, not a syllable. /A -po/yanne would not be a particle, whereas /a -po/yan tatcu would be.
However, this use of inflection in a particle is in contrast to the translation of such particles as A pila shiwani, which means "bow priests". The correct inflection of pi/la is pi/la we/, but in the compound of the particle the inflection is denoted by the prefix /a which is a word meaning plurality of an indefinite number. As Miner notes, this is a rare use and the inflection is generally affixed to the head term, as in tehli-ya-ka /a-shiwani (night priests), or tehli-ya-ka /a-tatcu (night father, notice the convergence of plurality and singularity, i.e. there is but one night father and he exhausts a class).
One might interpret Bunzel's translation as being influenced by her considerable contact with Zuni folklore, and Cushing's translation due to his membership with the /A -pi/la shiwani and considerable knowledge of Zuni mythology. Bunzel had criticized Cushing's translations as "metaphysical glossing", but the accuracy of that claim in regard to /A pi/la shiwani remains unseen. It should be noted that Bunzel's translation of /a te-ona in Zuni Ceremonialism as "beings" is tantamount to translating it as "all (/a) those whom are (ona) terrestrial (te)", and was intended to exhaust the class, just as Cushing's translation of /A po/yan Tatcu was intended to exhaust the class (there can be only one father sky). It should also be noted that Cushing may have confounded (or compounded) his usage of the plural absolutive with the separate, derivational use of /a which pluralizes particles referring to persons (/a hoi).
In conclusion, the common usage and multi-referentiality of the word /a lends ambiquity to the interpretation of many words and may possibly represent preconceptions which semantically transcend any dichotomy of spiritual and non-spiritual matter.
Bunzel, Ruth L. Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism. Intro. by Nancy Pareto. University of New Mexico Press, 1992. ISBN 0826313760
Miner, Kenneth L. "Noun Stripping and Loose Incorporation in Zuni". International Journal of American Linguistics. 52: 242-254, 1986.
Newman, Stanley. Zuni Dictionary. Indiana University Research Center Publication Six. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1958. ISBN B0007F3L0Y
Newman, Stanley. "The Zuni Verb 'To Be'". Foundations of Language, Supplemental Series. Vol. 1. Ed. by John W. Verhaar., The Humanities Press, 1967. ISBN 902770032X
Walker, Willard. "Inflection and Taxonomic Structure in Zuni". International Journal of American Linguistics. 32(3): 217-227, 1966.
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