In search of the real Kaqchikel

In contrast to most students who attended Guatemala Field Station this year, my background is in nutrition rather than linguistics. I am a registered dietitian/nutritionist. I arrived in Tecpán, Guatemala three months ago to begin a year-long fellowship with the Maya Health Alliance/Wuqu Kawoq, a non-government organization that provides mostly home-based health care in Mayan languages. The fellowship is sponspored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation. To me, learning to speak local languages is important in order to break through cultural barriers, build trust with patients/clients and to see the world in new ways. You can read more about my interest in languages on my blog

Pictured Above: Guatemala Field Station Teachers Lajuj Batz (Left) and Ixkamel (Center)
This year, I set a target for myself to speak the Mayan language of Kaqchikel at 80% fluency by the end of my fellowship. There is only one small problem with this goal -- There isn…

How to help victims of the Fuego volcano eruption

Volcán de Fuego, less than 20 miles southeast from where we are in Patzún, began erupting around noon on Sunday, and continued with fresh eruptions this afternoon. Pyroclastic flows, which can travel at over 100mph, are burying people and towns. The official death toll so far is 70, but hundreds or thousands of people are still unaccounted for, and thousands have been displaced from their homes. The news here is a constant cycle of horrific death and destruction.

Here in Patzún, we're doing what we can by donating clothing, shoes, and toiletries for rescue workers, survivors, and evacuees. Isabel's host mom, Doña Gloria, and her two daughters helped us find the right stores to buy everything, and helped us carry all our bags to a church that was collecting donations. (A quetzal goes a long way here--we were limited only by what we could carry!)

You can help too! Please send money to organizations that are working on the ground in Guatemala.  Wuqu' Kawoq is collaborating wit…

Learning Kaqchikel with Ixkamey and Lajuj B'atz'

Xseqër k'a! Buenos dias!

As previous field school participants have noted, the immersive Kaqchikel classes are intense. Our instructors speak almost exclusively in Kaqchikel, and we don't use a textbook or other written demonstrations during class.

I joined the class on the fourth day. My only preparation was the first lesson of this short online course, so all I knew was a few greetings, yes and no, and thank you. I didn't know what to expect, and I was worried that I'd be too far behind to catch up.

The class began with an exchange of greetings (yay, I understood that part!), and then launched into a review of the previous day. Before I knew it, my classmates were howling and crawling and hopping around: turns out we were reviewing vocabulary for animals.

In a typical language class, the teacher would probably point to an object (or a student pretending to be a monkey), and pronounce a single word. But here we always speak in full sentences (albeit simple, repetitive …

Welcome to Field School 2018!

We've already finished the first week of this year's field school, so we have a lot to catch you up on!

This is the third annual trip to the Guatemala Field Station in Patzún for the summer field school.  Students and faculty visit Patzún for a month, including two weeks of intensive language classes and two weeks of mentored research and data collection. Last weekend the first group of linguists arrived in Patzún and settled in with their host families. On Monday, they began the immersion course in Kaqchikel. It's a diverse group of students from different universities and stages of training:
Akshay Aitha just graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Linguistics and Applied Math. Caleb Ewing is a graduate student in Linguistics at the University of Florida.Brecken Keller is an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, majoring in Linguistics and Computer Science. Polina Pleshak is a graduate student in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at Lomonosov Moscow State…

Final Post 2017

We've all safely arrived back in our homes after a wonderful adventure to Patzún. A big thank you to our host families, to Wuqu Kawoq, to our teachers, to our tireless consultants, and to the tireless Pedro Mateo Pedro for the amazing experience. Thank you for reading the blog and we look forward to next year's trip!

UVG Presentations

On Friday, June 16, we went to the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala to give presentations on our research to a group of students who are interested in studying Mayan languages. There were five student presentations and one workshop.

The goal of the presentations was (i) to show the local student community the different things that we were working on while in Guatemala and (ii) to get feedback on our work. It was a really great lesson in presenting in our non-native language (Spanish), and also gave us experience in presenting our work to non-linguists.

Irine Burukina presented first and discussed the idea of Universal Grammar in regards to Mayan languages and their similarities to, and differences from, other world languages. Her research talked about the similarities between reflexives in Kaqchikel, English, Hungarian, and Spanish, and the differences in quantifiers among the same four languages.
Then, Justin Royer presented his current research on definite and indefinite articles …

Tecpán: One year later

In the grand scheme of things, Patzún and Tecpán are a lot more similar than they are different. They're both relatively small cities (pop: ~20k) in the Guatemalan Highlands separated by only a 40 minute trip on the highway. But after three weeks in Patzún, Tecpán felt like a world apart.

On Monday, June 19th Paulina and I took the short trip in the afternoon to reconnect with our host families from last year. Unlike this year, where we spent the entire month of the Field School in Patzún, last year's Field School was split - 2 weeks in Tecpán learning Kaqchikel in the Wuqu' Kawoq offices, followed by 2 weeks in Patzún doing fieldwork. As some of the only returning members from last year's trip, we thought it'd be nice to pay a short visit to our host families in Tecpán.

The most noticeable differences between Patzún and Tecpán is the population, officially Tecpán is bigger by just 3,000 or so, but it feels much larger than that. Plus, proximity to the Iximche ruin…