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Transcription in Kaqchikel. My Experience

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Something incredible that I learned while on this trip to the UMD Guatemala Field Station this summer is that simply talking with someone about their day can reveal unique oral narratives. Recording, transcribing, and translating these narratives can aid in the preservation of the storytelling methods in the language that one is studying. in my case Kaqchikel.

For my host Doña Güicha and I (and for many people around the world), asking about the happenings in each other’s days is usually where our conversations would begin after a long day of work. I wanted a chance to document those interactions, so I made this recording while we sat together, watching the tortillas heat up on the wooden stove top. In the background the youngest member of our family, 7 year old Daniel, plays with the chair (and occasionally screams). We had spent many nights like this while I was in Patzún, but this had to be one of the most memorable.

Tia Güicha, as I fondly called her, is pictured here. She speaks…

Host Family and Homestay

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On the first day of classes, I got sick. I’d followed all the instructions about the water and hadn’t eaten anything suspicious, but there isn’t much to do about Patzún’s 2.250m of elevation. It had been barely more than 24 hours after meeting the family I was staying with, but before I could do much my host Marta was at the pharmacy with me, making me chicken soup and checking up on me in my room. Before even getting to know me, the whole family was mobilized to make sure I was doing ok. Initially, I thought this attention was because I felt unwell, but after I while I noticed they were genuinely interested in making me feel at home.

Every night at dinner the whole family would ask questions about my day, they’d help me remember the Kaqchikel I learned in class and ask me to talk about life in Brazil. As time went on, dinner became one of the most important parts of my day. I quickly became good friends with my host family and they were always excited to share stories and ask questi…

Kaqchikel For A Speaker Of... Not Spanish

I studied French in school. And ASL. And Mandarin. But, despite living my entire life in Florida, a state with a huge community of Spanish-speakers (including some in my own family), I had never studied Spanish. I applied to the Guatemala Field School thinking that I would not be accepted, as a direct result of this fact. 
When I was accepted, I arrived in Guatemala with virtually no knowledge of Spanish. I could read passably, but every time someone spoke to me I could return only a blank stare. I could say "Hola" and count to ten, but those weren't doing me much good.
My host family speaks primarily Kaqchikel, but they codeswitch frequently to Spanish as well. They have been accepting and patient as I have struggled through, with one memorable example being when I told them "I don't want your clothes" a week in. I was trying to communicate that I didn't want to be culturally appropriative by wearing their traditional clothing, after they asked. Anothe…

In search of the real Kaqchikel

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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 www.indigenouslinguist.com.


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

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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'

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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!

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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…