Monday, June 27, 2016

Log 12: Amidst the hills of Patzún

a warm welcome
a warm welcome
We arrived at Pedro’s house in Patzún where we were greeted by out new host families. The first impression – Kaqchikel is everywhere. Our host families regularly speak it, it’s on the streets and at the market. And more – it’s a very different variety of Kaqchikel than the one in Tecpán. Also, Patzún dialect is different than a dialect from a nearby town – clearly a sign that sheer distance is not everything.


casual morning
casual morning stuff


Yaxun and his doppelgänger
Yaxun and his doppelgänger
Patzún is beautifully located on the hills. It means we’re climbing them all the time. It’s mindblowing how a tuk-tuk can go up or down such a cline. It’s also surrounded by stunning volcanoes one of which, Fuego, nomen omen, smokes occasionally. It rains heavily in the evenings but the days are bright and sunny. And from time to time there’s a thunderstorm spectacle over the mountains. We’ll keep working on Kaqchikel, but also branch out and look at other Mayan languages –closely related Tz’utujil and very different Mam. We’ll have lots of fun (and work).

ruk'u'x tinamït with Lwin, me, Gesoel and Carola
ruk'u'x tinamït with Lwin, me, Gesoel and Carola
the gym
the gym
the view
the view

Friday, June 24, 2016

Flyer for our presentations at UVG-A

Here is a link to the flyer that Pedro has prepared for our presentations on June 29 at UVG-A (Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, Campus Altiplano).

Log 11: How to Kaqchikel

On Monday 6th started out daily Guatemalan, to be more accurate Tecpaneco, routine. We ate frijolitos, drank coffee and tried not to forget all those Kaqchikel words for body parts and fruits (for the latter we even don't know words in our own language sometimes).

Everyday we came at Wuqu' Kawoq' office at 8 a.m. and our classes began with Xseqär k'a and ended at 4 p.m. with Chwa'q chïk. We listened and looked, remembered and spoke, tachapa' and tak'ütu, played and laughed a lot. Then we have our refacción and discusión on the roof or on the way there. Then more classes.

After classes we walked and finally met all together at our regular spot – Café de aquí. (It is not an advertisement, but they have wi-fi and, of course, panini Tecpaneco.)

On Thursday there was a market day, so we were curious to observe everything around the city centre and waste all our quetzales on pots, uqs and ch'ops. In Antigua we learned how to bargain more or less properly in Spanish and tried to use this skill in Tecpán. (Frankly, it was not so successful as we expected.)

Some of us had their first elicitation sessions. Дела пошли в гору!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Log 10: Kaqchikel and Tz'utujiil Elicitation

Gesoel and I have had the pleasure to work with several speakers of Kaqchikel and Tz’utujiil for our project exploring the distribution of /wi/ , which has been described as a post-verbal focus particle in Kaqchikel.

We first interviewed Doña Toya in Tecpán. Doña Toya hosted Emma for two weeks, and will be welcoming her back to her home after our Patzún adventure. Doña Toya is a very enthusiastic person who loves to share her knowledge of Kaqchikel; to summarize some of our findings for her dialect, Doña Toya rejected the /wi/ particle in many of the environments in which it has been reported to be obligatory in the literature—for instance, we expected /wi/ to occur obligatorily after the verb upon the extraction of a locative, but she rejected it outright:

(1)  X-Ø-tzopin           Lolmaay chwa jay.
       COM-B3s-jumo   Lolmaay backyard
       'Lolmaay jumped in the yard.'

(1') Akuchi’    x-Ø-tzopin           (*wi) ri    Lolmaay?
      where    COM-B3s-jump     WI  DET Lolmaay
      ‘Where did Lolmaay jump?’

Doña Toya was also kind enough to share with Gesoel and I some of her family history—for instance, she told us about her brother, who always encouraged everyone in her family to speak Kaqchikel, which prompted Doña Toya to teach the language to her daughter Odi and her granddaughters. While I will not delve into the details of Doña Toya's family history, it was a reminder of how aware we should be as fieldworkers of Guatemala’s recent history and its ongoing impact on the life of the Mayan communities (for an excellent book on the worst years of the war, I recommend “Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit” by Virginia Garrard-Burnett).

Gesoel with Doña Toya and her daughter Odi
After our arrival in Patzún, Gesoel and I have worked with speakers from our host families. I’ve been interviewing Doña Gilda, who is my host mom Doña Esperanza’s daughter. She is also a very enthusiastic speaker and a pleasure to work with. In contrast with Doña Toya, Doña Gilda considers the /wi/ particle optional; again, unlike what is reported in the literature:

(2) Ankuchi’ x-Ø-tzopin          (wi)  ri       a       Lu?
      where      COM-B3s-jump  WI  DET CLF  Pedro
      ‘Where did Pedro jump?’

Chris and I with our (huge) host family; Doña Gilda is holding baby Ximena
Finally, we were lucky to find a Tz’utujiil speaker right here in Patzún! Tz’utujiil is a K’ichean language closely related to Kaqchikel which is spoken primarily in San Juan, San Pedro and Santiago, around Lake Atitlán, though there are speakers as far as Chicacao in the state of Suchitepéquez. Pedro had heard that there was a Tz’utujiil speaker somewhere in the 4ta Avenida, so on the 20th we ventured and asked around, finally falling upon a pink house where Doña Rosario lives and works. Doña Rosario is a Tz’utujil speaker from Santiago Atitlán who lives in Patzún with her husband and children—she cooks and sells patines every Friday (a Sololá dish made out of spicy tomato sauce and a variety of possible meats; shrimp, fish, chicken, or cecina (beef)). For Doña Rosario, a /wa/ particle is obligatory upon extraction of adjuncts:

(3) Bani’tz’ra’ x-Ø-pa’j=*(wa)        Axwan?
     where       COM-B3s-fall=WA Juan
     ‘Where did Juan fall?’

So while we are well on our way towards documenting (and analyzing) the distribution of the /wi/ and /wa/ particle in Kaqchikel and Tz'utujiil, there's lots more work to be done!

Working with Doña Rosario; Paulina (who is working on Tz'utujiil phonology) took the pic

Ps. I call the language Tz'utujiil (with a long <i>) following García Ixmatá (1997).


Log 10: Kaqchikel and Tz'utujiil Elicitation

Gesoel and I have had the pleasure to work with several speakers of Kaqchikel and Tz’utujiil for our project exploring the distribution of /wi/ , which has been described as a post-verbal focus particle in Kaqchikel.

We first interviewed Doña Toya in Tecpán. Doña Toya hosted Emma for two weeks, and will be welcoming her back to her home after our Patzún adventure. Doña Toya is a very enthusiastic person who loves to share her knowledge of Kaqchikel; to summarize some of our findings for her dialect, Doña Toya rejected the /wi/ particle in many of the environments in which it has been reported to be obligatory in the literature—for instance, we expected /wi/ to occur obligatorily after the verb upon the extraction of a locative, but she rejected it outright:

(1)  X-Ø-tzopin           Lolmaay chwa jay.
       COM-B3s-jumo   Lolmaay backyard
       'Lolmaay jumped in the yard.'

(1') Akuchi’    x-Ø-tzopin           (*wi) ri    Lolmaay?
      where    COM-B3s-jump     WI  DET Lolmaay
      ‘Where did Lolmaay jump?’

Doña Toya was also kind enough to share with Gesoel and I some of her family history—for instance, she told us about her brother, who always encouraged everyone in her family to speak Kaqchikel, which prompted Doña Toya to teach the language to her daughter Odi and her granddaughters. While I will not delve into the details of Doña Toya's family history, it was a reminder of how aware we should be as fieldworkers of Guatemala’s recent history and its ongoing impact on the life of the Mayan communities (for an excellent book on the worst years of the war, I recommend “Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit” by Virginia Garrard-Burnett).

Gesoel with Doña Toya and her daughter Odi
After our arrival in Patzún, Gesoel and I have worked with speakers from our host families. I’ve been interviewing Doña Gilda, who is my host mom Doña Esperanza’s daughter. She is also a very enthusiastic speaker and a pleasure to work with. In contrast with Doña Toya, Doña Gilda considers the /wi/ particle optional; again, unlike what is reported in the literature:

(2) Ankuchi’ x-Ø-tzopin          (wi)  ri       a       Lu?
      where      COM-B3s-jump  WI  DET CLF  Pedro
      ‘Where did Pedro jump?’

Chris and I with our (huge) host family; Doña Gilda is holding baby Ximena
Finally, we were lucky to find a Tz’utujiil speaker right here in Patzún! Tz’utujiil is a K’ichean language closely related to Kaqchikel which is spoken primarily in San Juan, San Pedro and Santiago, around Lake Atitlán, though there are speakers as far as Chicacao in the state of Suchitepéquez. Pedro had heard that there was a Tz’utujiil speaker somewhere in the 4ta Avenida, so on the 20th we ventured and asked around, finally falling upon a pink house where Doña Rosario lives and works. Doña Rosario is a Tz’utujil speaker from Santiago Atitlán who lives in Patzún with her husband and children—she cooks and sells patines every Friday (a Sololá dish made out of spicy tomato sauce and a variety of possible meats; shrimp, fish, chicken, or cecina (beef)). For Doña Rosario, a /wa/ particle is obligatory upon extraction of adjuncts:

(3) Bani’tz’ra’ x-Ø-pa’j=*(wa)        Axwan?
     where       COM-B3s-fall=WA Juan
     ‘Where did Juan fall?’

So while we are well on our way towards documenting (and analyzing) the distribution of the /wi/ and /wa/ particle in Kaqchikel and Tz'utujiil, there's lots more work to be done!

Working with Doña Rosario; Paulina (who is working on Tz'utujiil phonology) took the pic

Ps. I call the language Tz'utujiil (with a long <i>) following García Ixmatá (1997).


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Log 9: Tecpán Farewell Party

Our last night in Tecpán, our host families prepared a farewell party for us! All was beautifully set in Doña Marta Ajtzac Choguaj's house, where Paulina was staying. The party started with our host moms singing a song in Kaqchikel for us. We all did our best to join the group. 

The families gave us gifts, which included clothes made by them in the traditional style. They will all be carried back with love and nostalgia to our home. We then had dinner, soup with chicken and vegetables (pulique), chuchitos, and jamaica.

Let's eat!

Almost the whole team

With my host family

Having fun with Doña Toya and Doña Marta

After dinner, Guatemalan music and dancing! Specially for Emma, Rodrigo, Chris and Paulina. As for me … me dolían las piernas y no pude bailar … =)

K-oj-xajon!
hort-1.pl-dance
“Let's dance!”


Saudade ...

Log 8: Last week in Tecpán

In our second week of Kaqchikel classes in Tecpán many things happened. We welcomed some guests from UVG (Universidad del Valle de Guatemala), which is a partner in the field-station project. We had with us the Director Ejecutivo Juan Carlos Villatoro, the decano (dean) Mario Morales, the coordinator of Turism Lic. Pablo Castro and one student, Samuel de León. The students stayed with us in class most of the time. They already knew some Kaqchikel and were able to catch up. The UVG people, including Pedro, and Masha met to discuss joint projects.


Mario, Juan, Masha and Pedro after their meeting


Dr. Peter Rohloff, one of the founders of Wuqu' Kawoq, also visited us during the week. He spoke with us in fluent Kaqchikel (picture coming soon).

 In this second week, we began more advanced topics in Kaqchikel grammar such as antipassives, causatives, positionals and directionals. We learned how to use transitive clauses with ergative and absolutive marking and also how to haggle in the market!

Paulina bargaining in Kaqchikel with Rodrigo

In the last day of the our second week in Guatemala, which marked the end of our stay in Tecpán and the end of our classes, we received our diplomas. Though we were happy with the all we'd learned, we were a bit sad with the end of this first part of our trip. We all got really close during those two weeks. We had so much fun together!


Receiving Kaqchikel Diploma from Ixikamey

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Log 7: Iximche ruins

On Tuesday June 14, we were taken for a tour of the Iximche ruins outside of Tecpán. Don Simeone from Patzún performed a 3-hour traditional Kaqchikel ceremony. It started by lighting 5 colored candles, each signifying a different part of the universe (the sun/creator, mama earth, etc.), on a stone altar, and reciting a Kaqchikel prayer.

Next, Don Simeone used Sugar to draw a Mayan symbol on a platform next to the altar. The symbol, along with the particular point along its circumference that was singled out, represented the date of this day according to the Mayan calendar: jun b'atz'. With the help of Pedro and the teachers, he then proceeded to place various materials in and around the symbol that he had drawn: pieces of wood, a solid block of raw sugar, incense, and dozens of colored candles arranged in a radial fashion around the center of the symbol.

The entire thing was then set on fire, and as the fire burned, we were given our own candles and other materials to place in the fire. Don Simeone then dedicated a portion of the ceremony to each of the months of the Mayan calendar. He told us, in Spanish, the astrological significance of each month, followed by a prayer, in Kaqchikel, dedicated to that month. Those students or other attendees who were born on that month according to the Mayan calendar were given materials to throw into the fire while the portion dedicated to their month was going on.

As you can imagine, the ceremony was extremely long, and all of this sugar (some of it caramelizing) drew a huge amount of bees. None of the Kaqchikel folks seemed particularly bothered by this, but standing for 3 hours or more in the sun surrounded by bees was a bit much for some of us...

After that, we adjourned to the entrance to the ruins, where we sat on the grass for a delightful little picnic lunch. We had tamalitos, a chicken broth soup, and pineapple juice. Stray dogs were looking at us with optimistic eyes throughout the meal, and they indeed got what they were hoping for once we were done... delicious leftovers. Most of our food was vegetables, though, and as Emma was giving some of the dogs her leftovers, one of them was rejecting the vegetables even if those vegetables had been sitting in chicken broth. Only meat for me!

In the afternoon, we took a brief tour of some of the other areas of the ruins, including several other alters and the Mayan ballgame field, where we got further explanations from Don Simeone.

Later, the bus came to take us back to Wuqu' Kawoq, and it was... an American yellow schoolbus. (These are quite common around here. I guess this is where the old one goes when a county upgrades theirs?)


Finally, here are another couple of pictures for your enjoyment. (That's Gesoel admiring the view, in the first one.)



Log 6: El Lago de Atitlán

On Saturday, June 11th we went to Lake Atitlan, of which Aldous Huxley said, “It really is too much of a good thing.” The drive was about an hour and a half from Tecpán by bus, and we left bright and early to head for a nature reserve at the lake’s edge. The drive itself is worth the trip—we came around the edge of the lake on winding roads, and the views were spectacular, even with a cloudy day. The lake itself is quite large, and is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes jutting straight out from the water’s edge.

At the nature reserve, we took a short hike up the mountain. We crossed hanging bridges (six at a time—the asserted capacity of the rickety things) that hang over a little creek trickling down the mountain. We walked into a butterfly preserve, and caught a sight of a turtle relaxing in a little pond. Ted proceeded to scare the turtle, which proves definitely that the turtle might itself be afraid, even if it must be feared. The NSF should give us buckets of money for this important scientific discovery! After the butterfly preserve, we marched along a beautiful path through the woods to the lake’s edge, where we were afforded a little respite and a gorgeous view of the clouds spilling over the mountains into the lake’s basin.




After the nature reserve, we ferried across the lake from Panajachel, one of the larger and most touristy towns on Lake Atitlán, to San Juan la Laguna for lunch. The ride across the lake took about twenty-five minutes, and the choppy lake made for an exciting (and only slightly scary!) ride. San Juan has a much more relaxed pace than Panajachel, and it was just what we needed after a long hike. When we got off the boat, we walked up a very steep hill past several shops and stands. We stopped in a women-run weaving collective, Corazón del Lago, based in San Juan. Their store beautiful scarves, blankets, tablecloths, and other exquisitely crafted textiles. We then went to Alma de Colores, which had opened especially for us, for a late lunch.

Alma de Colores has quite an important mission—the owners exclusively employ differently-abled people from San Juan and surrounding towns. In Guatemala, as in many parts of the world (including the US) differently-abled people are often forced to the outskirts of society, and have difficulty finding life-supporting work. The owners are thus enabling people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to earn a living in this rural area to do so. The restaurant serves delicious, largely home-grown vegetarian food with a beautiful view of the lake—check them out at www.almadecolores.org/, and if you’re in the Atitlán area, visit them for a wonderful meal!

After our lunch, we mosied back to the lake’s edge, and crossed back over to Panajachel for a little more sight-seeing. Unlike San Juan, Panajachel is much more of a tourist trap, but we found a nice little place for tea near the water, and had some relaxing down time before heading back to Tecpán. As we walked back to the bus, we managed to sneak in some time at a local bookstore, where we were able to buy some Kaqchikel dictionaries, a Tz’utujil grammar and dictionary, and more! We left Lake Atitlán exhausted but content travelers. Words really can’t do justice to the beauty of the lake, so if you’re in Guatemala, go.


Log 5 - Kaqchikel Oral Tradition

Doña Natividad Ajcet from Tecpán, Guatemala, remembers the following dialogue from her childhood. After dinner, Doña Nati and her siblings would sit around the fire and act out the dialogue as a sort of game. The dialogue could go on indefinitely and have variations depending on each family’s tradition—this version forms part of the Kaqchikel oral tradition of Tecpán.

Doña Natividad Ajcet de Tecpán, Guatemala, recuerda el siguiente diálogo de su niñez. Después de la cena, Doña Nati y sus hermanos se sentaban alrededor del fuego, recitándose el diálogo como una especie de juego. Este diálogo podía continuar indefinidamente y tenía variaciones dependiendo de la tradición de cada familia—esta versión forma parte de la tradición oral del Kaqchikel de Tecpán.

I present the dialogue in Kaqchikel as given by Doña Nati, with her translation into Spanish and my own into English. // Presento el diálogo en el Kaqchikel de Doña Nati, junto a su traducción al español y la mía al inglés.

KAQCHIKEL
—Choq’a’ nana, choq’a’ tata. Tisipaj jub’a qaq’aq’!
—Achike’ ntok ri q’aq’?
—Richij nkitzij kisik ri Ajawa’!
—Akuchi’ ek’o ri Ajawa’?
—Etz’uyül pa ruwi jun ab’äj!
—Akuchi’ k’o ri ab’äj?
—K’o pa raqanya’!
—Akuchi’ k’o ri raqanya’?
—Xuqum jun kej!
—Akuchi’ k’o ri kej?
—K’o pa jun jay!
—Akuchi’ k’o ri jay?
—Xk’at!
—Akuchi’ k’o ri ruchajil?
—Xureq’ rukej ma Ch’umil!
 SPANISH
—Buenas noches señora, buenas noches señor. ¡Regálennos un poco de fuego!
—¿Para qué les sirve el fuego?
—¡Para encender el cigarro de los señores!
—¿Dónde están los señores?
—¡Están sentados sobre una piedra!
—¿Dónde está la piedra?
—¡Está en el río!
—¿Dónde está el río?
—¡Se lo bebió un caballo!
—¿Dónde está el caballo?
—¡Está en una casa!
—¿Dónde está la casa?
—¡Se quemó!
—¿Dónde están sus cenizas?
—¡Las lamió el caballo del señor Ch’umil!
ENGLISH
—Good night madam, good night sir. Give us a little bit of fire!
—What will you use the fire for?
—To light the lords’ cigarette!
—Where are the lords?
—They are sitting on a stone!
—Where is the stone?
—It is by the river!
—Where is the river?
—A horse drank it!
—Where is the horse?
—It is in a house!
—Where is the house?
—It burned down!
—Where are its ashes?
—Mr. Ch’umil’s horse licked them up!



Doña Nati and I at the farewell party

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Log 4 - Trip to Universidad del Valle


On Saturday the 4th, the group headed up to the altiplano campus of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG). The campus is located in a vast terrain of protected land in Sololá, midway from the highway to the state capital. According to my host mom Doña Nati, the area was used as a military base during the civil war, until the land was abandoned and given to UVG following the signing of the Peace Accords, in order to establish the satellite campus. The university offers classes throughout the week, focusing on education, tourism, and environmental engineering.

Sololá on a clear day
The most important task of the day involved presenting our plans for the field station to UVG faculty and students. The activity began with some much needed coffee, after which Pedro gave a talk on the basic structure and goals of the field station, emphasizing in particular the collaborative nature of the endeavor, within linguistics proper and beyond. One of the special aspects of the project is our commitment to cater to researchers from many different backgrounds, thus fostering a truly multidisciplinary environment where faculty and students, both experienced and novice, can exchange ideas and carry out research in tandem. As Pedro pointed out, the Guatemalan higher education system does not encourage students to exchange ideas with their professors; the teacher-pupil barrier is so entrenched in our mind that it is truly novel to propose that professors interact with students at the same level. However, we think that breaking this barrier is necessary in order to create a research model that can truly result in fruitful investigation.

Ted and Chris looking happy.
After Pedro’s introduction, a few of us talked briefly to the students about our interests. Emma discussed her interest in Kaqchikel-Spanish code-switching in the nominal domain; Sasha and Elisaveta their project on relativization and possession; Barbara her work on language and speech development among Kaqchikel-Spanish bilingual children; Carola her interest in reflexivity cross-linguistically; and I on word order and Case in Mayan, where there are VOS, VSO, and mixed VOS/VSO languages. Personally, I always find it challenging to translate linguistics jargon to digestible terms in order to connect with a non-specialist audience. After all, why should most people care that whether Absolutive Case is assigned by Infl0 or not makes different predictions regarding low adjunct extraction, depending additionally on whether a language is strict VOS or VSO?

Universidad del Valle Altiplano

This disconnect was reflected in some of the questions following our presentations, when audience members wondered how some of our projects would contribute to the communities we will collaborate with. Carola shared her experience in Bolivia, where she was met with similar skepticism, but where she was able to share her findings with the community and work on a dictionary that would benefit future generations of speakers. Barbara remarked on how little is understood about language/speech development among Mayan bilinguals, so her work could provide speakers of Mayan languages with the necessary tools to ensure their children grew up as L1 Mayan speakers, therefore maintaining their language.


Project presentations
On my side, I think that the findings of theoretical work on syntax or other aspects of language structure need to be translated into usable terms for a general audience, in order to tackle one of the reasons languages fall into disuse—as Pedro pointed out, many speakers of minority languages think that their languages have no grammar, no structure, that they are somehow less developed or useful than a language of wider communication (in the Guatemalan case, Spanish). As linguists, we know that this is not true. We therefore have to shows that these ideas are objectively unfounded and false, presenting evidence for our claims in words that are understandable to non-linguists. We can then begin to chip away at some of the negative ideas speakers of minority languages hold toward their own mother tongue (through no fault of their own), thus addressing one of many interconnected reasons that lead speakers of languages like Kaqchikel to shift to another language.



Talking about variation with Ka'i' Kawoq
After the talks, UVG students led us through campus, showing us the facilities and the forest that surrounds the classrooms. We got to breathe fresh air, see some trees endemic to Guatemala like the pinabete, which is now endangered (thanks to the good folks who like to chop them up to celebrate Christmas), and see the view of Sololá and Lake Atitlán (even though the fog covered the volcanoes). As we headed back to Tecpán for lunch following the tour, I felt satisfied with how the day went—I was particularly glad that UVG students challenged our proposals, but also showed genuine interest and enthusiasm about working with us through the field station—I’m sure that this summer’s work will only be the beginning of something really special.  




The group at the "mirador" with UVG students






Monday, June 6, 2016

first days


First day of learning, REAL learning. Classes started at 8:30 since the entire Tecpán wakes up early. It’s nothing like my usual routine, especially if you add making tortillas at 7am. But we’re still running on adrenaline. (wait ‘til posts from later this month)

We started off by getting our Mayan names. One of the traditional ways of assigning them is to combine a Mayan name for a day of birth and the year according to the Mayan calendar. So my Kaqchikel name is Waqxaqi’ Ey. It’s fun and a tricky way to prepare us for learning Kaqchikel numerals. And some of the more advanced learners managed to find a hidden meaning behind their names. Chris is a bunny apparently, or a seed.

We also learned about Wuqu’ Kawoq from its director Anna Kraemer. She told us the story of how Wuqu’ Kawoq started from recognizing the urgent need to fill in the gap in the areas of health care where neither government nor NGOs were present. And interesting enough, it was started by an doctor, anthropologist and two linguistics. A truly great mix and an amazing example of what people can achieve when they collaborate across disciplines. We talked about what are the immediate things that we, as group of enthusiastic language scientists could help. A simple but genius idea already being piloted by Wuqu’ Kawoq is an app to assist midwives with delivering births – it does not require literacy skills and sends the gathered info back to Wuqu’ Kawoq’s database so various risks are evaluated. Plenty of room for contribution from computational linguists and Mayan dialectologists.

There was also proper language class as we know it. The approach taken by our three instructors is to listen, speak and act out as much as possible. We have not taken any notes and we have not looked into a textbook at all. It is challenging but certainly very involving. We learned the basics of greetings and some phonology. We’re already noticing dialectal differences among our three instructors. There is a very curious discrepancy between their distinction among lax and tense vowels. Conservatives varieties of Kaqchikel have up to 10 vowel qualities – tense a, i, e, o, u and lax ä ï ë ö ü. For others, only a and u have tense-lax distinction. And where there’s a dialectal/generational variation, there’s  a great opportunity for a sociolinguistic study.
Other cool experience from the class on pronunciation was the struggle with devoiced sonorants. You wish you could hear us try them out or even perceive the distinction. Dear Kaqchikel babies, how on earth would you ever acquire these?!

Since the classes go until 4pm, we had a nice lunch together. Not to confuse with a lunch BREAK since many of us still practiced the newly learned phrases. And coffee, lots of coffee.


Log 3: First days


First day of learning, REAL learning. Classes started at 8:30 since the entire Tecpán wakes up early. It’s nothing like my usual routine, especially if you add making tortillas at 7am. But we’re still running on adrenaline. (wait ‘til posts from later this month)

We started off by getting our Mayan names. One of the traditional ways of assigning them is to combine a Mayan name for a day of birth and the year according to the Mayan calendar. So my Kaqchikel name is Waqxaqi’ Ey. It’s fun and a tricky way to prepare us for learning Kaqchikel numerals. And some of the more advanced learners managed to find a hidden meaning behind their names. Chris is a bunny apparently, or a seed.

We also learned about Wuqu’ Kawoq from its director Anna Kraemer. She told us the story of how Wuqu’ Kawoq started from recognizing the urgent need to fill in the gap in the areas of health care where neither government nor NGOs were present. And interesting enough, it was started by an doctor, anthropologist and two linguistics. A truly great mix and an amazing example of what people can achieve when they collaborate across disciplines. We talked about what are the immediate things that we, as group of enthusiastic language scientists could help. A simple but genius idea already being piloted by Wuqu’ Kawoq is an app to assist midwives with delivering births – it does not require literacy skills and sends the gathered info back to Wuqu’ Kawoq’s database so various risks are evaluated. Plenty of room for contribution from computational linguists and Mayan dialectologists.

There was also proper language class as we know it. The approach taken by our three instructors is to listen, speak and act out as much as possible. We have not taken any notes and we have not looked into a textbook at all. It is challenging but certainly very involving. We learned the basics of greetings and some phonology. We’re already noticing dialectal differences among our three instructors. There is a very curious discrepancy between their distinction among lax and tense vowels. Conservatives varieties of Kaqchikel have up to 10 vowel qualities – tense a, i, e, o, u and lax ä ï ë ö ü. For others, only a and u have tense-lax distinction. And where there’s a dialectal/generational variation, there’s  a great opportunity for a sociolinguistic study.
Other cool experience from the class on pronunciation was the struggle with devoiced sonorants. You wish you could hear us try them out or even perceive the distinction. Dear Kaqchikel babies, how on earth would you ever acquire these?!

Since the classes go until 4pm, we had a nice lunch together. Not to confuse with a lunch BREAK since many of us still practiced the newly learned phrases. And coffee, lots of coffee.


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, ...