Thursday, July 6, 2017

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!


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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.
Irine at UVG
Then, Justin Royer presented his current research on definite and indefinite articles in the two Mayan languages that he has been working on – Kaqchikel and Chuj. He also presented on how the classifier system of Chuj has implications for the theory of specificity.
Justin discusses definiteness (apologies for the bad quality of these photos, but we had to turn the lights out to see the projector!)
Next, Rodrigo Ranero presented his joint work with Theodore Levin and Paulina Lyskawa on the Santiago dialect of Tz'utujiil. They are looking at optionality in the conjugation of Tz'utujiil verbs. According to their data, Tz'utujiil verbs show optionality of agreement markers conditioned by (in)animacy of the targeted argument.
Rodrigo teaches us about Tz'utujil
Then, Alicia Leclair talked about heritage language speakers. Her discussion focused on defining what a heritage speaker means in the context of Mayan languages.
Alicia talking about defining heritage speakers
Finally, Emily Speed talked about her research, which looks at variation in numeric systems and their influence on bilingual education.
Emily presenting about number systems
I gave a workshop to a group of students who are working in their home communities on their native languages – Awakateko, Chalchiteko, and K’iche’. 
Me and my workshop class
They are working on a project called "Mayan Languages in Contact" and will be documenting their languages using traditional field methods, such as audio recording and storytelling. The basic idea of the workshop was to create a space online where the researchers could store their audio files, photos, and text files as they continue their documentation work. They will also be writing a sister blog (in Spanish) about their experiences in the field.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

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.

Me with my Tecpán host family (Doña Mercedes and Don Pedro) - June, 2016
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 ruins brings in many tour groups and there a number of NGOs located in the city. Of course, there are more amenities to accompany this influx of people including cafes, coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants. You're also more likely to hear Spanish than Kaqchikel in Tecpán.

A lot had changed in the city, as well. The amount of new construction that's taken place in the past year was astounding, and faced with the new terrain, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get back to my host family's house! But once we were dropped off at the Wuqu' Kawoq offices, memories of the walking back in the light afternoon rain came back to me quickly and finding my way to my home in Tecpán was second nature. When I arrived, the changes kept coming. The entry way to my host families house was occupied by a small gift shop, at the street corner outside was a new bus stop, the entire kitchen had been gutted to make way for a massive renovation, and the oven, and refrigerator were being temporarily housed in the hallway. My host family has always liked taking in guests. And upstairs, my room was completely gone! A new addition was being put in to accommodate up to 6 people at a time, ensuring the new kitchen will be put to good use.

Despite all the changes, the house still felt like a home away from home. My host parents,  Doña Mercedes and Don Pedro greeted me with the same warmth and enthusiasm as they had each day of my stay with them the year before, and they eagerly told me about all the comings and goings of the year that had been. They were happy to hear about all the changes in my life and glad to see I was continuing to learn Kaqchikel and research Mayan languages.

After just a few hours with them, I was sad to leave, but was content to know that, despite so many changes that happened over the year, the fond memories and feelings that I shared with my host family in 
Tecpán had not changed, at all.

PS: The cat got fatter, too. 
Kiara - 2016

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Field Work Recipe: Lava-roasted Marshmallows and Chocolate Chip Cookie Smores

Prep Time: 4~ hours (2 hours driving from Patzún, 2 hours hiking, 5 minutes cook time)

  • 1 accessible heat vent on an active volcano (I used Pacaya)
  • Stick for roasting marshmallows
  • Hiking shoes/boots
  • Spending money for the Lava Store
  • Drinking water (and lots of it!)

  • Marshmallows
  • Chocolate chip cookies

  1. Acquire your chocolate chip cookies and marshmallows a day in advance. If you can't make your own, store-bought is fine (Maxi-Despensa in Patzún carries Jet-Puft and Chips-ahoy).
  2. Rise at 4am and catch the 4:30 chartered bus from Patzún to Pacaya.
  3. Watch the sunrise over the milpas in Patzicia.
  4. Upon arrival at Pacaya, avoid the offers of "taxis" (horses)  at the base of the volcano. That's cheating. Take the kids up on the offer of a hiking stick though.
  5. Find your guide. He should be wearing a green vest and a Parque Nacional Pacaya badge.
  6. Set off up the volcano for 2.6km at 60°F in June, temperature may vary depending on season.
  7. Take pictures of Volcanes Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango if it's not too cloudy. The view from the western face is to die for. Prep Time: 4~ hours (2 hours driving from Patzún, 2 hours hiking, 5 minutes cook time)

    • Collect some sticks for your marshmallow roasting if your guide doesn't. He should though.
    • Watch out when the ground gets gravelly and ashy. Your feet can and will slip around a bit.
    • Arrive at the lava flow and the Lava Store and check out some surprisingly cool lava jewelry.
    • Your guide should point out the best heat vent- it's close to the grassy hill on the north side of the lava flow.
    • Spear your marshmallows and hold the over the heat vent for a few minutes, to your desired level of meltiness. Watch out- its hot!
    • Take two cookies and squish a melted marshmallow between the two.
    • Enjoy!
    • Hike the rest of the way up the volcano (it's REALLY steep and ashy here so watch your step), take pictures of the smoking cone, then hike back down!

    Crossposted on

    About our native speakers and elicitations

    I wanted to write this blog post about some technical issues of linguistic field work but it turned out to be mostly about the speakers just because all my work would have been impossible without them.

    On the second day of the field trip this year, I started doing elicitation with my host mother Señora Irma and yes, she is an amazing consultant! As a medical worker, she is very busy during the whole week but she still found time to work with me almost every evening. She was patient and concentrated and, thanks to her, we could work with the most difficult examples using the pictures (try to decide for yourself how many interpretations a sentence like At least three girls saw some cats has).

    Pictures for elicitations on quantifiers

    The first elicitation and the first attempt to write in Kaqchikel were hard and exhausting. The second elicitation was a surprise: Kaqchikel translations from Spanish provided by Señora Irma contradicted almost all the existing data about the so called Agent Focus (one of the most famous Mayan phenomena). With Señora Irma we spent several days collecting and verifying ‘fascinating’ examples like Who hit himself? and It was himself who Peter saw in a mirror, and I can now say with certainty that the dialect of Kaqchikel spoken in my host family can add a lot of interesting data to the general discussion of Mayan syntax.

    The first and the last attempts to write in Kaqchikel

    It was also a great experience to work with another member of my host family, my host grandmother Señora Rosa. I suddenly realized the most obvious thing: one should work differently with different consultants. Señora Rosa could spend more time with me, and her Kaqchikel judgments were never ambiguous, so we could check the most basic reflexive constructions as well as the most complex multiple questions. And, apart from usual elicitation sessions, we could also discuss Kaqchikel sentences while she was teaching me to make tortillas!

    Señora Rosa

    My wonderful host family deserves all the credit for giving me the opportunity to get complicated data. With no previous ‘Mayan’ experience, I could work on several research topics. Translating series of almost same phrases and judging your own language performance is a difficult and tedious task and I am immensely grateful to Señora Irma and Señora Rosa that they could do it.

    Wedding in Patzún, June 10, Saturday

    Yet another fiesta in Patzún – a wedding. Many of our host families are related to either the bride’s or the groom’s side, and by extension – as their ‘kids’ now - we were invited as well. We know Guatemalans like to celebrate in style so were very excited to see what a big deal a wedding is. We were not wrong.

    The wedding was planned for Saturday but preparations started way ahead of time – Thursday morning. The majority of tasks are done by the groom’s side and those of us who fell in that group were expected to help out just as any other member of the family. We polished leaves for chuchitos, wrapped tamalitos, stirred estofado (tested them all too) and hanged decorations together. The Patzuners welcomed us very warmly, shared all their how-to’s and occasionally laughed at our Kaqchikel attempts. It felt like a very important social bonding experience with a good deal of friendly gossiping, teasing and story-telling.

    The day of the wedding was very hectic too. It started before the dawn when some of the toughest family members finalized the preparations – us gringos slept in until 6am. After all the helpers had breakfast together, the closest family members headed over to the bride’s house for the ceremony. The bride was offered a number of gifts from the groom’s side – coffee, caldo, chuchitos, traditional clothes and many more. The ceremony itself involved the couple, their respective parents and spiritual leaders discussing the marriage-to-be, mostly in Kaqchikel – thanking the other side and stressing the importance of family values. Thanks to Ana Lopéz for explaining the nuances of the ceremony!

    The next step involved a lunch reception – all prepared by the groom’s side. It was a great contrast to the intimate morning ceremony as now the reception hall hosted more than 400 guests. After the lunch and cake, dancing happened. Everyone was having a good time but the tradition is that the reception ends before dinner time. Then, the groom’s side, again as a thank you for all the hard work, was invited to an after party where we busted even more moves. We’re happy to report that everyone had a great time and we made a lot of new local friends!

    Saturday, June 24, 2017

    ¡Matyöx chawe Gilda!


    This blog post is about my host mother. I think it makes sense to talk about her and her wonderful family because there’s no doubt that the success of this field station goes hand in hand with the exceptional quality of the families that welcome us into their homes. 

    My host mom is a superhero. Mother of three beautiful and (almost all the time) well-behaved children, she holds various different jobs, multitasks practically everything, and is devoted to many political and sociocultural issues related to indigenous women’s rights, Mayan identity, and culture in Guatemala and Patzún. Gilda (who agreed to have her name published in this blog post) is a very active person. Every week, she helps her mother at the family business, which makes the best chiles rellenos in town. She also spends a lot of time and energy working for a cooperative of indigenous women called Ajsu’m. This cooperative not only provides a community of women with work, but also aims to offer workshops and training about current issues in Guatemalan society, specifically with respect to indigenous rights in communities around Patzún. (It’s also thanks to this great cooperative that we got to enjoy delicious meals every lunchtime of the week. ¡Matyöx Ajsu’m!)

    With the family

    On June 22nd, Gilda generously accepted to give us a workshop similar to those the cooperative usually gives in communities around Patzún. Her presentation focused on Mayan identity and women self-confidence, and how years of racism and stigmatization against indigenous peoples has led to an unhealthy societal climate. In the end, her talk was not only very inspiring, but much-needed. It is crucial that any researcher conducting work related to Mayan language and culture understand what issues are faced by communities that speak these languages and hold these cultures.

    Gilda and Pedro discussing in the question period

    I feel extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to know Gilda and her family, and I’m sure many of my colleagues have similar things to tell about their families. Again, without these beautiful families, which share their language and culture with us and which generously welcome us into their homes, there is no field station. 

    Nan Gilda, janila matyöx ruma xib’än compartir iwachoch, ichabäl chuqa’ ina’oj wik’en yïn.


    Wednesday, June 21, 2017

    Documenting Kaqchikel Ritual Language

    Last Sunday, I traveled to Sumpango to launch a very exciting project, in collaboration with Yolanda Estrada and a group of Kaqchikel Ajq’ija’ (Spiritual Guides) led by Delfina Solloy and Valerio Toj. The group is called Waqxaqi’ B’atz’ and is comprised of several guides from Sumpango and Santa María de Jesús, who meet every three weeks for a ceremony. Yolanda, who is a professor of history at Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala (USAC), has been working with Waqxaqi’ B’atz’ for over a year, documenting their educational practices and life philosophy. This year, we were awarded a grant from the Firebird Foundation to help the guides record their ceremonies from June-August.

    Camera 1 Recording

    The primary purpose of the project is to ensure that this special type oral tradition is preserved forever; we will thus provide the guides with a thorough documentation of their ceremonies (audio and video), so they can use the recordings in the future for the training of new guides or for dissemination with their local community. The guides have yet to decide whether the entirety of the material can be made available more generally; that decision will be discussed in private meetings that Yolanda and I cannot attend.

    The offering is ready and the fire is about to be lit. 

    Yolanda, Yolanda’s son Iván, my brother Andres, sister-in-law Gaby, and I made our way from Guatemala City early in the morning, to avoid the traffic. The rain had not stopped for several days, so we were all very nervous that a downpour would ruin the event. The ceremony took place in a piece of land near Sumpango, where corn and beans are grown by one of the Waqxaqi’ B’atz’ members, Chalo. We arrived and all the guides had already started preparing for the ceremony, unpacking the candles, incense, sugar, liquor, and flower petals that were to be offered. The sky was an ominous gray as we placed the 8 microphones in place (4 ground microphones and 4 lapel microphones), the two cameras, and a waterproof GoPro on a tree. After we were “saturated” (blessed so that we could participate), the ceremony began.

    The opening of the ceremony. 

    The recording went well until the first drops of rain started to fall, about two thirds in. We removed most of the equipment quietly, since the ceremony had to continue, regardless of the weather. The GoPro and the lapel microphones kept recording, so we captured the event until the very end. It was a bit stressful, but we were happy with the final audio and video! After the ritual ended, the rain began to pour fiercely and the guides and other attendees served a delicious lunch – pulique with beef and tamalitos. It was tricky to eat while holding on to a nylon cover and umbrellas, but we had a very good time.

    A newborn being blessed during the event. 

    My brother and sister-in-law are in charge of the editing process, piecing together the 8 audio streams and 3 cameras. It will be a complex process, since there were moments when multiple guides spoke at the same time. In a couple of weeks, we will present the guides with the final product; after that, linguist Filiberto Patal will transcribe the material using ELAN, Pedro Mateo Pedro will run a workshop on transcription with the guides, and we will settle on a date for the next ceremony. When the summer is over, all the recording equipment will be given to the guides, so that they can continue with the documentation indefinitely and however they see fit. 

    Now, we’re all back together in Patzún, working on our individual projects – it will be a hectic final few days!


    Photo credits: Andres Ranero & Gabriela Sagastume 

    Wednesday, June 14, 2017

    Visit to Iximche'

    This weekend we visited the ruins of Iximche’, the former capital of the Kaqchikel people.

    The city features Post-Classic Maya architecture, and was built in 1470. It was the Kaqchikel capital until the Spanish took over in 1524. 

    It has four main plazas and two ball courts. A few of the pyramids have been fully excavated, and there are many more which are still partially buried under centuries’ worth of dirt. 
    Map of Iximche'
    Locals also come to Iximche’ to perform ceremonies and leave offerings of food. There is one pyramid at the back where ceremonies happen.

    There is also a small museum, and a stela at the entrance.

    The stela was built by Kaqchikel artists and historians in 2012 to commemorate the passing of the oxlajuj b’ak’tun (thirteenth unit of 400 years). The glyphs on the stela describe the dates of eight important Kaqchikel historical events that have happened in the past several hundred years.

    Earthquake update

    Just a quick update to let everyone know that we're all alive and well down here in Patzún following this morning's earthquake!

    Visits to the doctor

    Recently, I came down with a stomach bug and had to go to the doctor. I'm alright now, but when I needed medical care, it was really easy to get, especially with the help of Pedro and my host-mom.

    Pedro took me to my first doctor's appointment, and after a simple test, they prescribed me a mountain of medicine, which I was able to buy several minutes later in the same building, for way cheaper than in the U.S.

    Fast forward two days, and I have been feeling better, but I seemed to be having a different problem, so I went to the doctor again. This time my host-mom took me. We had to go to a different doctor than my first visit because it was Saturday, and very few doctors were seeing patients, but luckily for me, the doctor we went to was close by and only had one patient ahead of me. My host mom took a picture of me waiting in the office:

    I made sure to bring my Spanish-English dictionary because Pedro wasn't there to help me and my Spanish concerning medical terms is basically non-existent. I ended up only needing it twice, because my host-mom was able to relay what I had told her earlier.

    When I went in to see the doctor, she asked me what medicine I was taking and told me to stop taking two of the medicines I had been prescribed. She then had me make an appointment with her for the next day, where they ran some tests and told me that once I finished my medicine that I was still taking, I should be good to go.

    Overall, both visits were really easy, which was especially nice considering how daunting getting medical care in a foreign country and in a foreign language can feel. The last visit was also close to a fruit-juice stand, where my host-mom bought me a freshly squeezed orange juice.

    It made me feel like a kid getting a lollypop after getting vaccinated. It was great.

    Saturday, June 10, 2017

    Lajuj Kaqchikel Gavagais

    Try to guess what these words mean... This is what we have been doing for the last two weeks!




    wakamïn muqül


    (man tikirel ta yöjmuxan)


    Waqi' Kej niropin

    Ixtöj nwär


    (janila matyöx!)

    Friday, June 9, 2017

    Kaqchikel Sounds

    ¡Xqa q’ij, k’a!
    ¡Buenas tardes!

    We recently just finished our first week of Kaqchikel classes. Woo! It has been a whirlwind of information from amazing teachers and peers in a very beautiful country! As other posts point out, we have been spending this time either listening or attempting to speak Kaqchikel and rarely speak any other languages, although sometimes revert to Spanish when we need translations of sentences or something of that sort.

    This past week, consequently, has been spent making all sorts of fun and new sounds. As non-native speakers of Kaqchikel this has been quite the challenge for us. More specifically I am referring to the lovely ejectives that exist in Kaqchikel. Ejectives, according to the very indubitable Wikipedia, occur in approximately 20% of the world’s languages, and most of these languages are minority languages that are not very frequently heard outside of their own speech community. Ejectives are stops made without using air, i.e., holding your breath. If you attempt to produce a consonant sound such as /t/ or /p/ while holding your breath and then releasing it would ideally become an ejective, marked as /t’/ and /p’/. In the greeting buenas tardes in Kaqchikel: xqa q’ij, k’a, there are two ejective stops, /q’/ and /k’/. Easy enough, right?

    Not. Or, at least, for me. To start, if you speak English natively, you can produce an ejective by pronouncing the word ‘kick’ and really enunciating the final k at the end of the word. It can be difficult to get the sound down but it’s worth a try! You never know when you will want to start learning a language such as Kaqchikel :)

    Thanks for reading!

    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, ...