Documenting Kaqchikel Ritual Language

During the summer of 2017, I collaborated with historian Yolanda Estrada to launch a documentation project in Sumpango (Guatemala) with funding from the Firebird Foundation. We worked with the Kaqchikel Mayan spiritual guide collective Waqxaqi’ B’atz’ to document a ritual register of Kaqchikel which is used during certain religious ceremonies. The project resulted in over 8 hours of footage and transcribed text, which will be disseminated by members of Waqxaqi’ B’atz’ within their communities. Respecting the wishes of the spiritual guides, the entirety of the material will not be made publicly available. 

All transcriptions were made by Kaqchikel linguist Filiberto Patal Majzul. Recordings and editing were done by Andres Ranero & Gabriela Sagastume

Mayan Morphosyntax

  • Jointly with Theodore Levin and Paulina Lyskawa, I am investigating a pattern of “optional”  absolutive agreement in the Santiago dialect of Tz’utujiil.  We argue that, contra first impressions, the pattern can be accounted for by independently motivated assumptions about the featural make-up of subjects vs. objects, while maintaining T as the sole locus of absolutive agreement in High-ABS languages (Legate 2008, Coon 2014). This project will continue in summer 2018 with support from the Jacobs Research Funds and the Cosmos Club Foundation


  • Gesoel Mendes and I are exploring adjunct extraction in the K’ichean branch of the Mayan languages. To variable degrees, all of these languages have a restriction on the A’-extraction of vP-level adjuncts. We argue that a postverbal clitic that appears upon the extraction of these adjuncts is the spell-out of a copy, with consequences for the formulation of Chain Reduction at PF (Nunes 2004).  


  • Jamie Douglas, Michelle Sheehan, and I argue that Mayan languages that display syntactic ergativity (SE) come in two flavors. Some languages ban the extraction of all vP internal elements except the absolutive argument, while others ban the extraction of the ergative argument exclusively. We argue that SE can arise from two distinct derivational histories, yielding this difference and other correlations related to word order and partial SE.
Summer ’17 Kaqchikel language class

Language Reclamation

  • In 2012, I launched a 3-year language reclamation project with members of the Xinka community in Chiquimulilla (Guatemala). I worked with the Council of the Xinka People of Guatemala (COPXIG) to analyze the available documentation on Xinka and we jointly authored two textbooks for teaching the language. We secured institutional support from the Guatemalan Ministry of Education and carried out language teaching workshops with hundreds of primary school teachers across the Xinka region. At present, COPXIG continues with this project independently. 


  • As an undergraduate, I worked with my adviser Mary Paster to support the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel tribe in a language reclamation effort. We taught weekly language lessons to help tribe members use the existing documentation of the language, which consists mostly of the work carried out by J. P Harrington with Isabel Meadows. A video about this project can be found here