Mayan Phonology and Morphosyntax

  • Paulina Lyskawa , Marisa Fried (UMD undergraduate) and I are investigating several topics in Santiago Tz’utujil phonology: (i) progressive sibilant harmony (see paper [here]; LSA 2022 slides here), (ii) vowel harmony (see SSILA abstract [here]), and (iii) vowel epenthesis and deletion. This project is funded by a Jacobs Research Funds group grant.
  • In Kaqchikel sluicing, an active or passive clause can serve as a licit antecedent for a sluice in the Agent Focus voice and vice-versa. I am investigating the consequences of this phenomenon for the formulation of the identity condition on ellipsis, as well as the syntax of Agent Focus. This topic forms the backbone of my dissertation; an earlier WSCLA proceedings paper can be found [here]. 
group pic santiago
On the Santiago dock with Paulina Lyskawa, Ted Levin, and Chris Baron.
  • Jointly with Ted Levin and Paulina Lyskawa, I investigated a pattern of optional agreement in the Santiago dialect of Tz’utujil.  We argue that the availability of optional agreement in a subset of constructions in the language sheds light on the featural make-up of specifiers vs. complements, the mechanics of the AGREE operation, as well as the typology of verbal agreement in Mayan.  This project has been funded by a group grant from the Jacobs Research Funds and an individual grant from the Cosmos Club. A paper in Linguistic Variation can be found [here]; another that appeared in Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft is [here]. 
  • Gesoel Mendes and I explored adjunct extraction in the K’ichean branch of the Mayan family.  We argue that a postverbal clitic that appears upon the extraction of certain adjuncts is the spell-out of a copy that has undergone Chain Reduction (Nunes 2004). However, the copy has not undergone deletion, but instead has undergone substitution.  Our analysis of the phenomenon shows as well that v cannot be a phase (contra Chomsky 2001 a.o.; in line with Keine 2017). Our paper in Glossa is [here].
Summer ’17 Kaqchikel language class in Patzún
  • Jamie Douglas, Michelle Sheehan, and I argued 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 argued that SE can arise from two distinct derivational histories, yielding this difference and other correlations related to word order and partial SE. A paper on this topic can be found [here].

Kaqchikel Ritual Language Documentation

During the summer of 2017, I collaborated with historian Yolanda Estrada and launched 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 10 hours of footage, audio, 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 and can only be discussed for academic purposes.

Recording in Sumpango.

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

Project members after the last ceremony.


Language Reclamation (Xinka and Rumsen)

  • 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.  I am currently working with COPXIG once more; we recently completed a third textbook focusing on basic  syntax that is undergoing revisions by a focus group composed of community members and school teachers. The first stage of the project was funded by Pomona College SURP, Davis Projects for Peace, and the Donald A. Strauss Foundation; our current work is funded by the Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes.
gramatica xinka
First textbook for teaching Xinka; written in collaboration with COPXIG.
  • As an undergraduate, I worked alongside 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 notes on interviews with Isabel Meadows. A video about this project can be found here.

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