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 most recent paper under review [here] and an earlier one [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 members of the Kaqchikel Mayan spiritual guide (Ajq’ija’) collective Waqxaqi’ B’atz’ to document the ritual register of Kaqchikel which is used during certain ceremonies. The project resulted in around 6 hours of transcribed audiovisual footage, and several more hours of audio recordings, which are being disseminated by members of Waqxaqi’ B’atz’ within their communities. Respecting the wishes of the Ajq’ija’, the entirety of the material is not publicly available and can only be discussed for academic purposes.

Yoli and I will present a paper on this project entitled “Empowering the practitioners of the verbal arts: Lessons from a collaboration with Kaqchikel Ajq’ija’ ” at the 2023 LSA Meeting and ICLDC 8; see abstract here. We will also present “What is linguistic documentation for? A perspective from Kaqchikel ceremonial language” at the 2023 SECOLAS meeting.

Recording in Sumpango.

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

Project members after the last ceremony.


Language Reclamation (Xinka and Rumsen)

In 2012, I launched a long-term 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. The first stages of the project were funded by Pomona College SURP, Davis Projects for Peace, and the Donald A. Strauss Foundation. 

I am currently working with COPXIG once more and Cooperativa El Recuerdo; 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. This work is funded by the Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes and is supported logistically by Museo Xinka. I have also continued to work on building capacity within the Xinka community so that the project is sustainable; I recently coordinated and taught in a free “Introduction to Linguistics” course geared towards speakers of indigenous languages in Guatemala (Xinka and Mayan), which was supported by Museo Xinka, Editorial Maya’ Wuj, and Asociación de Curriculistas de Guatemala (ASOCUGUA).                                     

gramatica xinka
First textbook for teaching Xinka; written in collaboration with COPXIG.

As an undergraduate, I also 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.

%d bloggers like this: