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Linguistics Mesoamerican Languages
by
Nora C. England, Roberto Zavala Maldonado

Introduction

Mesoamerica as a linguistic area extends from central Mexico south and east through Guatemala and Belize and into western Honduras and El Salvador. Five large language families are found in Mesoamerica—Uto-Aztecan (only those languages of the Aztec group), Otomanguean, Totonacan, Mixe-Zoquean, and Mayan—and five small language families or language isolates: P’orhepecha (Purhépecha, Tarascan), Huave, Chontal of Oaxaca, Xinca, and Cuitlatec (extinct). More contemporary linguistic work on Mesoamerican languages has been done on Mayan languages than on the others, but most of the latter are currently receiving significant scholarly attention that should help to redress the imbalance. All Mesoamerican languages are endangered in the sense that there are at least some families or some communities where children are not learning the language; some are severely endangered, and some have no speakers. In spite of the degree of endangerment, there are still at least two languages with about a million speakers (Nahua or Nahuatl, and K’ichee’), and many with between 200,000 and 750,000 speakers (for instance, Otomí, Mixtec, Zapotec, Totonac, Tzotzil, Tseltal, Mam, Yucatec, Kaqchikel, Q’eqchi’). The names of Mesoamerican languages, especially Mayan languages, have a variety of spellings. We indicate some of the variation and in general use the spelling preferred by the community, where we know it. In the individual annotations we generally use the spelling preferred by the author, and sometimes indicate variant spellings in parentheses.

General Overviews

The identification of the linguistic families of Mesoamerican languages has been amply discussed since the 19th century. At present, most scholars agree on the position occupied by the individual languages within the families and on the main genetic subdivisions, although there are minor controversies regarding the inclusion of individual languages in specific family divisions. The genetic classification of the languages is based on comprehensive research on the phonology, morphology, and lexicon of the individual languages. Kaufman 1974a and Kaufman 1974b present the most widely accepted modern classification of the languages. Campbell 1979 is a comprehensive review of the classification, and Campbell 1997 summarizes it. The languages of Mesoamerica exhibit great typological diversity in all structural aspects (phonology, morphology, syntax and lexicon).

  • Campbell, Lyle. 1979. Middle American languages. In The languages of Native America: Historical and comparative assessment. Edited by Lyle Campbell and Marianne Mithun, 902–1000. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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    A comprehensive summary of the classification, language history, and main linguistic features of the different language families spoken in Mesoamerica. It also offers a survey of the main features that distinguish Mesoamerica as a linguistic area.

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  • Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Includes a summary of the main features of the different language families spoken in Mesoamerica.

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  • Kaufman, Terrence. 1974a. Idiomas de Mesoamérica. Seminario de Integración Social 33. Guatemala: Editorial José de Pineda Ibarra.

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    The first comprehensive modern work on the genetic classification, language prehistory, and linguistic areal features of the different languages spoken in Mesoamerica.

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  • Kaufman, Terrence. 1974b. Meso-American Indian languages. In Encyclopedia Britannica. 15th ed. Vol. 11, 956–963.

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    An abbreviated English version of Idiomas de Mesoamérica.

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Archives

There are currently two archives with important documentation of Mesoamerican languages. AILLA (Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America) has material on most Mesoamerican languages. It may consist of audio files alone, or of audio files with transcriptions, or audio files, transcription, and analysis. FAMSI (the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies), while it focuses principally on writing, art, and archaeology, has materials about languages as well, such as several online dictionaries, etymologies, bibliographies, and maps. A third source is the SIL Mexico site (Summer Institute of Linguistics Mexico) which has a bibliography of works published by SIL Mexico and downloadable copies of some of them, but includes no basic language documentation.

Linguistic Classification and History

The linguistic classification of Mesoamerican languages has received much attention by scholars, and the reconstruction of individual families and subdivisions is very extensive and accurate (although there are still a few relatively minor controversies). The reconstruction work within the families has been connected with the study of linguistic prehistory by innumerable threads, especially among Otomanguean (Bartholomew 1965, Josserand 1983), Mayan (Campbell 1977, Kaufman 1976, Kaufman and Norman 1984, Robertson 1992), and Mixe-Zoquean (Wichmann 1995). Otomanguean is considered the most divergent language family and presents several typological features unique within the area (tone, vowel nasalization, open syllables, lack of labial consonants in many Otomanguean subfamilies). The Proto-Mixe-Zoquean inventory of phonology, morphology, and lexicon has been reconstructed. This family is very important in Mesoamerican prehistory, since the Olmecs have been claimed to have spoken a descendent of Proto-Mixe-Zoque. In addition, Mixe-Zoquean loanwords have been identified in many Mesoamerican languages, including Mayan (e.g., Campbell 1977, Kaufman and Justeson 2007). The reconstruction work on Mayan languages has received more attention from linguists than that on most other Mesoamerican languages. The phonology, morphology, grammar, and lexicon have been reconstructed for Proto-Maya and for different branches within the family. The vocabulary reconstructed for Proto-Maya indicates that its speakers practiced a highly successful agriculture that included the cultivation of corn and other plants.

  • Bartholomew, Doris. 1965. “The Reconstruction of Otopamean (Mexico).” PhD diss., Illinois: Univ. of Chicago.

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    The definitional work on historical linguistics of the Otopamean branch of the Otomanguean language family.

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  • Campbell, Lyle. 1977. Quichean linguistic prehistory. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Proposes dialect groupings for Quichean languages, reconstructs proto-Quiché (K’ichee’) phonology, and points out the value of written philological documentation for Quichean prehistory. Evaluates past classifications of Mayan languages, and details loans into Maya from other Mesoamerican languages.

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  • Josserand, Judy Kathryn. 1983. “Mixtec Dialect History.” PhD diss., New Orleans, LA: Tulane Univ.

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    A study of 130 Mixtec villages that provides the major developmental rules and phonological processes that resulted in the diversification of the Mixtec languages and dialects. It also provides reconstructions and discusses language history more generally in the Mixtec area.

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  • Kaufman, Terrence. 1976. Archaeological and linguistic correlations in Mayaland and associated areas of Meso-America. World Archaeology 8:101–118.

    DOI: 10.1080/00438243.1976.9979655Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers influential hypotheses that deal with the temporal and geographic diversification of the Mayan language family, and identifies the linguistic evidence to establish linguistic contacts of Mayan with non-Mayan cultures, thus suggesting a number of archaeological and linguistic correlations regarding several Mesoamerican civilizations.

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  • Kaufman, Terrence, and John Justeson. 2007. The history of the word for cacao in ancient Mesoamerica. Ancient Mesoamerica 18:193–237.

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    This article shows that the word for cacao, widely diffused among Mesoamerican languages, originated in the Mixe-Zoquean family. The diffusion of Mixe-Zoquean loan words is used as evidence of intergroup interaction in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

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  • Kaufman, Terrence, and William M. Norman. 1984. An outline of proto-Cholan phonology, morphology and vocabulary. In Phoneticism in Mayan hieroglyphic writing. Edited by John Justeson and Lyle Campbell, 77–166. Albany: Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, State Univ. of New York.

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    A comprehensive comparison of the phonology, morphology, and lexicon of the languages of the Cholan subgroup that examines the genetic relationships among them and their place within the Mayan family.

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  • Robertson, John. 1992. The history of tense/aspect/mood/voice in the Mayan verbal complex. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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    Includes an introduction to principles of language change and to the tense-aspect-mood-voice system in Maya, and chapters on pertinent developments in Mamean, K’iche’an, Q’anjob’alan, Cholti’ and Chorti’, Tzeltalan, and Yukatek Maya.

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  • Wichmann, Søren. 1995. The relationship among the Mixe-Zoquean languages of Mexico. Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press.

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    The most extensive comparative work on the Mixe-Zoquean language family, which offers the most accepted genetic classification of its members as well as a reconstruction of the phonology, morphology, and vocabulary of the proto-language.

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Linguistic Area

The term “Mesoamerica” was first applied to a culture area, defined by a high number of shared cultural traits within a geographic region that extends from the Pánuco River in northern Mexico to the Lempa River in El Salvador, including the Pacific coast of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The culture area coincides with a linguistic area, as proposed by Campbell, et al. 1986, which has argued that the extensive contact that the different ethnic groups have had can be dated back to the early formative times (about 1200 BCE). Smith-Stark 1994 offers additional lexical evidence for the linguistic area.

  • Campbell, Lyle, Terrence Kaufman, and Thomas C. Smith-Stark. 1986. Mesoamerica as a linguistic area. Language 62:530–570.

    DOI: 10.2307/415477Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Influential study that proposes that Mesoamerica is a linguistic area, based on five lexical and morphosyntactic isoglosses shared by the languages at the borders of the cultural area.

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  • Smith-Stark, Thomas C. 1994. Mesoamerican calques. In Investigaciones lingüísticas en Mesoamérica. Edited by Carolyn J. MacKay and Verónica Vázquez, 15–50. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

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    A thorough study of the distribution of seven lexical calques that supports the existence of Mesoamerica as a linguistic area.

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Ancient Writing Systems

Mesoamerica is the only region in the Americas that developed complex writing systems. There are three hieroglyphic writing systems that have been amply studied in Mesoamerica: Epi-Olmec (Justeson and Kaufman 1993, Kaufman and Justeson 2004), Mayan (Coe and Van Stone 2005, Kettunen and Helmke 2010, Wichmann 2004), and Zapotec (Urcid 2001). All three writing systems use logographic and phonetic signs. The advances in the interpretation of Mayan individual glyphs and grammatical and discourse patterns have been notable since 1990. Houston, et al. 2000 proposes Ch’olti’ as the language used in the Classic Period Mayan inscriptions.

Typological Studies

The languages of the ten different families (five large families and five small families or isolates) found in Mesoamerica show great typological diversity. The cross-linguistic comparison of morphological and syntactic structures across different families has shed light on the presence of shared features that can be attributed to language contact among languages of different families or to independent developments of individual languages or families of languages. The cross-linguistic research is currently receiving important attention, with the active participation of native speakers with sophisticated linguistic training. Typological studies are beginning to be published, such as Zavala 2007 (on inversion and obviation) and Aissen and Zavala 2010 (on secondary predication). Yasugi 1995 is a review of available data at that time, organized typologically.

  • Aissen, Judith, and Roberto Zavala, eds. 2010. La predicación secundaria en lenguas de Mesoamérica. Mexico City: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social.

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    A contrastive study of the syntax and semantics of the secondary predicate construction in nine languages of three different Mesoamerican language families.

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  • Yasugi, Yoshiho. 1995. Native Middle American languages: An areal-typological perspective. Osaka, Japan: National Museum of Ethnology.

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    A comprehensive comparison of phonological features, numeral systems, word order correlations, and alignment systems of languages spoken from the northern Mexican border to the south of Panama, based on available descriptive sources. The features investigated support the existence of Mesoamerica as a linguistic area.

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  • Zavala, Roberto. 2007. Inversion and obviation in Mesoamerica. In Endangered languages. Edited by Peter K. Austin and Andrew Simpson, 267–306. Special issue of Linguistische Berichte Sonderheft 14. Hamburg, Germany: Helmut Buske Verlag.

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    Proposes that various Mayan and Mixe-Zoquean languages exhibit hierarchical inverse and obviative systems, and situates them within a cross-linguistic typology.

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Uto-Aztecan

The different varieties of Nahua (Nahuatl) (including Pipil and extinct Pochutec) are the only Uto-Aztecan languages spoken within the limits of the Mesoamerica area. The different varieties of Nahua (Nahuatl) are or were spoken through western central and southern Mexico and into part of Central America. Central Nahuatl, the variety spoken in Tenochtitlan, became a written language at the beginning of the 16th century. This is the variety known as Classical Nahuatl, which has been studied by linguists and humanists for five centuries. Launey 1979–1980, Launey 1994, and Carochi 2001 are influential works that are based on this variety. Canger 1980 presents data from several varieties. Amith and Smith-Stark 1994 is based on the variety spoken in Oapan, Guerrero.

  • Amith, Jonathan D., and Thomas C. Smith-Stark. 1994. Transitive nouns and split possessive paradigms in central Guerrero Nahuatl. International Journal of American Linguistics 60:342–368.

    DOI: 10.1086/466241Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of a previously undescribed split possessive paradigm in Oapan Nahuatl, in which possessed predicate nouns take the morphology associated with canonical transitive verbs. It is argued that this construction is a structural retention from Proto-Uto-Aztecan.

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  • Canger, Una. 1980. Five studies inspired by Nahuatl verbs in –oa. Copenhagen: Linguistic Circle of Copenhagen.

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    First treatment of Nahuatl comparative verbal morphology and phonology, using data from Pochutec and various Central and Peripheral dialects which are representative of all major forms of Nahua(tl).

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  • Carochi, Horacio. 2001. Grammar of the Mexican language with an explanation of its adverbs. Translated and edited with commentary by James Lockhart. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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    A colonial-era grammar that is the foundational reference for modern studies of classical Nahuatl phonology and morphosyntax. Carochi’s very modern work is painstakingly documented and clearly written, with abundant examples of contextual language use and careful exploration of semantics. Originally published in 1645.

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  • Launey, Michel. 1979–1980. Introduction à la langue et à la littérature aztèques. 2 vols. Grammaire et Littérature. Paris: l’Harmattan.

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    Comprehensive handbook for learning the grammatical structure of Classical Nahuatl (the language spoken by the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico in the 16th century) organized in thirty-five lessons with exercises. The second volume includes a collection of texts.

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  • Launey, Michel. 1994. Une grammaire omniprédicative: Essai sur la morphosyntaxe du nahuatl classique. Paris: CNRS.

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    Theoretical treatment of the head-marking characteristics of Classical Nahuatl, arguing that not only verbs but all word classes are inherently predicates.

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Otomanguean

Otomanguean is a highly diversified linguistic family, with eight subfamilies: Oto-Pamean, Chinantec, Tlapanec, Manguean, Popolocan, Zapotecan, Amuzgo, and Mixtecan. The family is very large in terms of languages. It extends from the northern border of Mesoamerica almost to its southern border. Most of the first studies were done by scholars associated with the Summer Institute of Linguistics who did the modern comparative work. In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the documentation of the main structural features of the members of various subfamilies. This section is broken down into the following subsections: Grammars, Grammar Sketches, Phonology, and Morphosyntax.

Grammars

A new generation of linguists has contributed to the study of Otomanguean languages, producing comprehensive reference grammars of languages belonging to different subfamilies. Beam de Azcona 2004, Black 2000, and Rasch 2002 are descriptions of three different Zapotecan languages; Foris 2000 is the first complete grammar written for a Chinantecan language; Macauley 1996, for Mixtecan, and Palancar 2009, for Otomian, are both modern treatments that cover new topics in the morphosyntax of those language subfamilies (see Morphosyntax).

  • Beam de Azcona, Rosemary G. 2004. “A Coatlán-Loxicha Zapotec Grammar.” PhD diss., Berkeley: Univ. of California

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    A reference grammar of Coatlán-Loxicha Zapotec (Southern Zapotec), with detailed discussion of the main structural features that distinguish Coatec Zapotec from other Zapotecan languages.

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  • Black, Cheryl A. 2000. Quiegolani Zapotec syntax: A principles and parameters account. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics International and Univ. of Texas at Arlington.

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    A formal treatment of the syntax of Quiegolani Zapotec (Western Yautepec Zapotec), with special theoretical interest in determining functional projections, licensing requirements for projections, and binding relations. Each chapter includes basic description of syntactic facts.

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  • Foris, David P. 2000. A grammar of Sochiapan Chinantec. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics International and Univ. of Texas at Arlington.

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    The most complete reference grammar of a Chinantecan language, with detailed information on the phonology, morphology, and syntax.

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  • Macaulay, Monica. 1996. A grammar of Chalcatongo Mixtec. Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press.

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    A reference grammar of Chalcatongo Mixtec (Western Highlands) with very thorough coverage of morphology and syntax.

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  • Palancar, Enrique L. 2009. Gramática y textos del Hñöñhö: Otomí de San Ildefonso Tultepec, Querétaro. 2 vols. Mexico City: Plaza y Valdés.

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    A reference grammar of Otomí, of the Otopamean subfamily, that includes a collection of transcribed and translated texts. It has very thorough coverage of word classes and syntax.

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  • Rasch, Jeffrey Walker. 2002. “The Basic Morpho-Syntax of Yaitepec Chatino.” PhD diss., Houston, TX: Rice Univ.

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    A descriptive grammar of Yaitepec Chatino (Zapotecan) with extensive coverage of phonology and morphology.

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Grammar Sketches

Bradley and Hollenbach edited a collection of ten grammatical sketches of Mixtecan languages that includes the description of the most diverse varieties of this subfamily (Bradley and Hollenbach 1988, Bradley and Hollenbach 1990, Bradley and Hollenbach 1991, Bradley and Hollenbach 1992). The sketches have abundant examples, are clearly written, are comprehensive and follow similar outlines, making it possible to use them for internal cross-language syntactic comparison.

  • Bradley, C. Henry, and Barbara E. Hollenbach, eds. 1988. Studies in the syntax of Mixtecan languages. Vol. 1. Summer Institute of Linguistics Publication 83. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and Univ. of Texas at Arlington.

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    Three grammatical sketches of Mixtecan languages spoken in Jamiltepec (Highland), Ocotepec (Lowland), and Silacayoapan (Coastal). The sketches follow similar outlines, descriptive categories, abbreviations, and transcription system.

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  • Bradley, C. Henry, and Barbara E. Hollenbach, eds. 1990. Studies in the syntax of Mixtecan languages. Vol. 2. Summer Institute of Linguistics Publication 90. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and Univ. of Texas at Arlington.

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    Two grammatical sketches of Mixtecan languages spoken in Ayutla (Southern Lowlands) and Coatzospan (Northern Highlands). These sketches follow the same format as those in Bradley and Hollenbach 1988.

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  • Bradley, C. Henry, and Barbara E. Hollenbach, eds. 1991. Studies in the syntax of Mixtecan languages. Vol. 3. Summer Institute of Linguistics Publication 105. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and Univ. of Texas at Arlington.

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    Three grammatical sketches of Mixtec languages and one form of Cuicatec. The two Mixtecs are spoken in Alacatlatzala (Lowland) and Diuxi-Tilantongo (Eastern Highlands). The form of Cuicatec is spoken in Concepción Pápalo. These sketches follow the same format as those in Bradley and Hollenbach 1988.

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  • Bradley, C. Henry, and Barbara E. Hollenbach, eds. 1992. Studies in the syntax of Mixtecan languages. Vol. 4. Summer Institute of Linguistics Publication 111. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and Univ. of Texas at Arlington.

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    Two grammatical sketches of Mixtecan languages: Yosundúa Mixtec (Western Highlands) and Copala Trique. These sketches follow the same format as those in Bradley and Hollenbach 1988.

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Phonology

The phonology of Otomanguean languages is particularly complex because of the presence of tone (from two to five level tones in addition to contour tones). The study of the phonetics and phonology of these languages is currently receiving significant attention by expert phonologists and phoneticians. Arellanes 2009, Avelino Becerra 2004, DiCanio 2008, and Gerfen 2010 deal with the detailed phonetic description of segments as well as with specific topics that are of remarkable typological interest in the phonology of these languages, such as tones, fortis-lenis consonant contrasts (DiCanio 2008), and the interaction of laryngeal features with tones (DiCanio 2008, Avelino Becerra 2004).

  • Arellanes, Francisco. 2009. “El sistema fonológico y las propiedades fonéticas del zapoteco de San Pablo Güilá: Descripción y análisis formal.” PhD diss., C.P.: El Colegio de México.

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    A thorough treatment of the phonology and phonetics of San Pablo Güilá Zapotec. Each chapter includes a comprehensive description of the phonetics and phonological facts and a formal treatment in the Optimality Theory framework.

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  • Avelino Becerra, Heriberto. 2004. “Topics in Yalálag Zapotec, with particular reference to its phonetic structures.” PhD diss., Los Angeles: Univ. of California.

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    Provides a detailed description and analysis of the phonetic structures of Yalálag Zapotec. It includes a grammatical sketch of this form of Northern Zapotec.

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  • DiCanio, Christian. 2008. “The phonetics and phonology of San Martín Itunyoso Trique.” PhD diss., Berkeley: Univ. of Berkeley: California.

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    Description of the phonological system of San Martín Itunyoso Trique and of two phonetic characteristics of the language: the fortis-lenis consonant contrast and the interaction of laryngeals with tone.

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  • Gerfen, Chip. 2010. Phonology and phonetics in Coatzospan Mixtec. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel.

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    Overview of the segmental phonology of Coatzospan Mixtec and thorough analysis of glottalization and nasalization within the Optimality framework.

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Morphosyntax

Otomanguean languages exhibit highly divergent typological profiles. The syntax of the Zapotecan subfamily of languages has been the most studied. Among the morphosyntactic topics that have received the most attention in Otomanguean are the different types of alignment systems for subjects and objects. Mock 1982, and Smith-Stark and Tapia García 2002 have shown that Popoloca and Amuzgo have active-stative alignment, and López Nicolás 2009 investigated four different types of object alignment in Zoochina Zapotec. Foreman 2004 studies the cluster of syntactic properties that identifies the subject syntactic relation in Macuiltianguis Zapotec, whereas Smith-Stark 2002 establishes the internal parameters for studying the different verb classes within Zapotecan languages. Palancar 2004 is the first comprehensive study of middle voice in Otomanguean.

  • Foreman, John. 2004. “The morphosyntax of subjects in Macuiltianguis Zapotec.” PhD diss., Los Angeles: Univ. of California.

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    Proposes for Macuiltinaguis Zapotec a unified category of subject within the Minimalist framework, examining the cluster of subject properties of several different morphological realizations of the category.

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  • López Nicolás, Oscar. 2009. “Construcciones de doble objeto en zapoteco de Zoochina.” MA thesis, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores de Antropología Social, Mexico City.

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    Analyzes the full paradigm of double object constructions in Zoochina Zapotec and shows that the language exhibits four different types of object alignment.

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  • Mock, Carol C. 1982. Los casos morfosintácticos del chocho. Anales de Antropología, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México 19.2: 345–378.

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    Proposes that Chocho, of the Popolocan branch, has an active-stative alignment system.

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  • Palancar, Enrique L. 2004. Middle voice in Otomi. International Journal of American Linguistics 70:52–85.

    DOI: 10.1086/422266Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes the expression of middle voice in San Idelfonso Otomi, based on a study of seventy-two verbs that share semantic features attested in languages with canonical middle voice.

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  • Smith-Stark, Thomas C. 2002. Las clases verbales del zapoteco de Chichicapan. In VI Encuentro Internacional de Lingüística en el Noroeste, Memorias 2. Edited by Rosa María Ortiz Ciscomani and Zarina Estrada Fernández, 165–212. Hermosillo, Mexico: Universidad de Sonora.

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    Analyzes and describes the four major Chichicapan Zapotec verbal classes based on the study of 387 verbs.

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  • Smith-Stark, Thomas C., and Fermín Tapia García. 2002. El amuzgo como lengua activa. In Del cora al maya yucateco: Estudios lingüísticos sobre algunas lenguas indígenas mexicanas. Edited by Paulette Levy, 81–129. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

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    Offers a structural classification of the paradigm of Amuzgo intransitive verbs and proposes that the language has an active-stative alignment system.

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Totonacan

The Totonacan family consists of about eleven languages that belong to two branches, Totonacan and Tepehua (not to be confused with the Uto-Aztecan Tepehuan spoken in northern Mexico). All the languages are closely related and share numerous structural features, some of them common to other language families spoken in Mesoamerica. Most of the grammatical work that has been done on Totonacan languages deals with the verbal morphology, owing to the agglutinative and highly polysynthetic character of these languages. This section is broken down into the following subsections: Grammars, Phonology, and Morphosyntax.

Grammars

The grammars written for Totonacan languages have paid special attention to phonology and morphology, and only very recently have included short sections on syntax. Beck 2004, MacKay 1999, Smythe Kung 2007, and Watters 1988 deal with the most prominent typological traits of Totonacan: the presence of vowel length and laryngealization, the use of lexical affixes as locatives that are attached to various word classes, sound symbolism, and symmetrical and asymmetrical object alignment patterns. McQuown 1990 was the first comprehensive grammar of Totonac; it was originally written in English as the author’s doctoral dissertation in 1940.

Phonology

The study of segmental phonology, morphophonological processes, and the basics of phonetics comprise important sections of Totonacan reference grammars. In addition, Levy 1987 is one of the few full-length studies of the phonology of a Mesoamerican language.

  • Levy, Paulette. 1987. Fonología del totonaco de Papantla, Veracruz. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

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    The most comprehensive referential phonology of a Totonacan language, illustrated with extensive data. It includes a detailed discussion of the most productive morphophonological processes.

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Morphosyntax

Among the grammatical topics that have received the most attention for Totonacan languages are word classes and lexical affixes. Beck 2002 and Levy 2004 study words that code property concepts from a typological perspective, and Beck 2008 does the same for ideophones. Levy 1999 discusses the semantic function of lexical affixes as part of the verbal morphology. MacKay and Trechsel 2008 shows that Misantla Totonac exhibits symmetrical alignment in multiple object constructions.

  • Beck, David. 2002. The syntax, semantics, and typology of adjectives in Upper Necaxa Totonac. Linguistic Typology 4:213–250.

    DOI: 10.1515/lity.2000.4.2.213Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of the syntactic behavior of property-concept words in Upper Necaxa Totonac, arguing that the adjective category is robust even though adjectives share a number of important grammatical properties with nouns.

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  • Beck, David. 2008. Ideophones, adverbs, and predicate qualification in Upper Necaxa Totonac. International Journal of American Linguistics 74:1–46.

    DOI: 10.1086/529462Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the phonological, morphological, and semantic properties of ideophones, arguing that they are members of the class of adverbial predicate-qualifiers.

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  • Levy, Paulette. 1999. From “part” to “shape”: Incorporation in Totonac and the issue of classification by verbs. International Journal of American Linguistics 65:127–175.

    DOI: 10.1086/466380Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines how the incorporation of lexical affixes related to “parts of wholes” in Papantla Totonac produces classificatory effects on verbal predicates.

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  • Levy, Paulette. 2004. Adjectives in Papantla Totonac. In Adjective classes: A cross-linguistic typology. Edited by R. M. W. Dixon and Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, 147–176. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Shows that adjectives are morphosyntactically distinct from nouns in Papantla Totonac and extends the analysis to Coatepec and Misantla.

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  • MacKay, Carolyn J., and Frank R. Trechsel. 2008. Symmetrical objects in Misantla Totonac. International Journal of American Linguistics 74:227–255.

    DOI: 10.1086/587705Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proposes that Misantla Totonac is a symmetrical object language since both of the objects of a ditransitive clause exhibit the same behavioral properties as the single object of a monotransitive clause.

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Mixe-Zoquean

The Mixe-Zoquean family consists of about twelve languages distributed in two branches: Mixean and Zoquean. Modern grammars have been written since 2000 for languages of both branches. Among the most prominent typological traits of Mixe-Zoquean languages discussed in Boudreault 2009, Johnson 2000, Romero 2009, and Zavala 2000 are the agglutinative and highly polysynthetic morphological structure of the languages, the extensive use of lexical affixes attached to various word classes, the hierarchical person marking system combined with ergative alignment, and the presence of elaborated morphology for valence changing operations.

  • Boudreault, Lynda J. De Jong. 2009. “A grammar of Sierra Popoluca (Soteapanec, a Mixe-Zoquean language).” PhD diss., Austin: Univ. of Texas.

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    A reference grammar of Soteapanec, a language of the Zoquean branch. This is one of the most complete grammars of a Mixe-Zoquean language.

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  • Johnson, Heidi. 2000. “A grammar of San Miguel Chimalapa Zoque.” PhD diss., Austin: Univ. of Texas.

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    A reference grammar of one of the two varieties of Oaxaca Zoque, a language of the Zoquean branch.

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  • Romero, Rodrigo. 2009. “Ayutla Mixe Grammar.” PhD diss., Buffalo: Univ. of New York.

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    A reference grammar of Ayutla Mixe, of the Mixean branch, which describes the main phonological and morphosyntactic features of this language.

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  • Zavala, Roberto. 2000. “Inversion and other topics in the grammar of Olutec (Mixean).” PhD diss., Univ. of Oregon.

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    A partial grammar of Olutec, of the Mixean branch. It was groundbreaking for analysis of several morphosyntactic features typical of a Mixe-Zoquean language, including ergativity, inversion, valence-changing operations, noun incorporation, and serial verbs.

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Mayan

The Mayan family of languages consists of about thirty extant languages plus at least two (Chicomuceltec and Ch’olti’) that have died since European contact. They have been the most studied of all Mesoamerican language families. In many cases, groundbreaking studies have been done on Mayan languages that have not so far been replicated for other Mesoamerican languages. Speakers of a number of different Mayan languages have contributed to the literature with grammars and with grammatical studies of specific aspects of structure, primarily in morphosyntax. This section is broken down into the following subsections: Anthologies, Text Collections, Dictionaries, Eastern Mayan Grammars, Western Mayan and Yucatecan Grammars, Phonology, Alignment and Voice, Syntax, Lexical and Syntactic Categories, Semantics, Discourse, and Acquisition.

Anthologies

England and Elliot 1990 provides a relatively concise perspective on the main advances in Mayan linguistics at that time. Many of the articles are foundational with regard to later work.

  • England, Nora C., and Stephen R. Elliott, eds. 1990. Lecturas sobre la lingüística Maya. Antigua, Guatemala: Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica.

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    Twenty articles, distributed as follows: “General Perspectives” (Cojtí Cuxil, Herrera, Campbell and Kaufman), “Perspectives on (Specific) Mayan Languages” (Kaufman, Pye and Rekart, Sam Colop, Chacach Cutzil, Cojtí Macario and López, England ), “Morphological Topics” (Craig, Stewart, Godfrey), “Syntactic Topics” (Knowles-Berry, Larsen, Dayley, Aissen), and “Discourse” (Martin, Maxwell, Brody, Du Bois).

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Text Collections

While more and more texts are becoming available in digital archives, there are also several notable print publications of texts in Mayan languages. Hofling 1991 is a book-length collection of fully glossed and translated texts that was published in a series with both a grammar and dictionary of Itzaj. Laughlin 1977 and Laughlin 1980 comprise a very large and carefully edited text collection in Tzotzil, with English translations. The collection has figured prominently as a data source in research by Judith Aissen.

  • Hofling, Charles A. 1991. Itzá Maya texts, with a grammatical overview. Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press.

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    Text collection published as part of a text-dictionary-grammar trilogy. Grammatical overview and twenty-four texts with interlinear glossing and line-by-line translation.

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  • Laughlin, Robert M. 1977. Of cabbages and kings: Tales from Zinacantan. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology 23. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

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    About 170 texts presented in a double-column English–Tzotzil format.

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  • Laughlin, Robert M. 1980. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax: Sundries from Zinacantan. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology 25. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

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    About fifty texts presented in a double-column English–Tzotzil format. Includes accounts of trips made to the United States by Laughlin’s two main collaborators.

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Dictionaries

There are far too many dictionaries of Mayan languages, including a large number of colonial dictionaries, to detail them all here. Several are included, however, because of special characteristics. Ajpacajá Tum 2001, a dictionary of K’ichee’, is the only monolingual full-length dictionary; it has more than twenty thousand entries. Laughlin 1975, and Hofling and Tesucún 1997 are bilingual dictionaries, of Tzotzil and Itzaj, respectively, that have more than twenty thousand entries each. Laughlin and Haviland 1988 applied the lexicographer’s art to a colonial dictionary of Tzotzil, producing a three-volume work with Tzotzil, English, and Spanish sections. Cu Cab, et al. 2003 is a comparative dictionary of lexical items in the Mayan languages of Guatemala.

  • Ajpacajá Tum, Florentino Pedro. 2001. K’ichee’ choltziij. Guatemala City: Cholsamaj.

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    A full-length monolingual dictionary of K’ichee’, with approximately twenty-three thousand entries.

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  • Cu Cab, Carlos Humberto, Juan Carlos Sacba Caal, Juventino Pérez Alonzo, María Beatriz Par Sapón, Marina Magdalena Ajcac Cruz, Matilde Eustaquio Caal Ical, Nikte’ María Juliana Sis Iboy, Pakal José Obispo Rodríguez Guaján, Saqijix Candelaria López Ixcoy, Teodoro Cirilo Ixcoy Herrera, Walter Rolando Pérez Morales, and Waykan José Gonzalo Benito Pérez. 2003. Maya’ choltzij: Vocabulario comparativo de los idiomas Mayas de Guatemala. Guatemala City: Cholsamaj.

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    A comparative vocabulary of fifteen hundred words in twenty Guatemalan Mayan languages, with Spanish and English glosses.

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  • Hofling, Charles A., and Félix Fernando Tesucún. 1997. Itzaj Maya-Spanish-English dictionary. Diccionario maya itzaj-español-inglés. Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press.

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    Part of the text-dictionary-grammar set for Itzaj, this dictionary has more than twenty thousand entries. It includes an introduction to the grammatical classes, a root index, and Spanish–Itzaj and English–Itzaj indices.

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  • Laughlin, Robert M. 1975. The great Tzotzil dictionary of San Lorenzo Zinacantan. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology 19. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

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    One of the earliest and most complete of the modern dictionaries of a Mesoamerican language, with more than twenty thousand entries. Entries are organized by roots. In addition to the Tzotzil–English section there is an English–Tzotzil section, a list of flora and fauna by scientific name, and an atlas keyed to maps.

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  • Laughlin, Robert M., and John B. Haviland. 1988. The great Tzotzil dictionary of Santo Domingo Zinacantan; with grammatical analysis and historical commentary. 3 vols. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology 31. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

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    A modern edition of a late-16th- to early-17th-century dictionary, with Tzotzil–English, English–Tzotzil, and Spanish–Tzotzil volumes. There are slightly more than eleven thousand entries ordered by roots, and a contrastive grammar sketch (Colonial–modern Tzotzil).

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Eastern Mayan Grammars

Modern grammars of Mayan languages represent three different “generations.” England 1983, Dayley 1985, and Larsen 1988 are from the first generation, which for the first time included substantial sections on syntax. García Matzar and Rodríguez Guaján 1997, E. Pérez and Jiménez 1997, and Santos Nicolás and Benito Pérez 1998 are second-generation grammars that continued to add more analysis of syntax. Can Pixabaj 2007 and J. Pérez 2007 represent the third generation. These grammars are even more complete with regard to syntax and also include initial analyses of discourse.

Western Mayan and Yucatecan Grammars

In this group of grammars, Craig 1977 and Aissen 1987 are comprehensive studies in syntax rather than general reference grammars. They establish many of the topics in syntax that have formed the basis for subsequent study. Zavala Maldonado 1992 and Hofling 2000 are, like other second-generation grammars, very complete reference grammars. Polian 2006 is a third-generation work, taking good advantage of previous advances in knowledge of Mayan grammar.

Phonology

Frazier 2009 is one of the very few phonological studies on Mayan languages.

  • Frazier, Melissa. 2009. “The productions and perception of pitch and glottalization in Yucatec Maya.” PhD diss., Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina.

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    Phonetic production and perception studies of vowel shape (pitch, length, glottalization) in Yucatec Maya. Results distinguish two dialect areas and are used to assess the Bidirectional Stochastic Optimality Theoretic model of the phonetics-phonology interface.

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Alignment and Voice

Larsen and Norman 1979 lays out the basic facts about ergative alignment in Mayan languages. Robertson 1980 addresses the history of the forms of antipassives and verbal nominalizations, and England 1983 adds detail about all-ergative alignment in Mam. Danziger 1996 shows how the behavior of intransitive verbs in Mopan suggests that the language has active-inactive alignment, and Gutiérrez Sánchez 2004 details agentive alignment in Chol. Both of these patterns are innovative. Dayley 1983 is a foundational comparative article on all types of grammatical voice in Mayan languages: passives, antipassives, and referential/instrumental voice (applicative).

  • Danziger, Eve. 1996. Split intransitivity and active-inactive patterning in Mopan Maya. International Journal of American Linguistics 62:379–414.

    DOI: 10.1086/466305Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proposes that Mopan is typologically an active-inactive language.

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  • Dayley, Jon P. 1983. Voice and ergativity in Mayan languages. In Studies in Mesoamerican linguistics. Edited by Alice Schlichter, Wallace Chafe, and Leanne Hinton, 2–119. Reports from the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages 4. Berkeley: Department of Linguistics, Univ. of California.

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    First published in Journal of Mayan Linguistics, 2.2 (1981): 3–82, this was the definitional article on variations in the morphology of voice among Mayan languages.

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  • England, Nora C. 1983. Ergativity in Mamean (Mayan) languages. International Journal of American Linguistics 49:1–19.

    DOI: 10.1086/465762Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows how all-ergative marking developed in Mam in dependent clauses, with Awakatek showing an intermediate step of having two types of marking in dependent clauses, either accusative or all-ergative.

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  • Gutiérrez Sánchez, Pedro. 2004. “Las clases de verbos intransitivos y el alineamiento agentivo en el chol de Tila, Chiapas.” MA thesis, Mexico City: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social.

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    Analyzes and describes the Cholan characteristic of distinguishing intransitive verbs on the basis of agentivity. This is an innovative feature that has spread to other northern highland languages in contact with Cholan languages, such as Poqomchi’ and Q’eqchi’.

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  • Larsen, Thomas W., and William M. Norman. 1979. Correlates of ergativity in Mayan grammar. In Ergativity: Towards a theory of grammatical relations. Edited by Frans Plank, 347–370. London: Academic Press.

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    The definitional article on ergative alignment in Mayan languages.

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  • Robertson, John. 1980. The structure of pronoun incorporation in the Mayan verbal complex. New York: Garland.

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    Part 1 is a synchronic and partial diachronic description of the Mayan verbal complex; Part 2 discusses absolutive marking for “transitive” (antipassive) subjects; Part 3 discusses “ergative” marking on nominalized intransitive verbs. Robertson also introduces his controversial idea of Chuj as a Q’anjob’alan language and Tojolabal as a Tzeltalan language.

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Syntax

Among the syntactic topics that have received the most attention for Mayan languages is topic and focus. Aissen 1992 establishes the discussion by making distinctions among focus, internal topic, and external topic. Aissen 1999 further analyzes patterns of agent focus in Tzotzil as a kind of inverse construction. Stiebels 2006 reviews almost everything that was known about agent focus and proposes a lexical explanation for the disparate facts found in different languages. Pascual 2007 takes one characteristic of agent focus in Q’anjob’al, the suffix –on, and proposes that it should be analyzed as a dependency marker because of its presence in two other dependent contexts besides agent focus constructions. England 1991 is a comparative study of word (constituent) order in Mayan languages; it proposes VOS order for Proto-Maya and sketches the changes that occurred in the daughter languages. Mateo Toledo 2008 is the first comprehensive study of complex predicates in a Mayan language; it examines six different constructions in Q’anjob’al and argues for their monoclausal properties.

  • Aissen, Judith. 1992. Topic and focus in Mayan. Language 68:43–80.

    DOI: 10.2307/416369Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on an analysis of Tzotzil, Jakaltek (Popti’), and Tz’utujil. Aissen distinguishes topic and focus and also distinguishes internal and external topics and proposes that they occupy different structural positions. She bases the analysis on a consideration of the intonational phrase, bolstered by syntactic evidence.

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  • Aissen, Judith. 1999. Agent focus and inverse in Tzotzil. Language 75:451–485.

    DOI: 10.2307/417057Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Aissen proposes that the agent focus construction in Tzotzil, used in this and some other Mayan languages for extracting agents, is an inverse construction, as in Algonquian languages, that responds to the relative obviation status of the agent and patient.

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  • England, Nora C. 1991. Changes in basic word order in Mayan languages. International Journal of American Linguistics 57:446–486.

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    All but one Mayan language are verb-initial; some are rigidly VSO, while others are VOS with differing degrees of flexibility. VOS is proposed for Proto-Maya basic word order, with all other orders being derived. Factors that affect or have affected order include animacy, definiteness, object complexity, topicalization, and focus.

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  • Mateo Toledo, Eladio. 2008. “The family of complex predicates in Q’anjob’al (Maya): Their syntax and meaning.” PhD diss., Austin: Univ. of Texas.

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    A groundbreaking description of six complex predicates in Q’anjob’al that resemble resultatives, serial verbs, and causatives in other languages, but are here shown to have monoclausal properties having to do with temporal structure, argument structure, event structure, and intonational contours.

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  • Pascual, Adán F. 2007. “Transitividad y dependencia sintáctica y discursiva en Q’anjob’al.” MA thesis, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Mexico City.

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    Proposes a coherent analysis and explanation of three disparate uses of the suffix –on in Q’anjob’al: to mark agentive focus, to indicate syntactic dependency in aspectless clauses (which also trigger split ergativity), and to indicate discursive dependency in clauses with aspect that indicates sequential actions or events.

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  • Stiebels, Barbara. 2006. Agent focus in Mayan languages. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 24:501–570.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11049-005-0539-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proposes a lexical approach to account for the variation found among Mayan languages in the construction used for agent focus. Also considers the historical development of the construction.

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Lexical and Syntactic Categories

Classifiers (Berlin 1968, Craig 1986, and Zavala 2000), “affect words” (ideophones) (Baronti 2001), positionals (Martin 1977 and Sántiz Gómez 2010), and motion auxiliaries (Aissen 1994) are among the special lexical categories that have been identified for Mayan languages.

  • Aissen, Judith. 1994. Tzotzil auxiliaries. Linguistics 32:657–690.

    DOI: 10.1515/ling.1994.32.4-5.657Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Classic syntactic analysis of motion verbs as auxiliaries in Tzotzil; the aim is to reconcile their head-like properties with their adjunct-like properties.

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  • Baronti, David Scott. 2001. “Sound symbolism use in affect verbs in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán.” PhD diss., Davis: Univ. of California.

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    This is a study of sound symbolism and of the class of words known by Mayanists as “affect verbs” in K’iche’ (K’ichee’).

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  • Berlin, Brent. 1968. Tzeltal numeral classifiers: A study in ethnographic semantics. The Hague: Mouton.

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    The classic study of numeral classifiers in Tzeltal (Tseltal). More than four hundred classificatory morphemes are used with nouns when they are quantified.

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  • Craig, Colette G. 1986. Jacaltec noun classifiers: A study in grammaticalization. Lingua 70:241–284.

    DOI: 10.1016/0024-3841(86)90046-XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A classic study of noun classifiers in a Q’anjob’alan language. Recent innovations, they originate from nouns.

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  • Martin, Laura. 1977. “Positional roots in Kanjobal (Mayan).” PhD diss., Gainesville: Univ. of Florida.

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    The first full-length study of the class of positionals in a Mayan language.

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  • Sántiz Gómez, Roberto. 2010. “Raíces posicionales en tseltal de Oxchuc.” MA thesis, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Mexico City.

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    A thorough study of the positional class in Tseltal (Tzeltal), especially paying attention to the large number of ambivalent roots. It is accompanied by a 316-item positional dictionary.

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  • Zavala, Roberto. 2000. Multiple classifier systems in Akatek (Mayan). In Systems of nominal classification. Edited by Gunter Senft, 114–146. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Treats the fullest range of classifiers found in Mayan languages: classificatory suffixes on numbers, sortal numeral classifiers, a plural marker for humans, noun classifiers, plus a set of gestural classifiers. All of the kinds of classifiers described here are found in all of the Q’anjob’alan proper languages (Q’anjob’al, Akatek, Popti’).

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Semantics

The study of non-lexical semantics in Mesoamerica is still more or less in its infancy. Bohnemeyer 2002 is one of the few full-length semantic studies; it treats temporal reference and aspectual viewpoint.

  • Bohnemeyer, Jürgen. 2002. The grammar of time reference in Yukatek Maya. LINCOM Studies in Native American Linguistics 44. Munich: Lincom.

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    Description of time reference in a tenseless language. Describes a complex system of marking aspectual viewpoint, shows that Yucatec distinguishes several degrees of temporal remoteness, and that it does not mark absolute (deictic) tense, or code relative (anaphoric) tenses. Yucatec has no temporal connectives that indicate event order relations between clauses.

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Discourse

Studies of the grammar of discourse were greatly strengthened beginning in the 1980s. Norman 1980 specifies the grammatical rules that govern the production of parallel couplets in K’ichee’. Brody 1986 extends the discussion of parallelism to an analysis of repetition in conversation, narrative, and ritual language. Du Bois 1987 is the culmination of a series of articles in which a discourse-based motivation for ergative alignment is proposed, using data from Sakapultek. England 2009 shows how narrative tales in Mam are characterized by a combination of both grammatical and stylistic features.

  • Brody, Jill. 1986. Repetition as a rhetorical and conversational device in Tojolabal (Mayan). International Journal of American Linguistics 52.3: 255–274.

    DOI: 10.1086/466022Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines repetition in conversation, narrative, and ritual language. Although partly shared among all three genres, specific patterns of repetition also distinguish them. Ritual speech and conversation are shown to be more like each other than they are like narrative in terms of the kinds of repetitions used.

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  • Du Bois, John W. 1987. The discourse basis of ergativity. Language 63:805–855.

    DOI: 10.2307/415719Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The culmination of a series of articles on a discourse-based motivation for ergativity, based on data from Sacapultec (Sakapultek). New information is preferentially correlated with the S/O pivot.

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  • England, Nora C. 2009. To tell a tale: The structure of narrated stories in Mam, a Mayan language. International Journal of American Linguistics 75:207–231.

    DOI: 10.1086/596594Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows how narrative tales are defined by a constellation of grammatical and stylistic features, such as the use of adverbs, aspect markers, quoted dialogue, ideophones, and codas that place the narrative within local tradition.

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  • Norman, William M. 1980. Grammatical parallelism in Quiché ritual language. In Proceedings of the 6th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. 387–399. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Linguistics Society.

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    Analyzes the well-known Mesoamerican phenomenon of parallelism in ritual speech in Quiché (K’ichee’), showing the grammatical rules for the construction of parallel lines.

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Acquisition

Language acquisition in Mesoamerica is still under-studied. Pye 1992 is a comprehensive report on acquisition in K’iche’ (K’ichee’), in which three children were studied over time. Pye, et al. 2007 compares the acquisition of verbs in five Mayan languages and represents work by almost everyone who is currently active in acquisition of Mayan languages.

  • Pye, Clifton. 1992. The acquisition of K’iche’ Maya. In The crosslinguistic study of language acquisition, Vol. 3. Edited by Dan Slobin, 221–308. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Comprehensive study of acquisition based on following three children during nine months and three other children for a briefer but more intensive period. Ages range between 2 years 1 month and 4 years even.

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  • Pye, Clifton, Barbara Pfeiler, Lourdes de León, Penelope Brown, and Pedro Mateo. 2007. Roots or edges? Explaining variation in children’s early verb forms across five Mayan languages. In Learning indigenous languages: Child language acquisition in Mesoamerica. Edited by Barbara Pfeiler, 15–46. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

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    Examines acquisition of verbs in K’iche’, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Q’anjob’al, and Yucatec. Shows that children learning Tzeltal and Tzotzil initially produce mostly bare roots, while children learning the other three languages produce root-suffix combinations. The difference is attributed to differences in the structure of the input that children receive.

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Isolates

There are five language isolates recognized in Mesoamerica. Two of them have been argued to be small language families: Xinca, with four moribund or extinct languages, and Chontal of Oaxaca (O’Connor 2007), with three closely related languages, one of them extinct. The other three language isolates are P’orhepecha (Purhépecha, Tarascan) (Capistrán 2010, Foster 1969), Huave (Kim 2008), and Cuitlatec (extinct). Tarascan has been studied since the colonial period, whereas Xinca, Cuitlatec, Huave, and Chontal have received less attention by scholars.

  • Capistrán, Alejandra. 2010. “Construcciones de doble objeto en Purhépecha.” PhD diss., Colegio de México.

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    A comprehensive study of the morphology and syntax of multiple object constructions, showing that Purhépecha (P’orhepecha) has an asymmetrical primary object pattern.

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  • Foster, Mary L. 1969. The Tarascan language. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A reference grammar of Tarascan, also known as P’orhepecha/Purhépecha. A classic description with thorough morphological analysis.

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  • Kim, Yuni. 2008. “Topics in the phonology and morphology of San Francisco del Mar Huave.” PhD diss., Berkeley: Univ. of California.

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    Descriptive and theoretical treatment of Huave phonology and morphology based on data from San Francisco del Mar, Oaxaca. It includes a typological overview and an in-depth analysis of phonological processes.

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  • O’Connor, Loretta. 2007. Motion, transfer and transformation: The grammar of change in Lowland Chontal. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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    A thorough study of the lexical and grammatical resources of the verbal system in Lowland Chontal used for coding the semantics of change. It is framed in the typology of lexicalization patterns established by Talmy.

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Colonial Documents

The Popol Wuj (Popol Vuh), in K’ichee’, is the most important of the colonial Mayan documents. Christenson 2007 includes a digital scan of the manuscript in the Newberry Library, modernized transcriptions, and English and Spanish translations. It allows the user to perform a number of different operations. Another photographed digital version with a transcription and translation is the Popol Wuj Online at Ohio State University. Sam Colop 1999 and Sam Colop 2008 are a two-volume poetic rendition of the Popol Wuj in K’ichee’ (1999) with its translation into Spanish (2008). The other colonial Mayan history of special importance is the Kaqchikel document known among other things as the Annals of the Kaqchikels, the Memorial of Sololá, or the Memorial of Tecpán-Atitlan. Maxwell and Hill 1999 includes these documents and several others and has a line-by-line gloss of all of the material as well as a translation. It does not, however, include a facsimile reproduction of the documents; this can be found in Otzoy, et al. 1999. Robertson, et al. 2010 is a transcription, analysis, and translation of the only extant material on Ch’olti’; it includes a grammatical analysis. Sahagún 1950–1982, known as the Florentine Codex, is the most important colonial document in Náhuatl and consists of a thorough ethnographic account of Aztec culture at the time of European contact.

  • Christenson, Allen J., ed. and trans. 2007. Popol Vuh, sacred book of the Ancient Maya. Electronic library. Provo, UT: Brigham Young Univ.

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    The CD offers in digital form a scan of the original K’ichee’ (Mayan) manuscript, transcription of the text in 16th-century and modern orthographies, English and Spanish translations with notes and commentary, images, and audio of the K’ichee’. It allows users to search, copy and paste, look up references, create notes.

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  • Maxwell, Judith M., and Robert M. Hill II, eds. and trans. 1999. Kaqchikel chronicles: The definitive edition. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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    Contains the set of Kaqchikel (Mayan) documents also known as the Annals of the Kaqchikels (Cakchiquels) and the Xpantzay Cartulary. The texts are presented in a four-line format with a modern transcription, a morpheme-by-morpheme breakdown, a morpheme-by-morpheme gloss, and a free English translation. Notes and commentaries are included.

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  • Otzoy, Simón C., ed. and trans. 1999. Memorial de Sololá. With cultural and linguistic commentary by Martín Chacach and Narciso Cojtí; introduction and Spanish editing by Jorge Luján Muñoz. Guatemala City: Comisión Interuniversitaria Guatemalteca del Descubrimiento de América.

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    This edition of the “Annals of the Kaqchikels (Cakchiquels)” contains a facsimile reproduction of the original manuscript. It was retranscribed into modern Kaqchikel by Otzoy. The translation and commentaries were prepared by native speakers of Kaqchikel.

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  • Popol Wuj Online.

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    A scan of the original manuscript of the Popol Vuh (housed in the Newberry Library, Chicago) with a modern transcription and the original translation into Spanish.

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    • Robertson, John S., Danny Law, and Robbie A. Haertel, eds. and trans. 2010. Colonial Ch’olti’: The seventeenth-century Morán manuscript. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

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      Photographs of the original Ch’olti’ (Mayan) manuscript with its transcription, a regularized transcription, morpheme analysis, and translation of the religious section, and an analysis of the grammar of Colonial Ch’olti’. Appendices contain additional material including the word list from the original manuscript with English and Spanish glosses.

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    • Sahagún, Bernardino de. 1950–1982. General history of the things of New Spain: Florentine codex. Translated by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble. 12 vols. Monographs of the School of American Research. Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press.

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      An unrivaled, pioneering ethnography of Aztec culture at conquest written over decades in the mid-16th century by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún and Aztec collaborators. Twelve books with parallel Nahuatl-English texts cover Aztec rituals and customs, religious beliefs, rhetoric and moral philosophy, history and commerce, natural history, and defeat by Spanish conquistadores.

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    • Sam Colop, Luis Enrique. 1999. Popol Wuj: Versión poética K’iche’. Guatemala City: Cholsamaj.

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      A poetic version of the Popol Wuj (Popol Vuh) in a modernized transcription, by a native speaker.

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    • Sam Colop, Luis Enrique. 2008. Popol Wuj: Traducción al español y notas. Guatemala CIty: Cholsamaj.

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      The Spanish translation of the poetic version of the Popol Wuj (Popol Vuh), with notes. This is the companion volume to Sam Colop 1999.

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    Languages, Societies, Cultures

    Studies of Mesoamerican languages in their social and cultural context are not as numerous as grammatical studies, but there are several of importance. This part of the field is heavily dominated by Mayan studies. This section is broken down into the following subsections: Context, Cognition, Language Socialization, Language Policy and Language Vitality, and Language Use.

    Context

    Hanks 1990 and Hanks 2005 consider deixis from both linguistic and cultural/pragmatic perspectives, connecting a grammatical system with verbal practice and cultural context in Yucatec Maya. Haviland 2004 analyzes evidential markers in Tzotzil (Mayan), showing how they can be manipulated by a “master speaker” for conveying a variety of meanings derived from the context of speaking. Kockelman 2007 analyzes time and temporality in Q’eqchi’ (Mayan) from social and cultural as well as linguistic perspectives.

    • Hanks, William F. 1990. Referential practice: Language and lived space among the Maya. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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      An account of deixis in Yucatec Maya from both linguistic and pragmatic perspectives, in which the author connects the linguistic deictic system with verbal practice and ordinary cultural context.

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    • Hanks, William F. 2005. Explorations in the deictic field. Current Anthropology 46:191–220.

      DOI: 10.1086/427120Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      A further elaboration of Hanks’s theoretical approach to deixis, based on Yucatec Maya. It adapts the sociological concept of field to the semiotic structure of deixis.

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    • Haviland, John B. 2004. Evidential mastery. In Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, Part 2. Edited by Mary Andronis, Erin Debenport, Anne Pycha, and Keiko Yoshimura, 349–368. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago.

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      Analyzes the complex of evidential particles that exist in Tzotzil (Mayan), shows how one “master speaker” uses them to subtle effect.

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    • Kockelman, Paul. 2007. Meaning and time: Translation and exegesis of a Mayan myth. Anthropological Linguistics 49:308–387.

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      Considers time and temporality in Q’eqchi’ (Mayan) myth from grammatical, pragmatic, cultural, and social perspectives.

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    Cognition

    Bohnemeyer and Stolz 2006, and Brown 2006 both analyze spatial reference in Mayan languages (Yukatek and Tzeltal, respectively), addressing issues in diversity and cognition originating in the Max Planck Institute space project. Lucy 1992 and Danziger 2001 address the Whorfian hypothesis with data from two Yucatecan Mayan languages. Lucy works on nominal number in Yucatec Maya and Danziger on kinship terminology in Mopan.

    • Bohnemeyer, Jürgen, and Christel Stolz. 2006. Spatial reference in Yukatek Maya: A survey. In Grammars of space: Explorations in cognitive diversity. Edited by Stephen C. Levinson and David P. Wilkins, 230–272. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511486753Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Yukatek Maya speakers mostly use an intrinsic frame of reference for spatial reference, but also use observer-based and absolutely grounded frames of reference. Ground-denoting expressions are underspecified in descriptions of spatial configurations and motion events. Motion in Yukatek is presented as a change of location with respect to individual grounds.

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    • Brown, Penelope. 2006. A sketch of the grammar of space in Tzeltal. In Grammars of space: Explorations in cognitive diversity. Edited by Stephen C. Levinson and David P. Wilkins, 230–272. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511486753Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Reports on field research in Tzeltal. Shows that many verb roots have meanings that include a spatial element, locative descriptions rely on the figure and deemphasize the ground, deictic centering is avoided when relating location to ground but is central when describing an object in motion, and absolute orientation is used.

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    • Danziger, Eve. 2001. Relatively speaking: Language, thought, and kinship among the Mopan Maya. Oxford Studies in Anthropological Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      A study in linguistic relativity based on Mopan (Maya) kinship terminology, using linguistic, psycholinguistic, cognitive, and anthropological models and approaches to data analysis. It concludes that testing the acquisition of certain terms among children supports the psychological reality of linguistic relativity.

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    • Lucy, John A. 1992. Grammatical categories and cognition. Studies in the Social and Cultural Foundation of Language 13. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511620713Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Examines the proposal that “differences among languages in the grammatical structuring of meaning influence habitual thought” (p. 1), by comparing the grammatical treatment of nominal number in English and Yucatec Maya.

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    Language Socialization

    De León 2005 addresses language acquisition and socialization among Tzotzil (Maya) children, from anthropological, linguistic, and psychological perspectives. Suslak 2005 presents research on how language (practice and ideology) is connected to definitions and community expectations of youth among Mixes.

    • De León, Lourdes. 2005. La llegada del alma: Lenguaje, infancia y socialización entre los mayas de Zinacantán. Mexico City: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, and Consejo Nacional de Culturas y Artes.

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      Interdisciplinary study that uses methodological tools of anthropology, linguistics, and developmental psychology on language acquisition and socialization among Tzotzil children.

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    • Suslak, Daniel. 2005. “The future of Totontepecano Mixe: Youth and language in the Mixe highlands (Oaxaca, Mexico).” PhD diss., Chicaco: Univ. of Chicago.

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      An anthropological study of the role of language in a Mixe reconceptualization of youth and intergenerational relations. Takes the position that the category “youth” is part of a linguistic ideology that associates certain speech forms with young people and their activities.

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    Language Policy and Language Vitality

    Heath 1972 is the foundational study of crown language policy in the New World and how it neglected to take advantage for more than brief periods of an already established Mesoamerican lengua franca, Nahuatl. Hill and Hill 1986 is a study of language contact between Mexicano (Nahuatl) and Spanish, with a wealth of both sociolinguistic and linguistic detail about what they term a “syncretic” language. Garzon, et al. 1998 discusses three case studies of Kaqchikel (Maya) language shift, and French 2010 connects Kaqchikel linguistic identity to national leadership and local practice.

    • French, Brigittine M. 2010. Maya ethnolinguistic identity: Violence, cultural rights, and modernity in Highland Guatemala. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

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      Studies linguistic identities among Kaqchikel Mayas in Guatemala, discussing roles, beliefs, and practices among a self-conscious Maya linguistic leadership and among an ordinary central highland local population.

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    • Garzon, Susan, R. McKenna Brown, Julia Becker Richards, and Wuqu’ Ajpub’. 1998. The life of our language: Kaqchikel Maya maintenance, shift, and revitalization. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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      Three case studies of language shift, maintenance, and revitalization in different Kaqchikel Maya towns, plus a chapter on language contact experiences by a Kaqchikel speaker.

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    • Heath, Shirley Brice. 1972. Telling tongues: Language policy in Mexico, colony to nation. New York: Teachers College Press.

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      Classic study of the failure on the part of the Spaniards to take advantage of Nahuatl as an actual and potential lengua franca in Mexico after the Conquest.

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    • Hill, Jane H., and Kenneth C. Hill. 1986. Speaking Mexicano: The dynamics of syncretic language in Central Mexico. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

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      Foundational study of language contact in Mesoamerica, based on Mexicano (Nahuatl)–Spanish contact. It characterizes Mexicano as a syncretic language and details its use in the social life of the community and its linguistic structure, approaching it through a detailed exploration of community members’ assumptions, beliefs, ideologies, and practices.

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    Language Use

    Bricker, Gossen, and Haviland were all part of the Harvard Chiapas Project and addressed different issues of Tzotzil (Maya) language use. Bricker 1973 looks at verbal humor in ritual settings, Haviland 1977 looks at the cultural use of gossip, and Gossen 1974 defines genres of speech in Tzotzil. Romero 2006 is a classic variationist study of language change in K’ichee’ (Maya).

    • Bricker, Victoria R. 1973. Ritual humor in highland Chiapas. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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      A study of verbal humor in ritual settings in three Tzotzil (Maya) towns. Provides the social and cultural context for this kind of humor and compares the differences found in the three towns.

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    • Gossen, Gary H. 1974. Chamulas in the world of the sun: Time and space in a Maya oral tradition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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      The definitional study of genres of speaking among the Tzotzil Maya.

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    • Haviland, John B. 1977. Gossip, reputation, and knowledge in Zinacantan. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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      Examines the genre of gossip from linguistic, cultural, and social perspectives, detailing the linguistic resources that are available in gossip as well as the ethnographic context for gossip and the cultural competence that being able to gossip entails.

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    • Romero, Sergio. 2006. “Sociolinguistic variation and linguistic history in Mayan: The case of K’ichee’.” PhD diss., Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania.

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      Language variation and change in Santa María Chiquimula (K’ichee’). Examines phonological, morphological, and lexical variables through colonial period, early 20th century, and contemporary data. Concludes that language diversification in K’ichee’ is mostly due to internal forces.

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    LAST MODIFIED: 10/28/2011

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199772810-0080

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