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Language Loss and Wellbeing among the Ch’orti’ Maya

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Title:Language Loss and Wellbeing among the Ch’orti’ Maya
Authors:Hull, Kerry
Contributors:Hull, Kerry (speaker)
Date Issued:05 Mar 2017
Description:In the last century the endangered language of Ch’orti’ Mayan in southern Guatemala has undergone radical changes in both its quotidian and ritual vocabulary. In daily speech Spanish loanwords are now ubiquitous and Spanish grammatical forms have been adopted, often at the expense of native terms and constructions. In this paper I document the effect of the loss of vocabulary and language structures on the wellbeing of the Ch’orti’ Maya in three specific areas. First, based on a long-term study of ritual and poetic language forms among the Ch’orti’ I argue that the wholesale loss of community-wide ritual practice and its accompanying ritual language is recognized by the Ch’orti’ themselves as a detriment to their wellbeing. Not knowing the ancient prayers and “how to say them” is said by some Ch’orti’ to be the reason for the drought and famine plaguing their region today. In addition, I draw upon my fieldwork with the Ch’orti’ over the last 18 years to detail the role of grassroots language revitalization projects play in local empowerment and self-improvement for those Ch’orti’ who engage in these efforts due to outside funding and employment opportunities for language documentation. Finally, I discuss the startling decline in botanical knowledge related to medicine among younger Ch’orti’ and the effect this loss has on individual health and wellbeing. Today, ritual specialists—those who are the most skilled in the use of botanical medicines among the Ch’orti’—are being killed out of fear of witchcraft, resulting in a loss of traditional healing practice and its ritual vocabulary, all of which is altering the paradigm for both assessing and treating issues of health among the Ch’orti’. The documentation of rapidly disappearing ritual language is therefore of primary importance with the Ch’orti’.
Appears in Collections: 5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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