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The relationship between language teaching and Mayan language conservation in Guatemala

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Title: The relationship between language teaching and Mayan language conservation in Guatemala
Authors: Barrett, Rusty
Issue Date: 14 Mar 2009
Description: This paper examines the ways in which teaching K’iche’ Maya to American students impacts local language documentation and conservation efforts in Guatemala. K’iche’ revitalization efforts have lead to a number of proposals for standardizing K’iche’ and have resulted in more widespread use of written K’iche’. However, a number of distinct local ‘standard’ varieties have emerged without a unified form of K’iche’ that crosses dialect regions. Although different communities have adopted unified orthographic conventions, standardized morphological and syntactic forms have not been widely adopted. Because highly localized varieties of K’iche’ have been maintained, many standard forms are neither recognized nor understood by the majority of speakers, even those speakers involved in local efforts at language conservation. The paper discusses K’iche’ language materials developed jointly at three U.S. universities and their implementation in an intensive language program in Guatemala. Because standardized K’iche’ is not widely used, the K’iche’ pedagogical materials focus primarily on a single local dialect (chosen for its conservative nature with respect to language shift), including information on dialectal variation when appropriate. The paper discusses issues in the development and use of pedagogical materials, emphasizing the ways in which the production of educational materials may contribute to language documentation. For example, the development of K’iche’ materials forced researchers to examine grammatical structures that have been overlooked in most previous descriptions of K’iche’ grammar. In addition, because the research required for developing pedagogical materials was clearly goal-oriented, it sparked a great deal of interest and cooperation among K’iche’ speakers involved in language conservation. After considering the impact of pedagogical materials, the paper discusses the relationship between the intensive language course and local conservation efforts. The visibility of English-speaking students interested in learning K’iche’ challenged local language ideologies that denigrate Mayan languages. The course also highlighted important factors in language conservation. For example, because the course tried to incorporate neologisms from standardized K’iche’ to replace Spanish loan words, the use of these neologisms by foreign students spread awareness both of the issue of language shift and of specific neologisms themselves. The use of native-speaker teachers from a variety of backgrounds also highlighted linguistic variation that had been previously undescribed, uncovering variable forms that need to be addressed in the development of a standard variety. The discussion suggests that language teaching may be an important complement to traditional descriptive methods in language conservation and documentation.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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