Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Spanish / Kaqchikel-Maya Contact in Town and Village: A Focus on Youth

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Spanish / Kaqchikel-Maya Contact in Town and Village: A Focus on Youth

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This study presents preliminary findings from an investigation of patterns of maintenance and shift affecting Kaqchikel-Maya in contact with Spanish in a municipality of the central highlands of Guatemala. Participants in the study are primary and middle-school students in a highlands town and mountain villages above the town. Maintenance and loss of Kaqchikel is gauged in relation to three assessment measures, two focusing on knowledge of vocabulary and one on comprehension of spoken Kaqchikel. Findings of these assessment measures are considered in relation to distinctions between the town and villages, self-identification by the students as indigenous or Ladino (mixed Hispanic background), and grade level of the students. The study is collaborative in that it combines the efforts of two researchers, one a linguist and the other a professor of comparative literature, that have worked with bilingual, Spanish and Kaqchikel-Maya speaking assistants, from the community. Concluding remarks include observations on recently introduced instruction in Kaqchikel in the schools.

1. INTRODUCTION. This study presents selected preliminary findings of a collaborative research project. The project combines the work of a linguist, the first author, and a professor of comparative literature, the second author, both with more than ten years of experience visiting the research site in the central highlands of Guatemala. The full project combines three approaches in a study of bilingualism: the sociology of language in a study of language maintenance, shift and revitalization; a study of narratives in the form of folktales and oral histories told in Spanish or Kaqchikel-Maya; and a sociolinguistic study of effects of Maya on community Spanish. This article draws on the first approach. We describe maintenance and shift affecting Kaqchikel-Maya as revealed in measures of vocabulary knowledge and of the ability to respond to questions presented in Kaqchikel for samples of elementary and middle school students from town and village. Besides involving the work of two researchers, the project is also collaborative in the sense that it includes the participation of local bilingual (Spanish and Kaqchikel speaking) assistants. They are teachers and residents of Parramos or Parrojas, the town and one of the villages where we have worked. (1)

2. LANGUAGES OF GUATEMALA. As described in Verdugo de Lima (2003), Guatemala is a multilingual country in which 23 different languages are in contact with Spanish. Of these 23 languages, 21 have roots in ancient Maya. Approximately 11 million of Guatemala's nearly 15 million people are Spanish speakers, and approximately 50% of the population speaks one of Guatemala's other languages. Of the 21 Mayan languages of Guatemala, those with 400,000 or more speakers are:

K'iche', with approximately 1 million speakers

Q'eqchi', with approximately 725,000 speakers

Mam, with approximately 520,000 speakers

Kaqchikel, with approximately 475,000 speakers

In Guatemala, the official language is Spanish. The Ley de Idiomas Nacionales 'Law of National Languages' passed in May of 2003 reads: 'El idioma oficial de Guatemala es el espanol. 'The official language of Guatemala is Spanish'. However, it also states: El Estado reconoce, promueve y respeta los idiomas de los pueblos Maya, Garijuna y Xinka. 'The State recognizes, promotes and respects the languages of the Mayan, Garifuna and Xinka people' (Verdugo Lima 2003:2). In 2005, for the first time, instruction in the major Mayan languages became a part of the national school curriculum for primary schools in Guatemala and in 2009 these languages began to be integrated into the middle school curriculum as well.

3. LANGUAGE MAINTENANCE AND SHIFT. The current study contributes to investigation in the field of language maintenance and language shift. A general outline for research in this field was presented as early as 1964 in the seminal article 'Language maintenance and language shift as a field of inquiry' (Fishman 1964). …

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