Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tenochtitlán in 360º

Here is an absolutely incredible web site:


It is all in Spanish, but it shouldn't matter to non-Spanish speakers for the visual impact. This is an artist's conception based on ancient maps of Tenochtitlán, the ancient capital of the Aztec Empire, which you can manipulate for a 360º view of the ancient city and its surroundings. Once the site loads, and you may need to give it a few minutes (it's worth the wait!), you can center your mouse over any part of the image and left-click to change the angle of view.

You'll notice Lake Texcoco, the lake on which the island city was built, and the several causeways which connected it with various parts of the mainland.

This is probably as close as we can come now to experiencing Tenochtitlán the way Cortez did for the first time in 1521. Awesome! And the background music done by a Mexican Aztec musician is nice too!

Keep in mind that everything you see in the picture is now called México City.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Yab'ixal Ix Xajaw
Story of the Moon

A Q'anjob'al Maya story

A yet payxatu,
? at time-DEM

ix ko tx'utx' Xajaw chi tz'eq'eq'i ix yet aqb'alil axka cham ko man k’u ti nani.
CLAS 3P-POSS mother moon INCOM bright CLAS at night ? CLAS 3P-POSS ? sun ? now

Palta ix tx'utx' wojb'atz'
but CLAS mother howler-monkey

k'am chi je way yuninal ix,
there-no-exist INCOM ? sleep E3S-children-3S-POSS

yujtol k'am aq'b'alil.
that-why there-no-exist night

Axa yetoq jelanil ix
? with intelligence-3S-POSS

max k'uon ix yunetu wayi.
COM teach? E3S 3S-POSS-children sleep-SUFF

Palta eb' unin tu k'am
but 3P children here there-no-exist

chi je way eb' yuj
INCOM ? sleep 3P-for

tzeqeqial xal Xajaw tu.
shine CLAS moon there

Axa naq b'ab'el unin max
? CLAS first child COM

q'umlej ay b'a naq yetoq
converse there-is oldest CLAS with

yuxhtaq naq.
3S-POSS-brother CLAS

A nani oqon
? now ?

mulnajoq masanil k'u.
work-PART all day

Oqkowajb'aoq'oq masanil xaq' an ak'un k'al masanil
PART-?-gather-PART? all leaf PART bush and all

xaq' te' te'.
leaf CLAS wood (tree)?

Axa yet oqonwayoq, k'ojank'ulal
? there-exist ?-sleep (time)-? slow

oqtoqkomaqcheloq sat
?-?-?-cover-? face

ix Xajaw tu.
CLAS moon there

Kajtu oqjejiloni yet k'ualil k'al yet aq'b'alil. Kaytu max yun kankan ix ko tx'utx' Xajaw
So ?-?-see at on the day and so at night. So COM 3S-make? become CLAS 3S-POSS mother moon

tu yin q'eqq'inal.
there in darkness.

Once upon a time, our mother moon was as bright in the night as the sun in the day all the night long. But the howler monkey's children could not sleep because there was no night. Then the mother of the monkeys taught the children to sleep thanks to her intelligence. But the children could not see their dreams due to the light of mother moon. Then the oldest child made an agreement with his brothers. Now they would gather leaves and at the time to sleep they would slowly cover the face of mother moon. That would make difference between day and night. And so our mother moon only shines with a weak light in the darkness of the night.

Traducción en español

Una vez, nuestra madre luna alumbraba toda la noche igual que el sol en el día. Pero los niños del mono aullador no podían dormir, ya que no hubo noche. Entonces la madre de los monos les hizo dormir através de su inteligencia. Pero los niños no podían ver sus sueños por la claridad de la luna. Entonces el hermano mayor de los monitos hizo un acuerdo con sus hermanitos. Ahora iban a trabajar todo el día. Iban a juntar todas las hojas de monte y de los árboles y en la hora de dormir iban a cubrir la cara de la madre luna despacio. Asi iban a poder ver la diferencia entre el día y la noche. Y así quedó alumbrado suave nuestra madre luna en la oscuridad.

As many of you know, I’m taking a class called The Structure of Mayan. In this class we’ve had to select one Mayan language (out of 31 total, both living and extinct) on which to work, researching and doing papers on different aspects of it such as phonetics, morphology, and syntax. I partnered with a classmate and friend of mine to work on Q’anjob’al, one of the highland Mayan languages spoken near the border area of Mexico and Guatemala. In the process of doing some online research, I came across this short story. I tried to gloss it as best I could with my current knowledge of the language*, which is not much as you can tell from all the ? scattered throughout the gloss. But it’s a beginning to helping me to understand the word order and syntax a little better.

Just for a little background on Q’anjob’al and Mayan in general:

Mayan languages are ergative-absolutive, meaning that they treat the agent of transitive verbs distinctly from the subject of intransitive verbs and the object of transitive

Those ‘ you see after certain consonants are the markers for an ejective stop. The ejective is one of the primary characteristics of Mayan languages. It is pronounced by holding back air then letting it go with a sudden burst after the consonant sound. The letter j is pronounced h, q is a uvular stop, tx is pronounced ch (not sure of exact difference between ch and tx), and x is a retroflex sh sound (tongue bent backward toward rear of the mouth). While b' is implosive in some Mayan languages, it is not in Q'anjob'al. ' after a vowel indicates a glottal stop.

Mayan languages have many particles, several of which are in this text. Mayan nouns take various
classifiers. For example, in the above text, there is ix, referring to females. Naq refers to males. Cham refers to older males, volcanoes, stars and planets, among other things. Te' is for wood or things made of wood. No’ refers to animals, so that ‘a cat’ in Q’anjob’al is jun no’ mis (one CLAS cat).

Verbs, as you can see, pose great challenges in the number of aspectual and various other markers they may take.

There is, of course, much more for me to learn!

* Some of this may change once I speak to my Q'anjob'al-speaking friend!
** Note that, in the text, COM refers to completive aspect, INCOM to incompletive, CLAS to classifier.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

More Hawaiian

In case you haven’t realized by now, I’m a big fan of the fascinating Hawaiian language. As with the Amerindian languages, the more I study Hawaiian the more intriguing it gets! No language deserves to die, and Hawaiian is a good example of a language whose many nuances of thought and expression would be lost to us forever if it went extinct. I’m very glad that Hawaiian (and its close cousin Māori of New Zealand) has a strong, successful revitalization program that serves as a poster-child for indigenous language revitalization efforts everywhere.

I’ll here give an example of a typical "professional" attitude expressed not all that long ago toward Hawaiian (and I could add other indigenous [Amerindian] languages) based on old European superiority and ethnocentrism:

"There is a great want of generic terms in the language. This is a peculiarity that distinguishes it from the English, but not from other uncultivated languages. No people have use for general terms until they begin to reason, and the language of the Hawaiians shows that they have never been a thinking people…." (italics mine)

Now how’s that for a dose of ethnocentrism?!

That was written by a missionary reverend, Lorrin Andrews, in 1838 while studying and composing a grammar of the language. He was definitely a product of his times, in that anything non-European was essentially "savage" and "barbaric." (It was not, after all, Latin or Greek.)

Anyway, I was reviewing some Hawaiian grammar and thought I’d blog about a few of the more interesting aspects of this intriguing language.

First, there’s an interesting syntactic change between positive and negative statements:

a. Ua hele ‘oia.
He went.



A’ole ‘oia i hele.
He did not go.

Note that, in a negative sentence, the subject pronoun comes before the verb instead of after (the usual) with a particle inserted. (Hawaiian is a VSO language, by the way. Particles form an important part of Hawaiian grammar [the ‘glue’ that holds the language together], and they often cannot be translated into English.) Notice that the perfective particle ua becomes i in the negative.

Semi-passive Construction

I also came across an interesting example of a type of "semi-passive construction" (for lack of a better term), i.e., the sentence appears to be both passive and active at the same time!

Ua aloha ‘ia au iā Ka-lalau.
PERF love PASS 1S to Ka-lalau.
I love Ka-lalau.

This is instead of the full active form:

Ua* aloha au iā Ka-lalau.

I’m really not sure what the semantic difference is here between the active and this “semi-passive” form. If there are perchance any native speakers out there reading this, e kōkua mai! (help!)

Particle ai

This particle has been called a linking particle, anaphoric particle, or resumptive pronoun:

Ua holo mākou i laila.
PERF ride 1P-EXC to there
We rode there.

I laila mākou i holo ai.
to there 1P-EXC PERF ride AI
It was there that we rode to.

In sentence b, in order to topicalize the location ‘there’, the anaphoric or resumptive ai is used to refer back to the fronted topic i laila.

ka wā a Paka’a i ha’alele aku ai iā Waipi’o.
DET time of Paka’a PERF leave thither AI Waipi’o
The moment when Paka’a left Waipi’o.

There is a cognate ai in Tongan, another Polynesian language:

Ko e fefine na’e tokoni ‘a Sione ki ai.
PRED DEF woman PAST help ABS John to
It is the woman John helped (to her).

According to Christopher Baker (no date),

"Resumptive pronouns normally occur in ‘logical’ positions. For example, [the example above] from Tongan has the resumptive pronoun ai following the preposition ki ‘to’. In Hawaiian, though, the resumptive pronoun does not occur in its ‘logical’ position; it occurs after the verb in the post-verbal aspect marker position. The resumptive pronoun of Tongan and Hawaiian are indeed cognates. The positions in which they occur are simply not the same. The ai in Hawaiian is only found in one position, i.e., the same position as the post-verbal aspect marker; it is never found in nominal position as in Tongan."

Finally, here’s an example of a long, complex Hawaiian sentence:

Ā loa’a nā wa’a, he mau kaulua,
when get DEF-PL canoe, INDEF group double-outrigger
ho’i maila lākou ā pae ma Wai-kīkī
return here-then 3P and land at Wai-kīkī
ho’omākaukau ka holo ā holo nō ia lā;
prepare DEF sailing and sail indeed this day
ia wā ho’olā’au mai ‘o Kou, kekahi wahine
this time urge here HON Kou another woman
a Ka-welo e holo pū i Kaua’i
of Ka-welo to sail together to Kaua’i
hō’ole aku-la ‘o Ka-welo.
refuse there-then HON Ka-welo

‘When [they] had gotten the canoes, double-outriggers, they returned and landed at Wai-kīkī, made preparations for sailing, and sailed on this day; at this time Kou, another wife of Ka-welo, urged that she sail also to Kaua’i; Ka-welo refused [her].’

Pau hana.

* Ua is glossed as perfective. Hawaiian is largely an aspectual language, often making no clear and definite distinction between present and past tense, though it does distinguish between whether an action is complete or incomplete.

Examples above from (1) Hawaiian Grammar by Elbert & Pukui, 1979 and (2) a paper titled Hawaiian Relative Clause Structure by Christopher Baker (online; no date).