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Documentation of formal and ceremonial discourses in K’ichee’


Language K’ichee’
Depositor Telma Can Pixabaj
Affiliation University of Texas at Austin
Location Guatemala
Collection ID 0187
Grant ID IGS0092
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

Formal and ceremonial discourses are being lost rapidly in K’ichee’. This collection documents formal and ceremonial discourses in natural contexts in three K’ichee’ (ISO639-3:quc) communities: Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, Nahualá, and Santa Lucía Utatlán, Sololá, Guatemala. The collection includes audio and video recordings with transcriptions, translations and analyses, a lexical database, and a grammatical analysis.


Group represented

This collection represents members of the K’ichee’ of Guatemala, focusing on three communities of the western region: Nahualá, Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, and Santa Lucía Utatlán, Sololá. In these communities, K’ichee’ is spoken by about 65,000 people. Nahualá and Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán are considered prestigious dialects by other speakers of K’ichee’. Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán is very conservative in religious practices; is the least conservative. The K’ichee’ of these communities has not been documented in terms of a corpus of recorded, transcribed and analyzed material.
In the Santa Lucía community, as well as in other K’ichee’ communities, small children are not learning the language. At school the use of Spanish is obligatory and K’ichee’ is sometimes an option; however, teachers or the community often refuse to use it. This is a clear sign of language loss. The use of formal and ceremonial forms of the language is usually restricted to old people. It is likely that these will disappear in the near future due to the lack of transmission of the language and cultural practices.
However, there are attempts to revitalize the language. The Comunidad Lingüística K’ichee’ teaches the language to young K’ichee’ people who have not learned the language, and has some teachers in some communities to teach literacy. Telma Can Pixabaj worked with the Comunidad Lingüística K’ichee’ and teachers and students of the institutos básicos in the three communities to create a collection of texts with grammatical information and vocabulary and phrases that are not common any more.


Language information

K’ichee’ (ISO639-3:quc, also known as K’iche’) is a Mayan language from the eastern branch spoken in the central highlands of Guatemala. K’ichee’ has five dialects: Cunén Kiché, Eastern Kiché, Joyabaj Kiché, San Andrés Kiché, and West Central Kiché. Alternate names for the language are Central K’iche’, Central Quiché, Chiquel, Qach’abel, Quiché.

In many communities, K’ichee’ is shifting to Spanish at home and at school. Because of that K’ichee’ is threatened with losing speakers, but even more, with losing some discourse genres and the use of the language in many cultural practices, such as formal and ceremonial language.

K’ichee’ has been the object of description and documentation. Mondloch (1981) is a PhD dissertation on voice in K’ichee’, Larsen (1988) is a PhD dissertation on ergativity. Trechsel’s (1981) PhD dissertation studies ergativity from a categorial grammar perspective. Colop’s (1988) MA dissertation studies ergativity a relational grammar perspective. s, respectively). López (1997) is a reference grammar, which is the most complete for K’ichee’, but remains superficial regarding complex clauses compare to other Mayan languages (Aissen 1987, Craig 1977, Kockelman 2003, Mateo, 2008, Polian in press, Vázquez in press, Zavala 2007, among others). Can’s (2009) MA dissertation is on verbal nouns. López’s (1999) BA dissertation discusses demonstratives. Can’s (2004) BA dissertation focuses on topicalization. England (1997, 2009) published two articles related to topic and focus. There are at least two dictionaries that Zavala (2009) consider to be scientific work: a bilingual dictionary by Ajpacajá et al. (1998) and a monolingual dictionary by Ajpacajá (2001).

Discourse documentation is available from “Discurso ceremonial K’ichee’” by Florentino Ajpacajá (2001). This work contains discourses that are used in the processes for requesting a bride. It is not recorded narrative, nor is it elicited; it seems that the author (who was an elder who had participated many times in such formal events) instead wrote down what he would say or had heard said under those circumstances. This document is very valuable. As far as I know this is the only document about marriage petitions. It contains discourse with translation to Spanish. However, there is no audio recording of the discourses. The author does not mention whether there was a recording (it does not seem that the discourses were transcribed). Also, the document is not analyzed; it is only translated. The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) also holds K’ichee’ audio-recordings. However, almost none of them have been transcribed or analyzed. Eisshaar (1995) and the Academy of Mayan Languages (2002) provide documents about oral tradition in K’ichee’. Eissharr (1995) only has a transcription and lacks metadata about where the recordings are from. Academy of Mayan Languages (2002) does not say whether the narratives were recorded or not; however, the speakers who collaborated with the researcher are acknowledged. Those documents have many kinds of discourse genres, but all of them were elicited. Also, there is no analysis of any of them. These materials can be useful for certain purposes; however, they are useful neither for documenting speech in a natural context, nor for linguistic purposes, if the user does not speak the language.


Special characteristics

Telma Can Pixabaj, the researcher and depositor who created this collection, is a native speaker of K’ichee’ from Santa Lucía Utatlán. She is a member of the Santa Lucía Utatlán community and also of the K’ichee’ community in general. She is affiliated with Comunidad Lingüística K’ichee’ as part of the ALMG and has worked at Oxlajuuj Keej Maya’ Ajtz’iib’.


Collection contents

The materials in this collection were gathered from individuals and groups, and mainly from older people between 50 and 100 years old.
When completed, this collection will include

  • around 30 hours of audio and video recordings of formal and ceremonial speech, including agreements or resolutions of arguments, discourses of changes of authority, specifically of the cofradías, traditional curing events, petitioning a bride, advice to new couples, rain/harvest ceremonies, and other ceremonies of a traditional (Mayan) religious, familial, or civic nature
  • around five hours of common speech from the same set of speakers, including speakers’ stories and conversations with speakers about questions or clarifications related to topics on the recordings
  • around 20 hours of time-aligned transcription in a practical orthography (representing the actual talk of the people of those dialects, i.e. not standardized, unless the texts are prepared for pedagogical purposes), translation into Spanish and analysis, including segmentation into morphemes, gloss and word class of each morpheme, using ELAN and Toolbox
  • a lexical database derived from the texts, with approximately 5,000 entries and detailed information about each entry
  • a book with a collection of texts, including grammatical information, vocabulary and phrases in danger of loss
  • a PhD dissertation about a text-based analysis of subordinated clauses in K’ichee’, including complement, relative and adverbial clauses, conditionals, and conterfactuals subordinate clauses
  • extensive metadata for each recording session


Collection history

The materials in this collection were gathered between 2010 and 2013 during 18 months of fieldwork for Telma Can Pixabaj’s PhD research supported by an ELDP Individual Graduate Scholarship.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Can Pixabaj, Telma. 2018. Documentation of formal and ceremonial discourses in K’ichee’. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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