Language and Ethnicity among the K’ichee’ Maya

This book explores the articulation between “accent” and ethnic identification in K’ichee’, a Mayan language spoken by more than one million people in the western highlands of Guatemala. Based on years of ethnographic work, it is the first anthropological examination of the social meaning of dialectal difference in any Mayan language. Romero deconstructs essentialist perspectives on ethnicity in Mesoamerica and argues that ethnic identification among the highland Maya is multiple and layered, the result of a diverse linguistic precipitate created by centuries of colonial resistance.

In K’ichee’, dialect stereotypes—accents—act as linguistic markers embodying particular ethnic registers. K’ichee’ speakers use and recombine their linguistic repertoire—colloquial K’ichee’, traditional K’ichee’ discourse, colloquial Spanish, Standard Spanish, and language mixing—in strategic ways to mark status and authority and to revitalize their traditional culture. The book surveys literary genres such as lyric poetry, political graffiti, and radio broadcasts, which express new experiences of Mayan-ness and anticolonial resistance. It also takes a historical perspective in examining oral and written K’ichee’ discourses from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries, including the famous chronicle known as the Popol Vuh, and explores the unbreakable link between language, history, and culture in the Maya highlands. 

Sergio Romero is an assistant professor and director of the Indigenous Language Initiative at the Center for Latin American Studies, University of Texas at Austin. He has worked and lived with the Maya for more than twenty years, especially with the K’ichee’ of highland Guatemala, whose language he speaks fluently. 

Table of Contents:
List of Figures
List of Tables
1. Accent and Ethnic Identity in the Maya Highlands
2. Orthographies, Foreigners, and Pure K’ichee’
3. “Each Town Speaks Its Own Language”: The Social Value of Dialectal Variation in K’ichee’
4. A “Hybrid” Language: Loanwords and K’ichee’-Spanish Code Switching
5. “Ancestor Power Is Maya Power”: The Uses and Abuses of Honorific Address in K’ichee’
6. The Changing Voice of the Ancestors: Missionaries, K’ichee’ Poets, and Pan-Mayanism

Praise and Reviews:

“Adds significantly to our understanding of the specific history and sociolinguistics of K’iche’ in Guatemala. This book shows how careful analysis of the minutiae of daily interactive conversational practice encodes, indexes, reveals, and creates the social structure of a community.”
—Judith Maxwell, associate professor and head of the Interdisciplinary Linguistics Program at Tulane University

“Romero masterfully blends together three disciplines—ethnography, linguistics, and literary studies—to make a compelling argument about the interrelationship between language and ethnicity. His command of the language and his skill as a linguist shines throughout the book.”
—Walter E. Little, professor of anthropology, University at Albany—SUNY

“This book is a tour de force…. Romero successfully blends history, linguistics, religious study, and poetics into a complex picture of social interaction, identity formation and negotiation, as well as political expression.”—Journal of Anthropological Research

“Whether it is clothing or particular ways of speaking, Romero lets the subjects speak for themselves and, then, illustrates the ways in which tradition is constructed via material, social, and language practices.”—Latin American Research Review