Mayan Conversation and Interaction

Authored by: John B. Haviland

The Mayan Languages

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415738026
eBook ISBN: 9781315192345
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315192345.ch16

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Abstract

When I first came to Zinacantán, early in the summer of 1966, I had been schooled in basic Tsotsil grammar and etiquette as part of preparation for fieldwork in highland Chiapas. This linguistic orientation went along with other sorts of training: practicing for involuntary bouts of heavy drinking, learning to take “fieldnotes” on ritual by attending my first Catholic Mass, and enrolling in a “field medicine” course in which I learned dosages for antibiotics, how to stave off dehydration, perform CPR, temporarily fill teeth, and ultimately pull them out with just pliers and a screwdriver. The elements of Zinacantec Tsotsil my first teachers imparted to me were roughly parallel to carpenter’s tools for performing oral surgery: they hardly began to prepare me for my immediate project (studying “traditional” Zinacantec stringed instrument music), let alone for the topic I ultimately pursued (quotidian gossip) in this Mayan community. Over the course of my first summer in Zinacantán I gained basic competence in conversational Tsotsil and enough novice skills at interacting with Zinacantecs to be able to feign humanity in at least some situations. I had, however, learned a more fundamental anthropological lesson: if you can’t converse with people in the ordinary circumstances of life, you don’t know the relevant language(s) well enough.

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