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:


 Download Chapter



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.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.