Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - General Linguistics

Yucatec Maya: Variation in Space and Time

Elisabeth Verhoeven, Department of German Studies and Linguistics (IdSL) at HU Berlin
Stavros Skopeteas, Sprachwissenschaftliches Seminar at Georg August University of Göttingen
Barbara Blaha Pfeiler, CEPHCIS UNAM, Mérida

Project description

Linguistic variation is crucial for our understanding of the dynamic processes that manifest themselves in language use. The development of varieties along different dimensions such as time, geographical or social space reflects different communicative practices of a speech community. Varying linguistic properties are the source of language change while dependencies between them contribute to our understanding of linguistic structures.

The aim of this project is to study variation in the indigenous Mexican language Yucatec Maya with a focus on the spatial dispersion of the language and the current developments in language use. The investigation of variation in well-studied languages such as English, Swedish or German has considerably advanced with the creation of databases, atlases and computational tools and theoretical models. A large-scale study on a language such as Yucatec Maya promises a significant contribution to the understanding of variation in two respects: (a) it will offer insights about the amount of variation that arises if a language is mainly used in oral communication; (b) it will contribute to our understanding of the impact of the transformational processes in modern societies (especially urbanization and generalized bilingualism) on the situation of indigenous languages. This project will compile a large-scale data collection of a sample of lexical and grammatical features in a sample of rural and urban settlements of currently spoken Yucatec Maya. It will identify dialectal variants, it will create a detailed atlas, and will draw conclusions about the existence and dispersion of varieties in geographical space. The comparison between rural and urban settlements will offer insights about developments in the time axis, such as the recent creation of regiolects in urban centers and/or the impact of generalized bilingualism. The use of current dialectometric methods will allow for precise estimations of the relations between varieties.

In order to understand the roots of variation, the project will investigate the relations between variants in selected phonetic, phonological and syntactic phenomena. The planed studies are devoted to core properties of Yucatec Maya that are in the focus of the current research. At the phonetics/phonology level, we will study the variation in the realization of ejectives, lexical tones, as well as the alignment of enclitics with prosodic domains. In syntax, we will investigate basic word order patterns and argument-focus constructions. These studies are expected to shed light on the linguistic structures that determine the observed variation. This agenda is expected to make a contribution to the current research on variation by combining knowledge from several research paradigms, including sociolinguistics, dialectometry, studies on micro-variation in phonology and syntax.