Studying the Yucatec Maya Language


My doctoral research focuses on discourses and conceptualizations concerning the Yucatec Maya language (Yucatec), visible at multiple scales ranging from the small Yucatec language community, to state and academic level sites of knowledge production. Currently in the third year of my PhD program in anthropology, I spent one month last summer in Mexico working on my language abilities in both Spanish and Yucatec and getting a feel for the region. This summer 2013, I traveled to Quintana-Roo to further my language ability and conduct preliminary fieldwork and interviews. I spent time at the Universidad Intercultural Maya de Quintana-Roo in Jose Maria Morelos, assessing the university’s promotion of Yucatec (a required subject) and speaking with professors and students who negotiate their place at an internationally-oriented university in a rural part of Mexico much associated with poor indigenous communities. I also spent many hours in a small Yucatec speaking Maya village, listening to the linguistic practices of individuals of all ages and in various contexts, and talking to people about their languages. Change was a constant theme when I asked people how they felt about speaking Yucatec as opposed to speaking Spanish. I was able to preliminarily confirm my initial prediction about Yucatec use, which was that though the language has close to a million speakers and is not considered to be “endangered”, one sees similar processes at work as have been observed time and again in so-called endangered indigenous languages. These include significant differences in language use between generations, and a language ideology that sees the current form of the language as less complete and authentic than it was previously. As I prepare for my dissertation research, beginning in summer 2014, my findings from this summer will be invaluable as I consider my research questions, aims, and tailor my project as a collaborative enterprise.

Aurora Feeney-Kleinfeldt
Publication date: 
September 24, 2014
Publication type: 
Student Research