Mayan Linguistics: Where Are We Now?
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 14: 187-198 (Volume publication date October 1985)
L Campbell, and T Kaufman
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

Over the weekend I met someone whose response to his encounters with linguistics was to start work on creating his own language. On the other hand, my encounters generally leave me unendingly hopeless as to being able to say anything to anybody about anything. I once met someone of like mind with whom I had vocal interactions that consisted of primal, emotion-filled sound utterances back and forth and overlapping; this seemed as genuinely communicative as any formal language. I wonder sometimes about primal interactions using a very unfamiliar language with sounds not normally encountered in the native language in which the interlocutors choose words based on sound, shape and feel — and then looking at the translations as an exercise in making real and imagined connections.

All that was to say that I had language thoughts on my mind when choosing a review this week. Reading articles published before the internet explosion makes me wonder whether the availability of information on the internet has impacted the way scholarly articles are written. Knowing that I can turn to the internet certainly widens the spectrum of articles that I choose to read. My eyes glazed over during parts of this article. Some of the vocabulary wasn’t familiar and being a relatively short article the in-text explanations were mostly bare. When the authors wrote that Proto-Mayan was an ergative language, there was enough of an explanation to get the gist, but it’s nice to be able to turn to the internet to fill in the holes.

I was happy to be reminded of how linguistics can help create a fuller picture of prehistory. The authors write of how reconstructed vocabulary can show speakers of a language to have been highly skilled in an area like agriculture. We talk about what we know and we create finely tuned and specialized vocabulary for the things we know well. Neat.

Yours always,