Basic Quick Grammar

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Table of Content

This volume is the culmination of nearly twenty-five years of collaboration with friends and colleagues who have been more than generous with their time, expertise, encouragement, and at times, sympathy.

It has become a Mathew clickd and expected thing to claim that a work would not be possible without such support. It is nonetheless true, at least from my experience, and am indebted to all those who helped move the process along. First and foremost, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to my Maya teachers, colleagues, and friends who have selflessly devoted their time and knowledge to help carry out this project. Without their efforts, none of it would have ever gotten off the ground. Loud like to particularly recognize in this regard don Vaccine De Leon Abaca, who, with patience and kindness, aided me through the complexity and poetry of Check’ theology and ceremonials. Without his wisdom, would have missed much of the beauty of ancestral vision that is woven into the very fabric of the Pool Vhf. I dearly miss him. I would also like to acknowledge the profound influence that Antonio Actual V;squeeze had on this work. It was his kind and gentle voice that often heard when I struggled at times to understand the ancient words of this text.

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Others who have aided this work include Diego Chi;fez Petty, Nicola;s Chi;fez Joule, Felix Choc, Gregory Couch, Juan Mendoza, Francisco Mendoza, and Juan Z;rate. M deeply indebted to Jim Monthly for his extraordinary generosity in offering to read through the translation. His depth Of knowledge with regard to Check’ grammar, syntax, and 2 modern usage were invaluable. I purchased a copy of his “Basic Quick Grammar” in 1 976 to help in my quest to learn the language at a time when such aids were very rare. The book was a steadfast friend and companion during the next few years.

Not only was it a brilliant work but it proved to be just the size and weight to dispatch mosquito on the wall of my adobe shack. Thus owe to him, not only much of my initial knowledge of the Check’ engage, but my red blood cell count in those days as well. Am also grateful to John Robertson for his guidance, particularly with regard to the orthography of the text. He was a patient educator to me when I began work with the Check’ language nearly twenty-five years ago, helping to prepare a dictionary and grammar. He was an ideal boss and a wise teacher. It is a great honor for me to occupy the office next door to his at the university. M sincerely indebted to my friend and colleague Urdu van Karen who went to extraordinary lengths to share with me his profound understanding of highland Maya ethnologists. Alee his knowledge, experience, and generosity in reading through various versions of this volume and offering his insights. As in much of what I do that is of worth in the academic world, I acknowledge the influence of my mentor, Linda Shell. As a graduate student, Linda encouraged me to complete the translation of the Pool Vhf at a time when I was content to throw up my hands after I had worked through the rhinitis sections.

It was her love for the Maya people and passion for their language that reminded me why we take on overwhelming tasks such as this, and why it’s worth the price in life and heart that we put into them. Among the many who have contributed in invaluable ways to this project, I would like to recognize with my sincerest thanks the following individuals: Claude Beaded, Karen Bessie, James Brady, Linda Brown, Margaret Brusher, Michael Cascaras, Garrett Cook, Doris Dana John Early, Sam Edgerton, Unripe Florescent, John Fox, David Freddie, Stephen Houston, Kerry Hull, Julia G.

Kaplan, Peter Keller, Justine Kerr, Bob Laughlin, Bruce Love, John 3 Monogram, Dories Rents-Budded, Julia Sanchez, Joel Kidders, Carolyn Tate, Mark Van Stone, Bob Wallach, Andrew Weeks, Jack Welch, and Diane Worth. I Loud also like to thank my graduate students who keep me constantly on my toes and challenged with their curiosity and energy. Among these students, Spencer Sardine helped with the initial transcription of the text used in this volume, and Scott Brian created the beautiful maps. I am indebted to them for their efforts.

TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE A little over twenty years ago I helped to compile a dictionary in the Quick- Maya language in the mountains of northwestern Guatemala near a small village called Chill. At the time, Quick was almost completely an orally, communicated language, with very few native speakers who could read or rite it. One summer evening after a long day of work with one of my best sources, I realized that had lost track of time and needed to hurry down to the valley where I had a small home before it got dark.

The region had no electricity and hiking steep mountain trails at night was dangerous, particularly because of the numerous packs of wild (and often rabid) dogs that roamed freely about. I therefore started down a small footpath that appeared to be a more direct route than the usual winding road taken by buses. About a third the way down the mountainside, I passed an isolated adobe and thatch house built in a clearing surrounded by pine forest. A small group of men were seated on a low wooden bench in front of the house conversing. When they saw me, they called out a greeting and beckoned me to join them.

After introductions were properly exchanged, a requirement in formal Quick conversation, I was offered a warm cup of toasted corn coffee and a space on the bench was opened up for me to sit down. One of the men had heard that there was a fair-skinned young man that people called 4 ARQn us (mosquito legs) who was visiting in Chill, and he asked if that would be me. My name is difficult to pronounce in Quick, so had been given that rather unfortunate nickname, derived no doubt from my lanky physique in those days. I told him that I was the one they had heard about.

They asked what I was doing and explained that I was interested in collecting the words of his people so that I could carry them with me back to my own town beyond the mountains to the north. Another of the men was curious as to how I could “collect” words and carry them away, since he assumed that his language could only be spoken, not written. Quicks in that area had, of course, seen documents and books like the Bible Ritter in Spanish but had little conception at that time that it was possible to use phonetic letters to record their own language.

This is a great tragedy, because until about five hundred years ago the Maya were the most literate people in the Americas, preserving their history and culture with a sophisticated hieroglyphic script in hundreds of folded screen books. The Spanish conquest in the early sixteenth century was a devastating blow to Maya literacy in Mexico and Guatemala. Christian missionaries burned great numbers of hieroglyphic texts in an attempt to eradicate indigenous religious practices.

Native scribes were singled out for persecution to such an extent that within one hundred years, the art of hieroglyphic writing had virtually disappeared from among the Maya people. My new friends were therefore very interested in the notes I had written that day in their language. Excited by the possibility of press;Eng their own thoughts in written form, they asked me to demonstrate how to write a number of words and phrases. After writing a few phrases for them in Quick, I asked the oldest of them if he would like me to write something for him. He said that he did and I waited a long time for the words he wished me o write.

Finally he asked me to record a few brief words of counsel for his son. Didn’t know it at the time but his five year old boy was the last of twelve children, all of whom had died in childhood, mostly to tuberculosis. That week his last surviving child had begun to cough up 5 blood and he knew that his hope for posterity would inevitably die with him. By this time I knew I would never make it down to the valley before dark so my elderly friend invited me to stay in his corn loft. Before the others left for the night, I asked if they would like to hear the words of their fathers.

This as greeted with indulgent smiles of disbelief, since few of their parents were alive and they were sure that couldn’t have known them. But told them that it wasn’t their fathers’ words that I carried with me, but rather those of their fathers’ fathers’ (repeated many times) fathers, dating back nearly five hundred years. Happened to have with me a Copy of the pool Vhf manuscript, a book that was compiled in the mid-sixteenth century at a town that still exists less than thirty miles from where we sat. I began to read from the first page of the book: THIS IS THE ACCOUNT of when all is still silent and laced.

All is silent and calm. Hushed and empty is the womb of the sky. THESE, then, are the first words, the first speech. There is not yet one person, one animal, bird, fish, crab, tree, rock, hollow, canyon, meadow, or forest. All alone the sky exists. The face of the earth has note appeared. Alone lies the expanse of the sea, along with the womb of all the sky. There is not yet anything gathered together. All is at rest. Nothing stirs. All is languid, at rest in the sky. There is not yet anything standing erect. Only the expanse of the water, only the tranquil sea lies alone. There is not yet anything that might exist.

All lies placid and silent in the darkness, in the night. All alone are the Framer and the Shaper, Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent, They Who Have Borne Children and They Who Have Begotten Sons. Luminous they are in the water, wrapped in quetzal feathers and coating feathers. (Pool Vhf, up. 67-69) After I had read a page or two from the account of the creation of the earth, I stopped and waited for their reaction. No one spoke for some time. Finally, the elderly man with the sick boy asked if he might hold the unbound pages of the manuscript copy for a moment. He gently took it from my hands and with great care turned its pages. These are the words of my ancient fathers? ” he asked. “Do you know what you have done for them? ” wasn’t quite sure what he meant, so I didn’t answer at first. ‘You make them live again by speaking their words. ” 6 The word he used was k’ Satanists, meaning “to cause to have life,” or “to resurrect. ” The written word has the power to survive the death of its author, to preserve the most precious souvenirs of human existence-?thoughts, hopes, ideals, and acquaintance with the sacred. We tend to take writing for granted. The Maya do not. The ability to write words and have them preserved long after the death of the author is a miracle.

Many of the larger highland Maya communities possess wooden chests containing books and clothing owned by their ancestors which they revere as precious relics. These objects are said to bear the auk’s, or “heart” of the ancestors. On special occasions, the contents are removed ceremonially to “feed” them with offerings of incense and prayers. Many of these books are of great antiquity. Attended the opening of one of these old chests in the town of Santiago Atilt;n which contained a number of loose manuscript pages, rite and death registries, and several bound leather books, one of which could see was a seventeenth century missal.

When brought out into the open, such books are reverently offered incense and prayers, but no attempt is made to open them or read them. Partly this is because few contemporary Maya know how to read the early script of the colonial period, and partly out of respect for the words themselves. When the words of the ancestors are read, or spoken aloud, it is as if that person had returned from death to speak again. Reading ancient texts is therefore a very locate matter, filled with peril if the words are not treated with sufficient respect.

While working as an ethnographer and translator in the Guatemalan highlands, I collaborated with a number of Maya shaman-priests called as jab’s’ (they of days, or disperser). Prior to reading the words of ancient Maya manuscripts like the Pool Vhf, it was customary for one of them, don Vaccine De Leon Abaca of Moistening, to first purify my Xeroxed copy of the text by waving copal incense smoke over it and asking forgiveness of the ancestors who had written the original for disturbing them.

When I asked why e did this, he replied that to read the thoughts of ancient ancestors is to make their spirits present in the 7 room and give them a living voice. Such power must be approached with great seriousness, and all care taken to be faithful to their original ideas in any transcription or translation. At the end of our work sessions, he politely dismissed the gods and ancestors involved in that days reading with his thanks and asked pardon for any offense we might have given. Most of the people who lived on the American continents prior to the arrival of Europeans lacked a written script.

Even in Mesospheric, where there was a long tradition of hieroglyphic writing among some of the ancient cue Tortures of the region, such as the Maya and Capote’s, other neighboring cultures preserved their history and theology principally through the spoken word, passed from generation to generation. This was true even of highly sophisticated cultures such as the Aztec, whose painted texts relied primarily on a rebus or picture form of writing incapable of recording abstract ideas phonetically. Yet the concept of oral poetry held by the Aztec is exemplary of the view of such discourse throughout Mesospheric, including the Maya.

For the ancient Aztec the highest form of sacred communication was poetry, what they called chaotically (“flower-song”). These were delicately beautiful hymns meant to be recited orally, often to musical accompaniment. In paintings, Aztec poets are depicted with speech scrolls issuing from their mouths. These scrolls are often colored a rich blue or green, symbolic of the precious nature of the poets’ words as if they were composed of jade or sacred quetzal feathers. Aztec looked upon poetry as the actualization of a creative act inspired by divinities who were called upon to be present at the performance.

Thus the poet Canyon Actualization of Technically believed that his songs came from heaven, but lamented that his own words could not express them as they came undefiled from the gods: From within the heavens they come, The beautiful flowers, the beautiful songs. Our longing spoils them, Our inventiveness makes them lose their fragrance. (Lean-Partial 1980, 257) Such songs exist only at the moment of their performance, their sound hanging briefly in the air, then fading to silence. It is only when they are spoken that they reveal their divine 8 origin, transforming the poet into a messenger of deity.

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